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Friday, September 04, 2020

George Washington Memorial's Masonic Digital Archive Is a Research Treasure


by Christopher Hodapp

For many years, Mark Tabbert at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia has been actively seeking support for and promoting a digital collection made up of the proceedings of all U.S. grand lodges and appendant grand bodies. 

This ongoing project is being done through the Memorial's Louis A. Watres Library, named after the Association’s second president who oversaw the Memorial’s construction. Opened in 1952, the Library contains a substantial collection of approximately 7,000 volumes, including Masonic literature and U.S. Grand Lodges’ and other major Masonic organizations’ annual Proceedings.


The scope of the Masonic Digital Archives project is enormous - consider that a grand lodge like my own has been publishing these reports annually for over two hundred years, generally at the rate of a couple of hundred pages each year. Then multiply that by 51 Grand Lodges, plus Grand Royal Arch Chapters, Grand Cryptic Councils, and Grand Knights Templar Commanderies.

The Memorial Association is digitizing each governing body’s complete annual proceedings collections for a flat rate of $1000 as a service to the Craft. That price is non-adjustable, regardless of the number of books or pages digitized. After that, a $200 annual subscription fee maintains and updates the online collection on the Memorial's LUNA database platform. LUNA presents each book in pdf form and is fully searchable, making the hunting of names, places, topics, dates and more fast and simple. 

The Memorial's digitization project has primarily used the much faster and less expensive 'destructive' method of scanning, meaning that bound books must be sacrificed in order to speed the scanning process. For that reason, the Watres Library has requested two full sets of proceedings from each grand body so that the Memorial still has one complete and undamaged, bound set of volumes on its shelves to augment the online digital scanned versions. They have gotten underway with scanning the duplicate volumes they already have.

To see the proceedings currently online from 21 states and grand bodies, visit the Masonic Digital Archives HERE. 


Mark just sent me an update this week advising that, as of August 2020, the Memorial staff has digitized all of their duplicate proceedings collections, alphabetically from Alabama to New Hampshire so far. They expect to complete the full project through Wyoming before 2022. 

So here's the catch.

If you are a grand officer of a Masonic Grand Lodge or Grand York Rite Body of a state alphabetically between Alabama and New Hampshire, Mark can tell you what proceedings years have been digitized and which are still needed. If you confirm your jurisdiction's $1000 commitment to the project and the annual $200 subscription fee, the available digitized proceedings of your grand body will appear in the LUNA catalog within five working days.

If you are grand officer of a Masonic Grand Lodge or Grand York Rite Body of a state alphabetically between New Jersey and Wyoming, the Library has not yet organized your proceedings and is unable to give you a detailed inventory just yet. However, with your confirmed commitment to the project, Mark will pull your state’s proceedings and provide an inventory of what they have. Once a complete proceedings set is in hand from you and the $1000 is received, digitizing and posting on-line into LUNA will take approximately 30 working days or less.

This massive undertaking is an incredible research resource for historians and researchers, be they Masonic, academic, or genealogical. If your Grand Lodge hasn't stepped up and contributed to this project, the scanning and annual hosting fees are more than fair. Indiana scanned our proceedings many years ago, and to have them in digitized form has been a godsend - I couldn't have written my book Heritage Endures without it. And each year our jurisprudence committee and others regularly dive into our online proceedings hunting minute and otherwise hard-to-find information. Plus, organizing these collections onto an easy to use and access database is not a simple project for your grand lodge to take on - the Memorial is doing all the hard work.

If you have any questions about participating the Masonic Digital Archives Project or about LUNA, contact Mark Tabbert, Director of Museum and Library Collections.

The Louis A. Watres Library is available to the public and researchers by appointment only. Appointments must be made a least 24 hours prior. 

1 comment:

  1. A fine program. The House of the Temple in Washington also has a collection, albeit paper. The Grand Lodge library in DC has had a number of notable gifts but it is not very active and needs a web presence. So does the library of the General Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star, also in Washington. A collection of Prince Hall proceedings would add considerably to the value, and the Memorial needs to consider its lack of attention to African-American Freemasonry. Until that happens, claims of being a national memorial are hollow. The political problem is that the Memorial governing board includes the segregated grand lodges that will block consent to Prince Hall being depicted and represented. An irony is that the Grand Lodge of DC has been integrated for years.

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