An article I wrote for "THE FLORIDA MASON" (copied below) has been posted on the Grand Lodge of Florida Facebook page. I don't know if it will make it into the printed newsletter.
W:. Dennis Wind PM
Has anyone else looked for a needle in a haystack? Or, in this case, a missing Mason among thousands of others. That exactly describes my search for the Masonic record of Bro. James Beason Brown. Brother Brown was born in Atlanta, Georgia on April 18, 1917 and served in the United States Air Force during WWII in the Jacksonville, Florida area.
He then moved to the Miami, Florida area in 1947 for several years before settling in Winter Haven, Florida in 1964. At some point in his travels he became a Master Mason. His Son Richard, a close friend of mine, knowing that I am a Mason, in the Lodge his Dad attended, asked me about his Father's Masonic history. No problem, I said, I'll just peek into our records, I said. And I found...nothing.
This started a 4-year search that has yet to end. From Jacksonville to Miami, Alabama to Georgia, the record of Bro. Brown is nowhere to be found. Every Winter Haven Lodge minute book and meeting log-in book from 1962 until his death on February 15th, 1993 has been gone through with no mention of him, not even his funeral at which Winter Haven Lodge No. 186 officiated. His prayer card and Newspaper Obituary state he was a Mason and there is even a sculpted Square and Compass on his headstone. But his record as a Mason record is nowhere to be found.
For an entire year, during the Pandemic, I have made a personal project of looking at and scanning every Petition for Initiation or Affiliation, Dimit In or out, Transfer in or Out, Special Dispensation or Direct order from the Grand Master to make certain that this never happens in our lodge again. Well over 340 hours later, I have documented over 900 Masons that are not listed in the Grand Lodge website as having been Winter Haven Lodge No. 186 Masons.
A call to the Grand Secretary's office revealed that electronic records started in the mid 1960's and if a Mason was not active at that time, he was not likely to be in the database. However, that does not excuse us from not having locally complete, reliable records.
Although I did not find Bro Brown in this search, I did find an extraordinarily rich history of Winter Haven and surrounding area Masons, names that shaped our community and, although now long deceased, continue to affect our lives today.
The challenge, my Brothers, is that you look at your old records, documenting and digitally preserving your Lodge members before the paper starts to crumble. Who knows what amazing history is stored within your filing cabinets?
And should you run across the Masonic History of Brother James Beason Brown, my email is below.
W∴ Dennis Wind P.M. email - email@example.com
Winter Haven Lodge No.186 - email - firstname.lastname@example.org