The George Washington Masonic Memorial announces two digital history projects
GEORGE WASHINGTON MASONIC NATIONAL MEMORIAL ANNOUNCES
MAJOR MASONIC DIGITAL HISTORY PROJECTS
Mark A. Tabbert, Director of Collections
and governed by 52 American Grand Lodges, the George Washington National Masonic
Memorial is dedicated to George Washington, but it is also dedicated as the
“National Masonic Memorial.” Inherent in this dual mission is to preserve
the memory of not just Brother Washington, but every American who joined the
Craft. To fulfill this greater mission, the Memorial will initiate two major
digital projects in 2007.
first project is an on-line database of all duly constituted U.S. Grand Lodges
and local Lodges ever chartered. The second is the digitization of every Grand
Lodge annual proceeding. Through these two projects, the Memorial will meet the
needs of present and future brothers, but also answer the growing number of
research questions from scholars, genealogists and more especially, men
interested in joining the fraternity.
On September 8, 2006, the Memorial held a meeting with Masonic
representatives to discuss the projects. Those attending included several Grand
Lodge Secretaries, Masonic Librarians, and Grand Lodge and non-Mason information
technology experts. The attendees agreed the Memorial is well-situated to
recommend uniform technological and informational specifications. Furthermore,
as it is governed by Grand Lodges, it is a natural neutral institution to
coordinate the information owned and maintained by each Grand Lodge. Through the
Memorial’s website, on-line researchers could access every Grand Lodge
proceeding, Lodge records, library and museum collections.
Project one is “The National Masonic Research Database.” This on-line
database will contain records of every regular and recognized American Grand
Lodge since the 1730s. This includes “Modern “ and “Ancient” Grand
Lodges of early America, as well as Grand Lodges that later divided, such as the
Grand Lodge of Dakota, which split into North and South in 1889. From this table,
records of every chartered Lodge would be added. Each individual Lodge record
would include charter date, location and if a lodge moved, merged, divided, went
dark or was re-chartered in a new Grand Lodge. In short, it would be a
genealogical record of every American Lodge.
initiate this project, the Memorial will license a version of the Masonic
On-line Registry Interface (MORI) system from Vita Rara, Inc. (www.vitarara.net)
Specifically designed by Freemasons for Masonic Lodge and Grand Lodge record
keeping, MORI will be customized for this project. Through the MORI system,
participating Grand Lodges may directly enter their Lodge histories through the
Memorial’s website. Or, if Grand Lodges already have their Lodge histories in
digital format, they can choose to send it to the Memorial for conversion into
its local Lodge records are entered, a Grand Lodge will be free to edit them and
post them on its own website. The Memorial will maintain the unified database
and website to present all Grand Lodge and Lodge histories. Once the database is
fully functioning, the Memorial and participating Grand Lodges will conduct
annual reviews for ongoing MORI upgrades.
those Grand Lodges who choose to participate and support the project at a
determined level, the Memorial has arranged for Vita Rara to provide a full
working installation of MORI for its own use. This software includes: membership registry management, subordinate body management,
Grand Lodge management and reports, mail room functions, and fundraising
management. Vita Rara will import any existing electronic Lodge and membership
records. MORI further includes an on-line Lodge module that allows local
secretaries to directly input and manage member records, dues and finances.
Lastly, Vita Rara will provide on-site MORI training to Grand Lodge staff.
National Masonic Research Database will have two further great advantages.
First, once Lodge records have been created each Grand Lodge will have the
ability to add records for deceased and inactive members to the National Masonic
Research Database. This can be done by each Grand Lodge, or Lodges and members
they designate for their jurisdiction. Like the Lodge histories, each Grand
Lodge will retain control over which records are viewable by researchers and the
The second advantage is that other Masonic organizations could create
parallel databases containing their national, state and local bodies. This means
on-line databases of every Knight Templar Commandery, Eastern Star Chapter,
Grotto, etc. that ever existed. Furthermore, once Grand Lodges enter their
membership records, they could be linked to the York Rite and appendant
bodies’ databases. In its fullest form, therefore, by finding one brother
within the database, a researcher can discover if that brother was a member of
one Lodge or several Lodges in different states. The record could also include
his membership in the York Rite bodies, Eastern Star and other Masonic
organizations. Lastly, the researcher will know when that brother’s Lodge,
Chapter, Council etc. was chartered and if and where it currently meets.
two is “The Digitization of American Masonic Proceedings.” This project’s
mission is to bring the facts and figures, statistics, reports and activities of
every U.S. Grand Lodge out of dusty old books and into every on-line computer in
the world. Through this project, every report, page, word and image in every
proceeding since 1733 could be searched on-line by keyword. No longer will Grand
Lodges need to keep thousands of hard-bound proceedings from every sister
jurisdiction and every Masonic body. Like project one, however, the Memorial can
only recommend technological and informational specifications to the Grand Lodge
for this project. Each Grand Lodge will always be free to choose to participate
and at what speed they may convert their proceedings to digital format.
To coordinate this project, the Memorial is recommending Online Computer
Library Center (OCLC) to the Grand Lodges. OCLC is a non-profit world leader in
both digitization and library cataloging, with more than 53,500 public, private
and academic libraries and other cultural heritage organizations in 93 countries
(www.oclc.org). Through OCLC, Freemasonry can bring its history to the widest
possible audience using one of the most accepted systems.
As with Project One, the Memorial will act as the coordinating agent with
OCLC to digitize proceedings. Participating Grand Lodges will determine what
years it wishes digitized according to its own financial resources and donations
from foundations, Lodges and individuals to underwrite the projects. The
Memorial currently holds two near complete sets of Grand Lodge proceedings, and
as money is pledged, proceedings will be sent to OCLC. The larger the batch of
proceedings, the lower the price will be to scan each page. In short, Grand
Lodge, Lodges and individual brothers can donate money to have decades, a few
years or a single year scanned.
Once scanned, the proceedings will be converted into OCLC’s searchable
system called “CONTENTdm.” The costs to license this software and make
accessible through the Memorial website will be shared by all participants, with
additional funds coming through grants, donations and other sources.
good news is that this system is already licensed by over 325 organizations,
including but not limited to: academic,
public and historical society libraries and museums. Grand Lodges may receive
complete sets of their proceedings in TIFF format on DVD for their own use and
donation to libraries that use CONTENTdm.
The use of OCLC and its CONTENTdm software also provides two great
advantages. First, CONTENTdm is essentially a database and although its primary
use is to search the printed word, it is a natural platform to catalog Masonic
historical artifacts. Every Grand Lodge that digitizes their proceedings will
automatically have the ability to catalog their Masonic museum collections.
Therefore, by digitizing U.S. Masonic Proceedings, the Memorial will have the
means to coordinate a national database of Masonic historical artifacts,
photographs and even audio and video recordings. This will allow anyone on the
Internet to find Masonic digital resources for school, scholarly and
genealogical research, and for publications, exhibitions and other media.
OCLC’s second advantage is a national union catalog of Masonic library
holdings. Because OCLC’s core customers are libraries, through the
digitization process, every Masonic library in America can enter into a
consortium that will allow one universal catalog of Masonic books. What’s
more, this catalog will be linked to the more than 53,500 OCLC libraries
worldwide. Through such a consortium, every Masonic library—big or small,
national, state and local—can easily create its own on-line catalog by
appending its library code to preexisting book catalog records.
Lastly, just like project one, OCLC’s digitization process as well as
its CONTENTdm and library catalogs will be available to all other Masonic
organizations. It is quite possible to have Grand Chapters, Grand Councils, and
Grand Commanderies digitizing their proceedings within a batch of Grand Lodge
proceedings. Simultaneously, York Rite, Eastern Star and other Masonic museums
and libraries could also catalog their artifacts and books concurrent with Grand
Lodges and Lodges.
These two great and important undertakings represent the Memorial
Association’s renewed commitment to its founding mission. The Association was
founded in 1910, yet it was in 1932 that the Memorial was dedicated. Just as it
took many years to construct the physical Memorial, so it may take years to
create a digital “National Masonic Memorial.” We can not erect a physical
monument to every Grand Master, Past Master and brother who served his Lodge,
community and country. However, through these digital projects, we can tell the
world of their good work and honor their virtues “until time shall be no
Lodge officers and other Masonic leaders interested in receiving project
prospectus should contact Mark Tabbert, Director of Collections, GWMNM, at email@example.com
or call 703 683 2007, ext. 17.
Tabbert, 33° is a Past Master of Mystic Valley Lodge, Arlington, MA, a member
of the Society of Blue Friars and the author of American
Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities.
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