by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley

Jurisdictions may vary in the way they do this, but when a man petitions a lodge for degrees, that lodge is required to investigate him, in order to determine whether he is fit to be made a Mason. Some lodges conduct their investigations with due diligence. Others, to put it kindly, do not. I sometimes hear my Brethren lamenting this state of affairs, and harking back to the days when “they used to do it better.”

In 1910, Brother Albert W. Ashley, Most Worshipful Grand Master of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois, was moved to include a section on investigations in his report to the Grand Lodge. Entitled “Greater Care Needed,” it read as follows:

Information has come to me from various sources that in many lodges there is great carelessness in investigating the character of petitioners for the degrees. In the inordinate desire for a large membership unfit men are received. In localities where there is a shifting population this is particularly true.

In the oil region complaint is made that candidates have been accepted and the degrees conferred upon those who were mere transients and whose residence is in another state. Others were accepted and the degrees conferred upon who [sic] were morally unfit to he made Masons, and whose occupations violated the law of the state. Such violations of law must inevitably lead to disaster and discipline.
Attention is here called to this evil that Masters and others may take due notice and govern themselves accordingly.

Lax investigations, it seems, are not a new problem, which isn’t surprising. If history teaches us anything, it’s that human beings weren’t nobler in the past, or smarter, or harder working. They were subject to the same failures of character as we are. They just wore different clothes.


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves the Valley of Danville, AASR, as Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at:


  1. I wonder what we should be doing, other than talking to the candidate. I imagine we should call his references, if they are not members of the lodge. Should we do criminal background checks? Call his employer? Visit his neighbor? We really don't know much about the men we initiate, even after we've visited their houses and talked to their spouses. I'm not being negative, actually just undecided.

  2. Besides a spouse, I thought only asking neighbors and friends. At work, I don't think the HR Dept. would give you much if any information. They May confirm his years of employment (which would be good enough for me). Background checks are open to a lot in these times. Good question though......
    "you can always tell the manner of a man by the way he stacks his firewood".

  3. TN is heading towards requiring commercial background checks.


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