History in the making
From searching the archives to helping Freemasons rejoin the Craft, there’s more to the UGLE registration office than records, as manager Andy Croci tells Miranda Thompson.
How did you come to work at UGLE?
I began my career working in the catering industry, and it looked like it was somewhere I’d end up. But in 1985 I knew someone working at Freemasons’ Hall who told me about the computerisation process that was going on in the registration department, where the records were being transferred from ledgers to computers. I’d always wanted to work with computers so after hearing about a vacancy as a registration clerk I thought I’d go for it.
What does the registration department do?
We deal with all aspects of membership – a member’s record can hold more than a hundred pieces of information. We work with the Provinces to try and build a complete picture of someone’s masonic record. We’ll confirm new members and then update their records as they go through all the relevant degrees and join other lodges, and record the offices they hold. We also issue the Grand Lodge Certificates, and if someone goes into the Royal Arch, we’ll issue them with a Grand Chapter Certificate. We often receive requests from other departments within UGLE to verify or update a membership record too.
Why did you become a Freemason?
I became a Freemason after I started working here because I wanted to find out what it was all about. I recently became secretary of my mother lodge, which has definitely given me an extra dimension. When a secretary contacts me now, I can understand their point of view and I feel I can empathise with members more. We get more people nowadays who are interested in joining Freemasonry, and we often get contacted by people saying they were a Freemason and want to find out how to get back into it.
Why are records so important for UGLE?
Any reputable membership organisation wants to keep a record of its members, and we’ve been doing it for the past three hundred or so years. Our Library and Museum has reliable and continual records going back to circa 1760. From a historical perspective, it’s important that we maintain our records because the Library and Museum gets around five hundred genealogical enquiries every year. I always think that people will be looking at our records in fifty or a hundred years from now, if not more, so in a way, the registration office is history in the making.
How else are the records useful?
We work with the masonic charities too. They have a certain level of access to our database, but when they receive an enquiry from, say, the widow of a member, we or the Library and Museum can investigate further. Charities need to be able to confirm that a late husband, or whoever, was a member before they can give financial aid, so we can help them with that. Often we’ll get enquiries from people who are looking to rejoin the Craft. I love those enquiries because I know I’m actually helping someone get back into Freemasonry.
At the moment, I’m helping a Freemason who was a member of one of our lodges in the Caribbean but now lives in America. His son and grandson are joining an American lodge, and he wants to be there for the initiation as well as possibly rejoin, but he needs to prove his membership. I put him in touch with the right people, and now hopefully he’ll be there. That’s the rewarding part of my job.
What are the challenges of running the department on a day-to-day basis?
One of the challenges is dealing with the sheer number of enquiries we receive. People go that extra mile every day to make records as complete as they can, like going down to the archives and checking old ledgers. And working here, you appreciate how worldwide Freemasonry is. You can get enquiries from any part of the globe and someone can ask the same question half a dozen different ways, but I really do enjoy finding a solution to a problem.
How has the department changed since you started working?
When I first started, the office was completely different – when I look back, I can’t quite believe it. We were still working with the old ledgers while also adding information onto the computer. Before we computerised the records a secretary would send us a handwritten list of members. That list would then be checked against our records, which was really time consuming. New initiates were fine –you’d just write them in, but joining members would have to be cross-referenced with the other lodges that they’d been members of. So you’d have to find the records of, say, ten different lodges in different ledgers.
Has technology made a big difference?
Computerisation has changed everything. My department has halved in size, from sixteen to eight. We also had another three or four people who were employed to change over the records from the ledgers to the new computers – they started with the computers in 1983 and when I came here in 1985 they were halfway through. They finished around 1988, and that was a big moment for us all. I feel quite lucky that I was able to witness the old way of doing it.