You will at least once in doing family history research come across an ancestor belonging to a fraternal or civic organization. Long before television and computers occupied most of a person’s free-time, being a member of several organizations and clubs in a town or city was a very popular activity. It offered a social meeting place, a sense of belonging as well as usually offering a way a person could contribute to the well-being of their community.
Most of these associations; the majority just for men, some for women only and a tiny few for both male and female membership were in every small town as well as the larger cities. For families in a rural environment, going into their small towns to attend the weekly or monthly meetings was a welcomed activity, one they looked forward to.
Besides the social aspect, doing charity work has been a big factor for most of these organizations. Sponsorship of homes for orphans, veterans, the elderly, as well as beautification projects such as parks by members of these associations has been of a great benefit to communities for decades.
Going through an ancestor’s documents, journals, papers, obituary, photos and even their headstone might only show the initials of some of these organizations rather than the full name. Are you going to know what GUOOF means or even that it does refer to an association if you came across it? In fact, these initials stand for Grand United Order of Odd Fellows -- who knew?
Having a general knowledge of some of the main such organizations can answer some questions about the ancestor. Many of the fraternal societies were actually based on occupations such as IWW which means Industrial Workers of the World or OUAM which stands for Order of United American Mechanics. So with an ancestor as a member they had to be in that particular occupation or trade. Other groups were based on religious beliefs such as CK of A stood for Catholic Knights of America.
There was the GAR, known as the Grand Army of the Republic, which no longer exists. This was established for the former soldiers who served in the Union Army, Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service during the American Civil War. It began in 1866 and at its peak had a membership of over 400,000 across the country. Once the last of those members died in 1956, there was no GAR anymore. The SUVCW which is the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War came afterwards. You could well have several ancestors who were members of either group.
A few long time groups to know are:
AF&AM - Masonic Lodge
BPOE - Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks
COOF - Catholic Order of Foresters
DAR - Daughters of American Revolution (for women)
IOKP - Independent Order of Knights of Pythias
KC - Knights of Columbus
KSTJ - Knights of St. Joseph
LOM - Loyal Order of the M.O.O.S.E.
OES - Order of the Eastern Star (for women)
SCV - Sons of the Confederate Veterans
UDC - United Daughters of the Confederacy (for women)