A new tool is available in Union and Wallowa counties for people trying to discover the branches of their family tree. This instrument requires no smartphone app, internet connection or computer software. The tool is a low-tech option available to anyone able to reach the Union County Museum in Union or the Wallowa History Center in Wallowa. At each site a copy of the 1902 book “Masonic History of the Northwest” is available to the public in Union and Wallowa counties for the first time.

This almost 600-page work contains extensive information on the history of Freemasonry plus biographical information of almost everyone in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana who was a member of a Masonic Lodge in 1902.

“It is pretty exciting (to make this book available),” said Lou Gerber, a member of La Grande Masonic Lodge No. 41.

Gerber arranged for copies of the “Masonic History of the Northwest” to be loaned to the Union County Museum and the Wallowa History Center. He did so after receiving permission from the Masonic Lodge of Oregon. Gerber hopes to later distribute the extra copies of the book the Masonic Lodge has available to libraries and other museums and history centers in Northeast Oregon. He will do this after the remainder of the books available are restored.

The public was first given access to the book at the Wallowa History Center in 2018, and the book at the Union County Museum became available to the public this spring.

The work was published by The Historic Publishing Company of San Francisco. Its authors were John Milton Hodson of Oregon, William H. Upton of Washington, Jonas W. Brown of Idaho and Cornelius Hedges of Montana. All were identified in the book as Freemason past grand masters.

All Masonic Lodges in Oregon have copies of the book, but until now, nobody in this region could see one without getting permission from a Masonic Lodge chapter. Gerber hopes that having easy access to the book will help people doing genealogical research.

A retired National Guardsman, Gerber became interested in sharing “Masonic History of the Northwest” with the public after finding information about his great-grandfather Henry Gerber in the book. His great-grandfather was born in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County in 1859 and arrived in the town of Wallowa in 1877. He was a blacksmith and the first man initiated into a Masonic Lodge in Wallowa County.

Today Joseph has the only Masonic Lodge in Wallowa County, but in 1902, when “Masonic History of the Northwest” was published, there were also lodges in Enterprise and Wallowa. Union County had Masonic lodges in La Grande, Elgin, Union and Cove in 1902 and still does today.

“Masonic Lodges of the Northwest” contains photos of leaders of all the lodges in Union and Wallowa counties in 1902.

The volume is an ornate work, one with high-quality, heavy coated paper and steel and halftone engravings. The book has more than 100 photos, black and white snapshots of an era Gerber hopes is never forgotten.

“(The book) is a slice of time,” Gerber said.