When people find out that I love doing genealogy and family history research, their first reaction is almost always, “but you are so young”! This reaction is typically followed by the question, “How did you get interested in doing genealogy at such a young age”? I wish I had a great story to tell about how I got started researching my family, but I don’t. The real reason I started my research was spite. That’s right, spite.
You see, throughout my childhood, my father would tell us stories about his great grandfather William H Bernard and his search for his birth parents. He hoped that by constantly telling us these stories, one of his children would get interested in our family’s history. We didn’t.
Fast forward a few decades and I found myself working at Ancestry.com. A year after I started working at Ancestry, the director of our department asked everyone in the department to spend 1-2 hours a week using Ancestry’s product. I decided if I was going to be spending 1-2 hours a week doing family research, I was going to use that time to find out who my 2nd great grandfather William H Bernard’s parents were.
To say that the men in my family are competitive would be an understatement. Couple the knowledge of that inherent competitive nature with the fact that I am the youngest of the three boys born to my father, and it should go without saying that I felt like I had something to prove. I wanted to brag to my father that I solved the mystery he had been working on for 50 years in a few weeks, or months.
My Search Begins
I knew that I needed to look where my father never had. I didn’t want to call my father to ask him where he had placed his efforts over the years; that would take away from my ability to brag when I solved the mystery. So, I started with one of the few facts I remembered from all of the stories my father told us about William H Bernard while I was growing up.
One of my father’s prized possessions is his great grandfather William H Bernard’s “Masonic sword”. I had always thought that the sword was pretty cool. I had a couple of pictures of it, and I knew that the Mason’s kept good records.
First, I needed to know what type of records the Mason’ kept. I texted a friend of mine that is involved with a Mason lodge in Salt Lake City. While waiting for a response, I began looking for symbols on the sword. I knew that the Masons used a lot of symbolism, and I figured a symbol on the sword could give me a clue to use in my search. I was immediately drawn to the knight’s helmet on the handle of the sword. Perhaps this wasn’t a Mason sword at all, the knights helmet on the handle led me to believe that the sword was associated with the Knight’s Templar.
By the time my friend texted back with answers to my questions about Mason records, I was starting to get pretty excited. Not only, did I think that I was on my way to solving my family’s mystery, I felt like I was on my way to writing National Treasure 3! After a few more text messages with my friend, I knew that the Mason’s and Knights Templar were not the same organization, but for a person to become a Knight’s Templar they had to become a master Mason first.
Armed with this new information, and the knowledge that William H Bernard had spent the majority of his career working for the Great Northern Railway in Montana, I called the Grand Cyrene of Montana (the Knight’s Templar) and asked them if they had ever had a William H Bernard in their membership. I was asked to hold for a moment while they looked through their records. After a couple minutes I heard a voice say, “Yes. We did have a member named William H. Bernard, do you have a pen ready?” I replied yes and was provided with the information below.
William H Bernard
- Age 35 and working as a brakeman in Rexford Montana when he petitioned for membership.
- Petitioned for membership – December 7th, 1902
- Elected to receive the orders – January 28th, 1903
- Made a Knight of the Red Cross – February 25th, 1903
- Made a full Knight Templar – March 11, 1903
I followed-up my call to the Grand Cyrene with a call to the Grand Lodge of Montana (the Masons). Once again, I was politely asked to hold while they checked their records. This time the voice came back saying, “sorry, we do not have a William H. Bernard” in our records”. I knew from the texts with my friend that William had to be a Master Mason to become a Templar, so I called the Grand Lodge of Kansas, the only other state I knew William had lived in from listening to my father’s stories. Unfortunately, the call with the Grand Lodge of Kansas ended with them telling me that they did not have a record of a William H. Bernard being a mason in Kansas. This was a problem. My father’s stories said William lived in Kansas before his first marriage ended and in Montana working for the Great Northern Railway after.
Without another state’s Grand Lodge to call, I decided to look up where the Great Northern Railway’s corporate records to see if I could locate William. As luck would have it, the majority of the Great Northern Railway’s records were burned when the company was purchased in the 1970’s. While trying to locate the corporate records, I learned that the Great Northern’s headquarters were in Minnesota. Discouraged, but not defeated, I picked up my phone and called the Grand Lodge of Minnesota to ask if they had a William H Bernard in their records. Again, I was asked to hold while they looked through their records. When the voice came back on the line it said, “We do have a William H Bernard in our records. Do you have a pen ready”? I said I did and held my breath.
William H Bernard
- Age – 35
- Born – Louisiana
- Occupation – Brakeman
Progression Through The Masonic Order
- Entered the Apprentice Degree – June 10, 1901
- Fellowcraft Degree – August 12, 1901
- Master Mason – September 28, 1901
I Need To Call My Dad
When the information from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota matched the information I knew about William H Bernard. The first thought that came to my mind was, I need to let my dad know! I hadn’t solved the mystery, but I was pretty sure that I had information about William that my father did not. My initial desire to brag and gloat that I had solved the mystery that my father couldn’t had been replaced by an overwhelming desire to share what I had learned with him.
I sent my father a text message that said, “I think I have some new information on William H. Bernard.” My father, who normally took at least an hour or two to respond to a text message, texted back immediately. His response was three words, “call me now”!
I recounted my Knights Templar and Mason membership findings to my father. He was excited by this new information. He had not known that William was a member of the Knights Templar or that he had lived in Minnesota. His main excitement was derived from a fact that I did not know. After William’s divorce in 1897, my father had never been able to locate him again until 1903 in Kalispell, Montana. My first couple hours of research helped my father take a couple of years off what he called “William’s missing period”, but more importantly it gained him a partner in his search. There was no way I was stopping my efforts. I was hooked.