Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fraternal/Social Organizations: What were our ancestors up to?

One of the things I do for the Seattle Genealogical Society (SGS) is attempt to raise a little money by posting some of our extra books (duplicates and books that don't fit into our library collection on Ebay.

I brought another box home from SGS the other day and started working through it. Last night I came across this amazing book. It's relatively large (10.5" x 12.5") in format, but only contains about 60 pages. It's a hardback and the decorative strip on the front is embroidery, with every centimeter of that strip covered with thread.

The only text and only black-and-white pages are the title page and what would normally be the table of contents. In this case, it's a list of attendees and invitees to a single event--the 43rd annual Ranch Meeting of the Conquistadores del Cielo in September 1980 at the A Bar A ranch near Jackson, Wyoming. Most of the book's 60 pages are covered with color photos of wealthy men connected to the aerospace industry in some way having a good time. They're shown arriving on their private planes, dining, golfing, playing tennis, skeet shooting, fishing, ..... you get the idea.

As it turns out, the Conquistadores del Cielo--the Conquerors of the Sky--is a very exclusive fraternity (at least in 1980 they were all men; hopefully it's been integrated by now) of the most prominent leaders in the global aviation industry, including heads of the largest airlines and aircraft/power plant manufacturers. They've been meeting since 1938, and are apparently still active. The affiliations are not listed for the members, but the invited guests for the 1980 ranch meeting included executives from Eastern Airlines, General Dynamics Corp., British Caledonian Airlines, Douglas Aircraft Corp., Hughes Aircraft Corp., Rockwell International, American Airlines, United Technologies, Boeing, Canadair, Pratt & Whitney, Gulfstream, and TigerAir. There are apparently multiple levels of membership, as some are listed as "ranch members" and some as "fiesta members", plus a few (3) life members. Officers and Directors are listed. The only names I recognize are T. A. Wilson, former chairman of Boeing, Bob Crandall, chairman of American Airlines, and Neil Armstrong, astronaut. I'm sure aerospace enthusiasts would recognize many more names. If you're interested, they're all included in our eBay listing here.

Posting this book got me thinking. What organizations did my ancestors belong to? What role did these organizations play in their lives? How can I find out what groups they affiliated with? I do have a couple of membership cards in my ephermera collection. I've got my great-grandfather Brookshire's membership certificate in Blendville Lodge 573, Independent Order of Oddfellows, from 1913. And I've got a small red membership/dues card for my great-great-grandfather Collins from the Communist Party in Galata, MT, showing dues paid through 1913. Unfortunately, I've had no luck learning more about the latter, but it sure is intriguing. I know from newspaper accounts that my maternal grandmother was active in several "social clubs" in Weaubleau, MO, in the 1920s and 1930s, but they don't seem to have been formally chartered organizations. To fill out my ancestors' FAN clubs (friends-associates-neighbors) it certainly would be nice to know what social clubs they belonged to. Anybody have any ideas about how to find membership lists for such groups? If so, please post a comment.

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