London (AFP) - Records of two million members of the secretive Freemasons have been published online, showing that its members during Britain's imperial heyday included Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling.
Membership records from 1733 to 1923 -- mainly in Britain and the British Empire --- have been digitised and published on the family history website Ancestry, the company said Monday.
"The records demonstrate the extensive involvement which Freemasons have had in British society," Diane Clements, director of the Freemasonry library and museum, said in a statement.
The records show details including Freemasons' names, profession, residence and when they joined the society, which grew out of guilds in Britain in the Middle Ages and became a club for men involving ritual and symbols.
Prominent members named in the records include Churchill, who initiated into the Studholme Lodge aged 26 in May 1901.
Wilde, who wrote the novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and plays such as "The Importance of Being Earnest," appears in the records as a member of the Apollo University Lodge, Cambridge, after his initiation aged 20 in 1875.
While Churchill, Wilde and Kipling, famed for "The Jungle Book," have been named as Freemasons before, the directory reveals the span of membership in the British Empire at its height.
The list includes 5,500 police officers, 170 judges, 169 MPs, 16 bishops and an Indian prince, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The scientist Henry Wellcome is named as a member, while Kipling is shown to have initiated into the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance No 782 in Lahore in what is now the Punjab region of Pakistan in 1886.
The records, which were taken from originals kept at the London headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England, show that common professions for Freemasons included engineers, merchants, clerks and farmers.
Their release follows a series of initiatives by the Freemasons to be open about their organisation, which has over 200,000 members in England today, and dispel conspiracy theories surrounding it.
"We're delighted to be able to offer people an online window into a relatively unknown organisation," Miriam Silverman, senior UK content manager at Ancestry said in a statement on Monday.
"Whilst we can't reveal the inner workings of Freemason ceremonies, what we can tell you is the details of over two million historic members."