I'm sometimes asked by Family Historians questions along the line "my grandfather was a [Rechabite/Oddfellow...] where can I find records of his membership ?".
To answer this it is necessary to remember that most national (UK) societies went through some four phases:
(a) an early period with significant fluctuations in membership and a less than perfect understanding of actuarial theory - generally pre 1855.
(b) a more stable period of growth with increasingly better understanding of actuarial theory backed up by a limited amount of government supervision (eg Registrar of Friendly Societies) - up to 1911.
(c) in the UK post 1911 (Isle of Man post 1913) a rapid rise in membership as new National Insurance Legislation required most workers to join some scheme; most of these members did not join in the social activities of the society.
(d) post 1948 a rapid decline and lingering existence as a State-based National Insurance (Welfare State) took over the provision of services for which members had previously saved with some Society.
Most societies lingered on with an aging and declining membership until the 1960's or 1970's - many then closed or merged with others but in most cases becoming very different organisations than in their past; these organistions have seldom either kept or have the resources to answer questions about, early records.
Records were generally kept at the local level - any national organisation keeping lists of members and checking the financial status of the many local branches. Few pre 1860 records survive it seems. During the period of decline many records were lost, others were more lucky in that they were deposited with some local record office. Those that did can usually be located by searching the (UK)National Register of Archives (Manx National Heritage have also submitted their holding so it includes Manx records) - this archive is maintained by the Historical Manuscripts Commission and can be accessed on-line at <www.hmc.gov.uk/nra/nra2.htm> - search using the name of the friendly society (few personal names are included) - it will give the name of the holding record office who must then be contacted re access etc.
The UK Public Records Office <www.pro.gov.uk> also has records relating to the society (rather than members). including 3 UK-wide surveys of 1865/7, 1875 and 1910.
Try the Friendly Societies Research Group website at <www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/sociology> for links for existing socities or other on-line sites.