Whaleback (Ledge) Lighthouse, Kittery, Maine, USA, about 1950.

Lighthouse and Life-Saving Service Records

Editor’s note: This formerly archived post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley explains the historic background of the United States lighthouse system, and how the interrelated management of the lighthouses and life-saving stations is crucial to utilizing records to find your relatives. If your ancestor was a lighthouse keeper or a member of a life-saving station crew, these records are essential to your research. If you have an ancestor who may have been lost at sea, or who may have been a sea captain whose vessel foundered on the rocks in a gale, records exist which may contain detailed specifics of their experiences or the circumstances of their deaths.

The United States Lighthouse Establishment

In 1789 the ninth act passed by the new United States Congress required that the twelve lighthouses, under individual state control during the colonial period, be ceded to the new federal government. The United States Lighthouse Establishment was created to oversee “aids to navigation” and was placed under the aegis of the Treasury Department.

At first, Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, reviewed contracts and appointed keepers, but in 1792 he turned over that responsibility to the Commissioner of the Revenue, where it remained until Albert Gallatin, a close confidant of Thomas Jefferson, became the fourth Secretary of the Treasury in 1801. Following Gallatin’s two terms in office, the responsibility for the Lighthouse Establishment reverted to the Commissioner of the Revenue until 1820, when Stephen Pleasonton, Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, assumed the responsibility. Local-level administration fell to the various collectors of customs.

By 1822 there were seventy lighthouses. Succeeding years saw a quantum leap to 256 lighthouses by 1842, in addition to thirty light vessels. Throughout the mid-1800s, the Army Corps of Engineers played an increasing role in choosing sites for lighthouses as well as in their design and construction. The quality of service deteriorated, however, to such an extent that by 1851 Congress was forced to investigate conditions at the nation’s many navigational aid facilities. This work resulted in the establishment of a United States Lighthouse Board that operated between 1852 and 1910.  By 1896 lighthouse keepers had become civil service employees and by 1910, there were 11,713 aids to navigation (lighthouses, light ships, buoys, etc.) throughout the country. During that year, Congress abolished the cumbersome Board and authorized the establishment of the Bureau of Lighthouses under the Department of Commerce. The Bureau remained in existence until 1939, when its responsibilities were transferred to the United States Coast Guard. Continue reading…

Holland Land Company map of Western New York.

Holland Land Company Records: Land Research in Western New York State

Editor’s note: The following post from our archives, written by author Karen E. Livsey, provides insight into the information contained in her two volume work, Western New York Land Transactions: Extracted from the Archives of the Holland Land Company. Ms. Livsey is the Library/Archivist at the Fenton History Center in Jamestown (Chautauqua Co.), New York, and she serves as the Ellicott (N.Y.) Town Historian. She has previously appeared as a member of the Genealogical Publishing Company booth staff at national genealogical conferences.

It has been over 200 years since Joseph Ellicott completed a two and one-half year survey of the Holland Land Company’s holdings and the main land office opened in Batavia, New York. My two-volume Western New York Land Transactions: Extracted from the Archives of the Holland Land Company (Volume 1 and Volume 2) provides detailed information that can solve land research problems in western New York State. An understanding of these records and their contents, however, is a must for their successful use.

Individual settlers accounted for the majority of the sales of land in western New York State by the Holland Land Company during its thirty-plus years of operation. In the 1790s, the Dutch banking houses that created the Holland Land Company had purchased large tracts of land from Robert Morris totaling 3.3 million acres. Today that land is all of Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, and Cattaraugus counties, most of Orleans, Genesee, and Wyoming Counties, and the western part of Allegany County. Many of the early settlers coming into that area of New York State were from New England and eastern and central New York, in addition to some from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They were followed by immigrants from Europe. Continue reading…

Battle of Lexington, Revolutionary War soldiers pensions

Revolutionary War Pension Records Restored, Consolidated, and Explained, Part II

Editor’s Note: Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck’s groundbreaking book Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905 identifies and recreates the Revolutionary War pension files generated prior to the disastrous fire in the War Department on 8 November 1800, and a second and even more disastrous fire on 24 August 1814 with the British invasion of Washington. Mr. Bockstruck has not only identified many of those pensioners whose files are commonly believed to have been lost but also reconstructed in varying degrees their contents. More than 16,500 pensioners are featured in this work.

The Introduction to Mr. Bockstruck’s book is a bibliographical essay that both explains the legislative and archival history of the Revolutionary War pensions and identifies the existing sources–primarily the pension records of the Original Thirteen States and various Congressional sources-that the author utilized in this massive attempt at evidentiary reconstruction. This article, published in three parts, is excerpted from that Introduction. Part One was published in last week’s Genealogy Pointers and here on our blog. Be sure to read the conclusion in the October 7, 2014 issue of Genealogy Pointers or here at GenealogyandFamilyHistory.com. 

Revolutionary War Pension Records, Part II

There were a number of pension acts after the one of 1776. The next was that of 15 May 1778, which authorized half-pay for seven years to all officers who remained in Continental service to the end of the war. It did not apply to foreign officers or officers above the rank of colonel. It also provided a gratuity of $80 to every enlisted man who served to the end of the war. The states were to make the payments on account with the United States. The act of 24 August 1780 extended the half-pay provision to widows or orphan children of officers who had died or would die in the service.

Following the resignation of 160 officers between January and October 1780, Congress addressed the problem of a lack of pensions. By the Resolve of 21 October 1780, all officers who continued to the end of the war should be entitled to half-pay for life. Congress did not, however, make any funds available to implement the program. On 23 April 1782 soldiers who were sick or wounded and were reported unfit for duty in the field or garrison were to be pensioned at the rate of $5 per month. The states were to dispense the funds annually and to draw upon the Superintendent of Finance for the money advanced. On 22 March 1783 Congress authorized full-pay for invalid officers for no more than five years or half-pay for life.

Continue reading…

'United_States_Marines_near_Reading,_Pennsylvania_revolutionary_war'

Revolutionary War Pension Records Restored, Consolidated, and Explained, Part I

Editor’s Note: Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck’s groundbreaking book, Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905, identifies and recreates the Revolutionary War pension files generated prior to the disastrous fire in the War Department on November 8, 1800, and a second and even more disastrous fire on August 24, 1814 with the British invasion of Washington. Mr. Bockstruck has not only identified many of those pensioners whose files are commonly believed to have been lost, but also reconstructed in varying degrees their contents. More than 16,500 pensioners are featured in this work.

The Introduction to Mr. Bockstruck’s book explains the legislative and archival history of the Revolutionary War pension records and identifies the existing sources – primarily the pension records of the Original Thirteen States and various Congressional sources – that the author utilized in this massive attempt at evidentiary reconstruction.

This article, published in three parts, is excerpted from that Introduction. Be sure to read the next two issues of “Genealogy Pointers” or visit our blog for parts II and III:

Continue reading…

Ft. McHenry, War of 1812

The Forgotten War of 1812, Part I

Today and tomorrow, September 13-14, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the defense of Fort McHenry and the City of Baltimore. As most of us are taught as children, it was the defense of the fort that inspired Francis Scott Key, a Washington, D.C. attorney seeking the release of an American prisoner and watching the bombardment from shipboard, to write the poem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” that years later became our national anthem. However, beyond our national anthem, many people are hard pressed to explain anything about the War of 1812.

In an article for Slate, “Happy 200th Birthday, War of 1812! A primer on America’s most bumbling, most confusing, and most forgotten conflict” James M. Lundberg, an assistant professor of history at Lake Forest College, says it so well:

Like Avogadro’s number or the rules of subjunctive verbs, the War of 1812 is one of those things that you learned about in school and promptly forgot without major consequence.

There are plenty of reasons for this. The War of 1812 has complicated origins, a confusing course, an inconclusive outcome, and demands at least a cursory understanding of Canadian geography. Moreover, it stands as the highlight of perhaps the single most ignored period of American History—one that the great historian Richard Hofstadter described as “dreary and unproductive … an age of slack and derivative culture, of fumbling and small-minded statecraft, terrible parochial wrangling, climaxed by a ludicrous and unnecessary war.”

When Congress declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812, the country was divided on whether or not to even fight it. The New England states that had been most affected by the offensive British practice of “impressment” seemed the least willing to pursue military action. In order to have the manpower, states put forth their own militias, whose records are a boon to genealogical researchers. Books like Virginia Militia in the War of 1812, Kentucky Soldiers of the War of 1812, Roster of Ohio Soldiers in the War of 1812, and Muster Rolls of the Soldiers of the War of 1812 (North Carolina) each contain thousands of names often with other pertinent details like rank, dates of service and where these men served.

When it came time for these militiamen to fight, the results were mixed. Some units were filled with unruly men loath to follow orders, while other units suffered from a lack of good leadership:

No one more fully embodied the pathetic state of early American military might than General William Hull, the bloated and incompetent governor of the Michigan territory charged with the initial matter of marching into Canada. Entering present-day Ontario from Detroit at the head of an ill-trained troop of 2,000 militiamen, Hull met with little initial resistance, but his triumph ended there. Upon hearing news that the British had taken Fort Mackinac at the northern tip of Michigan, Hull panicked and pulled his men back to the American fort at Detroit. When he received a bogus document warning of a vast force of Indians on the march, Hull lost it. Barely coherent, stuffing his mouth with so much tobacco that the juice ran down his face, and crouching to avoid imaginary artillery shelling, Hull yielded Detroit without any real fire from a smaller force of British Canadians and Indians. Incursions to the east didn’t go much better that fall. The war was just a few months old, and the entire Michigan territory had fallen into British hands.

Not all of the battles went as poorly as the infamous surrender of Detroit. The Battle on the River Raisin was fought in and around Frenchtown (now Monroe), Michigan from January 18 to 23, 1812, and was one of the four principal campaigns of the War of 1812 engaged in by the Kentucky forces. Following the massacre of American forces at Frenchtown – including as many as 60 Kentucky soldiers – patriots exhorted one another with shouts of “Remember the Raisin,” which gave the new nation the “vengeance-fired impetus” to wage the remaining battles of the War of 1812. The book Remember the Raisin! is a bipartite volume containing detailed biographical and genealogical sketches of nearly 100 officers and enlisted men who served on River Raisin, and complete rosters of the Kentucky soldiers who saw action there.

Please see Part II for additional discussion on the War of 1812.

Image credit: By Dr.frog at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons