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…

Orphan Train flyer

Suffer the Little Children – Orphan Trains in America

In this post from the archives by the late Carolyn Barkley, the history and role of America’s orphan trains in a children’s diaspora is discussed. If you are having trouble tracing a child in your family history during the time period of 1853-1930, looking into the orphan trains may help you in your search.

It is dark and the wind whips up the few leaves that have found their way into the gutter. A figure, hunched against the night’s cold, appears in the dim light of the street lamp. She cautiously, and almost furtively, lays her carefully wrapped burden on the doorstep, gives it a lingering caress and then disappears back into the shadows. A few streets away, a small, grubby child begs for food on the corner, perhaps assessing each pedestrian as a possible candidate for pick-pocketing. Sound melodramatic? Surely. But scenes such as these were enacted on the streets of New York during the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Immigration had brought many hopefuls to America’s shores. It is estimated that in the approximately twenty years between 1841 and 1860, over four million immigrants arrived; by the turn of the century, over one million were landing each year. This influx of newcomers, often poor and with no immediate prospects in their new country, caused many problems. Housing was limited; jobs were often unavailable to immigrants; food was scarce; and diseases were common-place. The support that might have been provided by members of extended families in the “old country” was not available in the new. Laws regulating – and ultimately restricting – immigration would not be enacted until 1917, although there was a Chinese Exclusion Act as early as the 1880s. The result was the abandonment of children on the doorsteps of private homes, churches, and other institutions that might provide them with shelter and care, and a growing number of homeless childrens eeking out a poor subsistence on the streets.

In New York City, two agencies began to address the issue. Continue reading…

Ethan Allen's Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. Find your relatives using Revolutionary War pension records.

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

Editor’s Note: This article, the third of three installments, is excerpted from the Introduction to Mr. Bockstruck’s 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. The first two installments appeared in Genealogy Pointers and here on our blog (Part I and Part II).

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

Due to the 8 November 1800 fire in the War Department in Washington, D.C., which destroyed almost all of the pension files submitted before that date, there are pension files bearing the notation “Dis. No. Papers” that were created from pension claims submitted for approval to Congress between 1792 and 1795. They are listed in the American State Papers, Class 9, Claims. There was a second fire in the War Department 24 August 1814, which destroyed the pension files submitted within the first fourteen years of the nineteenth century. Some of those pension files were also partially recreated and also bear the notation “Dis. No Papers.” Such files contain the name of the veteran, unit, date of enlistment, nature of disability, residence, and amount of pension. In the micro-publication Letters Received by the Secretary of War, Main Series, 1801-1870, M221, are some letters of inquiry about eligibility for pensions, replacement of lost pension certificates, &c.

Army and Navy Pension Laws, and Bounty Land Laws of the United States, Including Sundry Resolutions of Congress, from 1776 to 1852: Executed at the Department of the Interior with an Appendix, Containing the Opinions of Attorneys General of the United States, with the Decisions, Rules, and Regulations Adopted by Different Secretaries Relative to the Execution of Those Laws (Washington, D.C.: Printed by Jno. T. Towers, 1852) by Robert Mayo and Ferdinand Moulton remains an important source for ascertaining the existence of pension files before the two fires. Another one is Resolutions, Laws, and Ordinances Relating to the Pay, Half Pay, Commutation of Half Pay, Bounty Lands, and Promises Made by Congress (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1998).

At various times Congress requested lists of pensioners, and these reports have been printed. These lists augment the other fragmentary records and provide data not available elsewhere. The pension report for the year 1792 is the second volume of House publication Reports War Department 1st Congress, 3rd Session to 2nd Congress 2nd Session. It contains the names of 1,358 pensioners. Seven reports between 1794 and 1795 are in Senate publication War Office Returns to Invalid Claims. The 1796 report first appeared in print in Mary Govier Ainswoth’s “Recently Discovered Records Relating to Revolutionary War Veterans Who Applied for Pensions under the Act of 1792,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, XLVI (1958) 8-13, 73-78.

A Transcript of the Pension List of the United States of 1813 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1959) is extremely significant because it was the last one to appear prior to the fire of 1814. It contains the names of 1,766 pensioners, not all of whom, however, were Revolutionary War veterans. Of course, many pensioners were already deceased by 1813. The U.S. War Department’s Pension List of 1820 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991) contains the names of more than 15,000 pensioners. In order to replace the papers and applications submitted after 1800 but destroyed in the fire of 1814, Congress issued The Pension List of 1835 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1835, 1968). The four-volume set has been greatly enhanced by the addition of indexes.

A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services; with Their Names, Ages, and Places of Residence, under the Act for Taking the Sixth Census, Bound with a General Index (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1974) contains the names of pensioners–both veterans and their widows at the time of the 1840 census. Some of these pensioners had been on the rolls prior to the fire of 1814. Others were state pensioners. By no means, however, were all of these individuals veterans of the Revolutionary War. Other pension lists include Letter from the Secretary of War, Communicating a Transcript of the Pension List of the United States (1817). It contains the names of about 1,000 pensioners and 300 half-pay pensioners. Pensioners of the United States, 1818 (Baltimore: Southern Book Company, 1959) has 5,900 pensioners and The Pension List of 1820 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991) has 17,000 pensioners.

The final payment vouchers found in Record Group 217 of the Treasury Department include a few invalid pensioners approved prior to 1814. The vouchers for the states of Georgia and Delaware have been microfilmed. Those for the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia have been published.

Perhaps as many as a few hundred state bounty land recipients who do not appear in [my earlier book,] Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996), are also featured in this work.

Each entry [in 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] contains the name of the veteran, the state of his or her service or residence, and details of service and family data consolidated from various sources. In some instances the evidence was insufficient for differentiating between individuals of the same name, or variations in spelling were so different that it was impossible to determine if there was a single pensioner. In such instances entries were left unconsolidated.

The sources for the individual states [far too numerous to be included here] are treated alphabetically by the Thirteen Original States plus the Green Mountain and Pine Tree states–Vermont and Maine. Kentucky and Tennessee also provided relief to selected Revolutionary War veterans living within their borders. The resources are discussed in alphabetical order for each locality [throughout the balance of the Introduction].

Image Credit: By John Steeple Davis (1844-1917) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Genealogy research

Tips for Genealogy Research, of the wittier variety

Bill Dollarhide prepared forty five witty tips for genealogy research, most of which are published below. While each aphorism is intended to produce a chuckle or two, each contains an important element of genealogical truth as well. Consider #15: “Finding the place where a person lived may lead to finding that person’s arrest record.” The point of #15 is that researchers must keep an open mind. No one knows what is around the next bend in one’s ancestral road. Continue reading…