From Alaska to Hawaii, from the Great Lakes to the Florida Keys, lighthouses have played an important part in America's history.But what are the stories behind these icons of coastal America? Who designed and built them? What was life like for the keeper and his family? Are there stories of ships that wrecked because lighthouses failed?
The lighthouse guided ships and warned them of hazards, much the way modern-day air traffic controllers direct planes.
In the earliest days, oil lamps and clock mechanisms were the lighthouses' machinery. The keepers had to trim the lamp wicks, replenish fuel, wind the clockworks and keep the lenses and windows clean. Manning and maintaining these critical lamp signals were vital jobs during America's seafaring days. That makes the keepers important historical figures.
Eventually, electricity and automation took over the jobs and keepers became obsolete. The Boston Light, dating back to 1716, was the last officially manned facility - the U.S. Coast Guard ceased duties there in 1998, although it is still staffed by the service and is open for tours.
America's first lighthouse, on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, was lit on Sept. 14, 1716 under the watchful eye of its first keeper, George Worthylake. He, his wife, daughter and two others died when the lighthouse boat capsized as they traveled from Boston to the island.
By the 1880s, the government had put into writing qualifications for being a keeper. They included being age 18 to 50; able to read, write, and keep records; able to do manual labor; capable of pulling and sailing a boat; and able to make minor mechanical repairs and keep the facility painted or whitewashed.
If there's a lighthouse keeper in your family, you're probably in for a treat. Keepers had to submit to the federal government monthly reports about conditions and activities at their stations. They also had to submit quarterly expenditures and salary vouchers, make shipwreck reports, and record any unusual occurrences. The government also required them to keep journals of their work.
According to the National Park Service "the books must be kept in ink, with neatness, and must always be kept up to date." Words to warm the heart of any genealogical researcher!
Lighthouse keepers were federal appointees. Records of their appointments and their years of service are housed at the National Archives. If you think there is a lighthouse keeper in your tree, go to www.archives.gov/genealogy/lighthouses and feast on the leads and links.
There's still time to register
for the Florida State Genealogical Society's annual conference but forms must be postmarked by Friday.
The conference will be Nov. 12 and 13 at the Hyatt Regency,1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. Registrations forms are available online at http://tbo.ly/9ZhdSO.
Acclaimed photo detective Maureen Taylor is the keynote speaker with four lectures.
Lectures also will be presented by Pam Cooper, Pauline Flewett, Kim V. Garvey, Mark S. Middleton, Michael John Neil, Joanne Daerr Ryder, Drew Smith, and C. Ann Staley.
Registration is open
for my eight-week Basic American Genealogy course, Heritage Hunting, sponsored by the South Bay Genealogical Society. The free classes will begin Jan. 15 and continue on Saturdays through March 12 (no class on Feb. 19) at SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shield Way, Ruskin. Sessions will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
It will cover basic research methods and explore American genealogical records.
Class seating is limited to 25 based on first-come registration. You must pre-register and have a confirmation email from me to attend. Register by sending email to email@example.com. Anyone who does not attend the first session will be dropped from the roster.