Research Our Records

Basic Search Path for Records Relating to Lighthouses

Part 1: Introduction

This web page provides a brief introductory guide to researching lighthouse buildings and property and their operations and personnel. The most frequently used records relating to lighthouses are in Record Group 26, Records of the U.S. Coast Guard. The series numbers cited below are those shown in Forrest R. Holdcamper, Preliminary Inventory (P.I.) NC-31, Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the United States Coast Guard (unpublished, National Archives, 1963).

Part 2: The Buildings and the Property

  1. RG 26, NC-31, Series 66, Lighthouse Site Files, 1790-1939. These are files relating to the sites on which lighthouses were located. The records often include plans of the property which delineate the property boundaries and indicate where the lighthouse and associated buildings are, or will be, located. Some files also include deeds to the property as well as supporting documentation concerning the transfer of the property to the U.S. Government. The records are arranged alphabetically by state, and then numerically by the number assigned to the lighthouse. The numerical arrangement is often also alphabetical by the name of the lighthouse.

  2. The Annual Reports of the Light-House Board to the Secretary of the Treasury, 1852-1903, and the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses to the Secretary of the Commerce and Labor, 1903-1910, are in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government, and can be found in U.S. Government Depository Libraries (large public or university libraries) under the call number T.25.1 (1852-1903) or C.9.1 (1903-1910).
Part 3: Operations
  1. RG 26, NC-31, Series 1, Journal of the Lighthouse Board, May 20, 1851-Jan. 1, 1908. The journal is a series of 28 volumes of unabridged records of the Board's proceedings, including some correspondence signed by the Chairman, the Engineer Secretary, and the Naval Secretary. These records are arranged chronologically and indexed alphabetically by subject at the beginning of the volume.

  2. RG 26, NC-31, Series 38, List of General Correspondence, 1791-1900. This "list" is actually more of an abstract/index to the letters received by the Lighthouse Board. Each 3/8" slip of paper contains the name of the writer, an identifier for that person (e.g. 1st District inspector, or 1st District engineer), the topic of the letter along with a brief synopsis, the date of the letter, the book (volume) in which the letter appears, and the "page number" (the number of the letter within the volume). Many of the volumes were destroyed or severely damaged in 1921 while stored in the Department of Commerce building.

  3. Letters Received by the Lighthouse Board include several series of letters:
    RG 26, NC-31, Series 24, Letters Received from District Engineers and Inspectors, ca. 1853-1900
    RG 26, NC-31, Series 36, Letters Received by the Lighthouse Service, 1829-1900
    RG 26, NC-31, Series 9, Reports Submitted to the Lighthouse Board by Committees, 1874-1900
Part 4: Personnel
  1. Lighthouse Keepers and Assistant Keepers. NARA microfilm publication M1373, Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845-1912 (6 rolls) includes lists of keepers and assistant keepers. The lists typically consist of the names, the district and the name of the light, the date of appointment, the date of resignation or discharge or death, and sometimes the annual salary. Most of the lists do not actually begin until 1849.

  2. Similar lists, which have not been microfilmed, are as follows:
    RG 26, NC-31, Series 97, List of Appointments and Transfers, 1870-1903. RG 26, NC-31, Series 98, List of Lighthouse Keepers and Other Employees, 1853-1868. RG 26, NC-31, Series 100, List of Appointments of Lighthouse Keepers, 1832-1860. RG 26, NC-31, Series 101, Record of Salaries of Lighthouse Keepers, 1801-1849 and 1881-1902. RG 26, NC-31, Series 105A, Register of Lighthouse Employees, 1871-1907.

  3. RG 26, NC-31, Series 82, Correspondence Concerning Keepers and Assistants, 1821-1902. These letters contain nominations of keepers and assistant keepers with testimonials, lists of examination questions, notifications of appointments, oaths of office, requests for transfer, recommendations for promotion, complaints, petitions, and reports of inspectors. Also included are letters of resignation. The records are arranged alphabetically.

  4. RG 26, NC-31, Series 85, Correspondence Relating to Personnel of Lighthouse Vessels, 1850-90. The correspondence relates largely to nominations for masters and other officials, claims for compensation, resignations and requests for transfer. It is arranged alphabetically by name of light vessel.

  5. RG 26, NC-31, Series 87, Nominations for Employees of the Lighthouse Board, 1865-1907. The first volume shows the name of the nominee, the date of appointment, the position applied for, the annual salary, the date the oath of office was taken, and other miscellaneous remarks. This volume is arranged by district and then chronologically. It also includes an index by employee name. The remaining 5 volumes show date of appointment, the name of the light station appointed to, the name of the nominee, the nominee's place of residence, the annual salary, and other remarks. These volumes are arranged alphabetically by station name.

  6. RG 26, NC-31, Series 102, Letters of Appointment of Lighthouse Keepers, 1886-1907. These are 13 volumes of press copies of letters of appointment, declination and promotion. Since they are arranged chronologically, it is first necessary to search NARA microfilm publication M1373 for the date of appointment.

Part 5: Lighthouse Plans and Drawings

A list of lighthouse plans and drawings has been published as Special List No. 57, Lighthouse Plans in the National Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1990). This publication is currently out of print.

Reproductions of the plans and drawings are available through NARA's:

Cartographic and Architectural Branch
Special Media Archives Division
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Phone: 301-837-3200
Email: carto@nara.gov

Part 6: Online Information

Search the Online Catalog for online information about lighthouses (keyword = lighthouse). Please note that relatively few records are available online in the online catalog.

Research Our Records >

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

.