|NY, Governor's Registers of Commitment to Prisons, 1842-1908 ancestry.com|
Find Your Blacksheep
|Liberty Tribune, 1857|
|Liberty Tribune, 1855|
Although your black sheep may have visited the city jail, county jail, or Federal Penitentiary, be sure to check the following resources for those held in state prisons or penitentiaries. Although census records may enumerate your ancestor as “resident” of the penitentiary, remember newspaper articles provide accounts of not only the crimes, but often the trial, and witness statements. In addition the details of your ancestor’s crime can be uncovered in a series of the following state held documents.
- Original court case. With a bit of legwork, researchers may find copies of an original court case in the county courthouse, the State courthouse or at the federal level.
- Warden Papers. Most states have an extensive collection of Warden Papers. Maryland Historical Society Warden Papers date from 1797-1851.
- Prison Escapes. Of course the newspapers announced escapees, but also official papers may be located in the Board of Inspectors Records. Excess escapes often led to investigations of the lessee’s management of the prison by the Penitentiary Board of Inspectors.
- Penitentiary Board of Inspectors Records. It’s not always clear how collections cross the states, but the Missouri Board of Inspectors Records 1843-1854 can be located at the University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library: Finding Aid for Mo. Penitentiary Board of Inspectors Records 1843-1854.
- Discipline Papers. Guards and Wardens recorded “official’ disciplinary actions and so did prisoner advocates. Researchers may find records, like the Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy dated as early as 1845 from the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons.
- Penitentiary Physician Collections. Like most states, physician reports can be located at the State Archives. The Texas State penitentiary from 1860 - 1880 is located at the Texas State Archives, 1846-1921.
- Pardon Papers. Although Pardon Papers may be extensive with explanation of decision, or may be as scant as a Certificate of Pardon, these collections are useful. Often pardons were initiated by community petitions as was the pardon papers of Cynthia Nixon’s great-great-great grandmother, Martha Casto recently presented on TLC, Who Do You Think You Are?.
- Papers of Governors. As pardons were issued by the Governors, these papers are crucial in understanding a “missing” prisoner, a pardoned prison, or one note housed in the prison. Governor’s papers were often preserved and may be found at the State Archives as is the case for Missouri. Papers of Governor Meredith Miles Marmaduke have been salvaged from 9 Feb 1844 – 20 Nov 1944 and those of Governor Thomas Reynolds from 1840 to 19 Feb 1844 are available.
- The Journal of the Senate. Names and events provided in the Senate Journal of the State provide delightful hints to prisoners and activities of the penitentiaries. A good example is the Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1841).
- County Histories. County Histories are commonly found at local libraries, State Archives, and online. It’s a welcomed surprise to find one’s ancestors in these county history books.
- State Historical Reviews. The Missouri Historical Review held a wonderful article on Strangers to Domestic Virtues: Nineteenth-Century Women in the Missouri Prison by Gary R. Kremer that proffered a wealth of knowledge.
- Dissertations and Thesis. The study of Prisons and the culture of penitentiaries has long been a favorite for graduate studies. Be sure to read "A History of the Missouri State Penitentiary, 1833-1875" written by William Charles Nesheim, M. A. thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1971).
- New York, Prisoners Received at Newgate State Prison, 1797-1810
- New York, Governor's Registers of Commitments to Prisons, 1842-1908
- Alabama Convict Records (county and state), 1886-1952
- Louisiana, State Penitentiary Records, 1866-1963