Monday, July 27, 2015

Court and Prison Records for Narcotics and Liquor

Leonard McCray, Inmate Number 2541, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, National Archives
Was Your Ancestor a Federal Inmate? ( Like Ginnifer Goodwin's)
We were all glued to our TV screen as Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) featured the family of Ginnifer Goodwin.  During the show, the questions poured in.  So here is the promised research blog of how to find records of your incarcerated federal prisoner. 

Opium, 1922
Most would believe that during the 1920’s prohibition violations would have populated the prison system.  However, in reality it was drug offenders: morphine and cocaine.  The KC NARA webpage states “Leavenworth had so many drug violators that they formed their own baseball teams. The "Morphines" and the "Cocaines" squared off in an annual contest to determine the best baseball-playing dope violators in the institution.” 

Palatka Florida News, 1921
However, narcotic records were not classified as archival, and were marked to be discarded after 30 years.  For example the Leavenworth Federal Narcotic records for prisoners held in the Leavenworth Federal Annex were destroyed.  But many of these inmates appear later with other offenses.  To ferret ancestor's prison records, be sure to review each regional branch of the National Archives (NARA).  We have found inmates convicted in Arkansas. sentenced to Leavenworth, but court records were archived in NARA-Atlanta.
Liquor Licenses
Federal Prohibition Agent
If your ancestor requested a liquor license, you may find his application in the records created by the Federal Alcohol Control Administration “Liquor Licenses,1920-1934".  You may also find earlier IRS license stamps in other local repositories.

Federal Court Records
U. S. District Court Records are located at all of the National Archives locations, with each holding the District Court records for the states in their region. However, the Federal Penitentiary Inmate Case Files are held only at the following NARA regions: Kansas City, Alcatraz, Atlanta and McNeil (state of Washington).*
(*Paragraph Correction Made: 7 Aug 2015)

 10 Hints in Federal Prison Records 
  1. Mug Shot - These pics are clear, and the person is definitely identified.
  2. Record Sheet -To include name, crime, violation (some surprisingly minor) and dates.
  3. Personal Data Sheet - Birth, education and religion. Often includes spouse and parent’s name.
  4. Fingerprints - These records include marks and scars.
  5. Daily Work Record -Reports our ancestors’ daily life in prison. 
  6. Hospital Record - Medical records are often difficult to obtain for ancestors, but prison records proffer the information without a fuss (up to 1952). 
  7. Correspondence Log -These records may hold the post office and state of correspondence. This kind of information may assist a researcher to a family’s whereabouts. 
  8. Personal Correspondence - Although letters were considered private property of inmates, they may have been confiscated and preserved due to a violation
  9. Trusty Prisoner’s Agreement - Perhaps your ancestor was remorseful and on the mends.  He may have been allowed to work outside the walls or in a low level job inside.  That might give a happy closure to those sleepless nights.
  10. Sentence of Court Case -We all have used court cases to further our research and you definitely wouldn’t want to disregard this one.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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