Sunday, March 12, 2023

Tracing Missing Ancestors?

Turn to the Penal System
We didn't realize how many a3genealogy client brickwalls had been crushed through the penal system, until we reviewed the keywords "penitentiary" and "prison" on the a3Genealogy blog. Our brickwall cases for disappearing family members, the black sheep of the family, runaways, and white collar crime runaway have included two celebrity TV research projects; an imprisoned woman; and several blackship cases that drove us to researching Federal and State prison records.  This includes our Hittin' the Bricks with Kathleen #Ep 05, All About the Benjamin! (Listen here, freepodcast)

Where to Begin

Note: We purposely excluded below the half dozen blog posts that guide researchers to tracing Prisoners of War (POW) during the Civil War.
At this point we are only writing about U S. A. ancestors but if you are looking of Irish or English or another ancestor, just use the catalog keywords for your location.

When historians and genealogists write on topics, it can sometimes be quite specific.  On page 109 of the Kentucky Genealogists a page is dedicated to just "Inmates of Indiana State penitentiary, Born in Kentucky." Actually, this was quite useful to the a3Genealogy team a few years back. 

Indiana Penitentiary, Kentucky Born, pg. 109
Did you know has some free index and free access to some records? Check to see if your state has free prison and penitentiary records or use your local library to peruse the following: 

Arizona, U.S., State Prison Records, 1875-1929

Iowa, U.S., Consecutive Registers of Convicts, 1867-1970

Tulare County, California, U.S., Sheriff's Office and Jail Records, 1874-1963

NY, Governor's Registers of Commitment to Prisons, 1842-1908

California, U.S., Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, 1934-1963

Kansas, U.S., U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth, Name Index to Inmate Case Files, 1895-1936

 Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Criminal and Prison Record Indexes, 1681-1911

For the subscriber of additional records can be found in the catalog under U. S. Penitentiary Records, 1875 - 1963

6 Resources to Tracing the Black Sheep Ancestor
Here is a helpful listing of how to trace the missing black sheep of the family who may have ended in the penal system:  

1. US Federal Penitentiary Case Files: Inmate Case Files 1895-1952
2. Court and Prison Records for Narcotics and Liquor: As seen with Ginnifer Goodwin
3. Penitentiary Records: Part I- 12 State Prison Research Treasures
4. Penitentiary Records: Part II Researching State Inmates
5. Penitentiary Records: Women in Prison: As Seen with Cynthia Nixon
6. Prison Records and Genealogy: San Benito County Jail and San Quentin State Prison
Governor Pardon: Liberty Tribune, 1855

Penal records are replete with the following:

  • Governor pardon records
  • prison inspector records
  • warden records and notes; and 
  • prisoner physician records. 
Be sure to see how we recommend records in the podcast All About the BenjaminEnjoy, and be sure to leave comments and feedback.

 Kathleen Brandt
Be Historically Correct
Accurate Accessible Answers  

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