Historical U.S. Prison Records Online Research Your Criminal Ancestors

3 Nov
Newgate, the old city gate and prison

Newgate, the old city gate and prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Historical U.S. Prison Records Online Research Your Criminal Ancestors

By , About.com Guide

  • Criminal ancestors in the family tree may be less than ideal, but the records of their conviction and imprisonment can often be a gold mine of information. As part of your convict research, don’t miss the wealth of historical prison records and inmate records available online.
  • 1. Anamosa State Penitentiary, Iowa

    Search or browse historic stories and photos from the Anamosa State Penitentiary in Iowa, established in 1872. This unofficial history site only includes information on select historical inmates, and nothing on current inmates, but does provide a fascinating look at the history of this maximum security prison.

    2. Alcatraz Inmate Lists

    This free searchable database includes information on criminals imprisoned on Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco, California. Many of the entries are annotated, and there is also a list of famous prisoners such as Al Capone, Alvin Karpis, etc. Elsewhere on the site you can explore historical background of Alcatraz, maps and floorplans of The Rock, official inmate statistics, convict biographies, historical document transcripts and more.

    3. Arizona Department of Corrections – Historical Prison Register

    Search 100 years of prison admissions in this free searchable database of prisoners admitted to Arizona territorial and state prisons prior to 1972. Additional historical background on the prisons, plus a database of life imprisonment and death sentences from 1875-1966, is also available online.

    4. Executions at Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1873-1896

    From 1873 through 1896, eighty-six men were executed on the gallows at Fort Smith, Arkansas, all convicted of rape and murder which carried a mandatory federal death sentence during this time period. The National Park Service site for Fort Smith includes a timeline and biographies of the hangings.

    5. Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Inmate Case Files, 1902-1921

    This free online index from the National Archives, Southeast Region, includes names and inmate numbers for prisoners held in the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta between 1902 and 1921. With this information you can request inmate files from the National Archives which may also include details on the prisoner’s sentencing and incarceration, a fingerprint card, mug shot, physical description, citizenship, birthplace, level of education, birthplace of parents, and age at which the inmate left home. While the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta did not open until 1902, inmate case files may contain documentation from as early as 1880 for prisoners who were previously incarcerated by the federal government in other locations.

    6. Colorado State Penitentiary Prisoner Index, 1871-1973

    Browse by name in this free alphabetical index to historical inmate records from the Colorado State Penitentiary. The index provides the prisoner name and inmate number which you can use to request the corrections record from the Colorado State Archives. Available information may include biographical details, as well as information about the prisoner’s crime, sentence and parole or pardon. Prisoner mug shots are also available for most penitentiary inmates.

    7. Colorado State Reformatory Prison Records, 1887-1939

    If you had a male ancestory in Colorado who got an early start on his criminal career, then you may find his name in this free online database from the Denver Public Library. The Colorado State Reformatory provided special programs for youthful male offenders, generally 16 to 25 years of age, who were convicted of crimes other than murder or voluntary manslaughter. The online index provides each prisoner’s name, inmate number and prison record volume number. Complete inmate information is available from the Colorado State Archives.

    8. Connecticut – Wethersfield State Prison 1800-1903

    The Weathersfield State Prison opened in 1827 with the transfer of eighty-one prisoners from Newgate Prison. This free online index to Warrants of Commitment, 1800-1903 includes information on inmates admitted to Wethersfield, as well as some who were transferred there from Newgate, including prisoner’s name, aliases, residence, crime committed, victim (if known), sentence, court, and date of issue.

    This comprehensive PDF catalog produced by the Idaho State Historical Society includes historical and statistical information on the prison, as well as both alphabetical and case number indexes to the thousands of inmates who passed through the prison between 1864 and 1947. Also available is a smaller expanded index including information such as the inmate’s year of birth and crime committed, for Inmates Associated with the Mining Industry, 1865-1910.

    10. Chicago Police Department Homicide Record Index, 1870-1930

    This free searchable database chronicles 11,000+ homicides in the city of Chicago, Illinois, during the years 1870-1930 with case summaries describing the victim, the defendant, the circumstances of the homicide, the charges and the legal verdict. The website also chronicles 25 interesting Chicago homicide cases from start to finish.


One Response to “Historical U.S. Prison Records Online Research Your Criminal Ancestors”


  1. Interesting Pieces to Read « Country Mouse in the Big City - November 3, 2012

    […] Historical U.S. Prison records Online Research Your Criminal Ancestors by I Love History and Research […]

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