Ginny’s Genealogical Gems
Prisons and Jails -Apossible link to family history
Jails are locally-operated short term facilities that hold both inmates awaiting trial or sentencing or both, and those sentenced to a term of less than one year, typically misdemeanants. Prisons are longer- term facilities run by the state or the federal government typically holding felons and persons with sentences of more than one year. Many records for the residents of these institutions are restricted. Some jurisdictions allow access if the inmate is dead or the records are older than a set amount of years. Records can be found in State archives or libraries, historical and genealogical societies, extracted and posted by individuals or in institutional archives. Many records have been destroyed because of storage issues or institutional policies.
In 1891, the Federal government established the Federal Prison System consisting of three prisons located in Leavenworth, KS; Atlanta, GA and McNeil Island., WA. Now there are 147 institutions in the Federal Prison System. Some, like McNeil Island, have been closed but their records still exist. To get the records you will need to go through NARA. Some records are restricted to before 75 years ago and more recent records may be obtained if you have proof of death, but may have some information redacted. Some indexes of inmates are online at www.archives.gov and at www.ancestry.com. You may find the following types of records: Entry photo or mug shot, record sheet which contains inmate name and number, crime and sentence and violations; personal data sheet containing birth date and place, parents and spouse, permanent address, religion, education, vices and more; fingerprint card, daily work record detailing what the inmate did while they were in prison; hospital record which has their illnesses and treatments.; physician’s intake exam including weight, height and use of tobacco and liquor; correspondence logs containing who he corresponded with, their address and their relationship; any personal correspondence; trusty prisoner agreement (an agreement between the inmate and the institution that allowed the prisoner to work outside of the prison once proved trustworthy; a copy of the court sentence; family stories and correspondence; and a social interview as it was felt at one time that criminals evolved from their social situation so they took all the details they could about the inmate’s background.