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“What Are You in For?”

“What Are You in For?”

September 8, 2021

As we research our ancestors, there are times when we find out that we have “black sheep” ancestors who may have spent time in prison. How do you find out about their imprisonment?

Inmate records are documents created while the convicted person is in prison. These records are typically held by prisons and law enforcement agencies. Data may include name, personal information, location, and the confinement status. Other information may include offense, admission date, sentence, rewards and demerits, and the name of the jail or prison.

U.S. Federal Inmate Records, also known as prison records, can be found through the National Archives and Records Administration for records from 1870 to 1981. Online records are usually available through government websites. You need to determine if online inmate records are available for the facility in question either by contacting the agency or researching online.

Some places to check for U.S. and other countries include Ancestry Library Edition, FindMyPast (in-library use only), FamilySearch, the National Archives, Blacksheep Ancestors website, Old Bailey Online (England), the Alcatraz Inmate list, Cyndi’s List (for more suggestions), and newspapers.

Do you have a “black sheep” ancestor? Let us know how you found them in the comments below!

Sheri V.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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