Are you among the genealogists who are shocked to discover that one of your ancestors was a criminal? There was a time when people would keep that a secret, for fear of having their ancestor’s misdeeds reflect poorly upon them. Today, the “black sheep” of the family can potentially be the source of some very interesting family history!
First, you need to learn about that relative. This might require you to dig up some prison records. Fortunately, there are now some new sources for prison records that you may not have been aware of. Ancestry.com has a blog that includes links to four sources of prison records that are specific to New York. All of them are searchable through Ancestry.com.
One new source is called “New York, Governor’s Registers of Commitments to Prisons, 1842 – 1908”. The records within it include the name of the convict, the date of the sentence, and information about the court, the judge (well, the surname of the judge, anyway), the county and the crime. It also may have the term of sentence and expiration.
Another source is called “New York, Prisoners Received at Newgate State Prison, 1797 – 1810”. These documents are from the earliest state prison in New York. This prison was envisioned as a model prison for reforming those charged with serious crimes other than murder or arson. (Those two crimes were considered to be capital offenses). The prison eventually became overcrowded, and this led to riots and violence.
The prison records in that source include the prisoner’s name, birthplace, crime and county where convicted, their sentence, and the date of the sentence. The records from before 1803 also have information about the prisoner’s residence, occupation, and even a physical description. Starting in 1803, the records began including details about repeat offenders (and information about previous offenses).
There is also a new source called “Discharges of Convicts, 1882 – 1915”. It includes documents that apply specifically to prisoners who were pardoned or had their sentences commuted by the governor. Some of these records include correspondence regarding commutations. They also include the name of the prisoner, commutation earned, and discharge date.
The blog at Ancestry.com noted that this information was “Part 1”. To me, that indicates that this is going to be a series of posts that are specifically about the Ancestry.com resources for prison records. You may want to check over there for further information.
Image by Michael Coghlan on Flickr
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