Was Your Ancestor a Part of America’s Early Prison Population?
Date:  07-09-2014

Digitalizing old prison records helps families to discover hidden bits of information about the not-so-illustrious past of ancestors
The New York Times reports that Ancestry.Com is digitalizing New York State prison records from three prisons during the years from 1797 - 1939. The prisons are Newgate, Clinton and Sing Sing, with Newgate providing the earliest records. According to the Times California’s Folsom and San Quentin prison records are next in line for digitalization.

The Times article provides a glimpse into the prison record of notorious criminals including Salvatore Lucania, better known as “Lucky Luciano,” one of the most famous gangsters of his era. A photo of Lucania’s Sing Sing record shows what information prison officials deemed important. Along with names, aliases, criminal act and date of conviction, Sing Sing prison records also include a space for the prisoner’s birth sequence, mental diagnosis and whether parents are living or dead, and if dead how old the prison was when a parent died. For security reasons there is also a space to record if a prisoner is on “good terms” with his criminal accomplices who may also be housed in the same prison.

While it may be fascinating to look at the prison record of an unrelated mobster, it may come to a shock to some that great grandpa Harry served time for bootlegging during the last century. And how will those bastions of high society react when they find that they are related to a horse thief or someone who ran a house of ill-repute, and that information is put out there for all to see? Hopefully, they will accept a relative’s transgression like millions of Americans do today. With 2.3 million people behind bars in this country it isn’t hard to find a family that is not affected by the criminal justice system.

Read the Times article here.