If you have prisoners in your family records, their lives may be a very rich source of genealogy for you, depending on where they lived.
The following is information that I have been able to obtain from these records, I hope that you are able to do the same.
Names and addresses of friends and family members (and possibly the relationship to the prisoner in court papers and newspapers!) On a relative that was charged with murder, I was able to confirm the names of his parents as well as a branch of the service that he was in before the incident.
Type of repeat offender. Court papers referred to this person as a repeat offender. I did not know that the crime he was incarcerated for was not a "One time thing". That information led me to follow the records and addresses of that particular branch of my family. Without the prior arrest, I merely would have had a gap in residences with no reason why.
Warrants of arrest may also point to different places that the person was living at or committed crimes in. My relative had a warrant in a larger town miles away for something that was completely unrelated. His last known address (as was listed on the warrant) was in the city I was born in. This warrant was mentioned in the court documents, and I was able to look for any activities there in the city. I also had the address to look at, which was the part of the city that my family lived in.
Money and letters. Letters from this man beseech my family to send money for his "canteen" account. He had just gotten money in one of the letters, but the prison sent the money order back to the family because it was over the maximum amount that was allowed in one transaction. In this letter, my relative offers suggestions of relatives to go to that have an understanding of how to get a money order that follows the rules set by the prison. He then admonished the sender to not send such large funds as they will draw unwanted attention to him.
In another letter, he made a list of who he wanted to send Christmas cards to. That letter was a wealth of information, because some of those people, I had never heard of before.
Mention of addresses and family affairs such as children, property, marriages and divorces. My relative was incarcerated before he was 35. He sent numerous visitor request forms, because the prison that he was in was very picky to make sure that everything was filled in correctly. During this time, he had to send a letter to this person underlining the correct family relationships. That was family tree gold to me.
Special "leaves" from jails and prisons for funerals of close family relatives. During his time in prison, his grandmother died. He was taken to the funeral, where he was heavily police escorted the whole time, driven there and back. I remember this event as being pretty sad and traumatic for me. I did not expect to see him at the funeral, let alone in leg irons.
Prisoners buried at Prison Cemeteries. For some prisoners, their families have either moved on without them in their lives or they are unable to afford the cost of transporting the family and paying for a funeral. If you are able to get a copy of their death records, they may list the next of kin and other information. My family member was not buried at the prison. Instead, he was cremated and his cremains were sent to his family. I am in the process of writing to see what records will be released to me, if any.
Online Prison Records. These sites may include inmate photos of their booking photo.
Extremely violent or shocking crimes may be printed in more than one newspaper and may not be confined to the local area.
Outcome of trials and hearings. Sometimes, the outcome of the trial can lead to further information. In the information that I had about my family member, it was mentioned who was in the courtroom when the verdict was read. This was very useful information. I learned of his sentence and where he would be incarcerated at. (Even though the events I was reading about were decades old, it was very helpful to me to be able to follow his path in case there were other places of incarceration to look into.)
Hospitalizations and illness. Medical records may have vital medical records information. My relative was in and out of the hospital all of the time for a lot of similar issues. It was helpful to me when I was writing about my medical information to be able to include the knowledge that I was able to glean from medical records.
Good Luck in your search and also know that certain sites online have a lot of good information and records of incarcerated people. I will be including those links in an article this winter.
Have a great search and let me know how you found this information to be helpful to you.
In August we will be collecting entries all month long for a book giveaway!
Like our page, share with others, sign up for the newsletter. Each one of those actions will get you an entry!
Book that will be given away is AMAZING!
Want to know an interesting piece of information?
If you are a birth mother who voluntarily placed her child for adoption, you may be ineligible for adoption.
Sound like something from times gone by? Allow me to let you know how recent this information is: today. When I was married in the past, my ex-husband and I were looking into adoption. One of the questions that was asked by each of the adoption agencies that we spoke to was if we had ever had a child that was placed for adoption. It also asked about children that were removed from custody, but that is not the focus of this article.
I honestly answered the question. "Yes" I wrote in. When the social worker looked at our form, each and every time, their face would go from relaxed and easy to tense. One woman asked "Did you mean to check off that you were looking to adopt?" I shook my head. "We are here to adopt, but I also placed a child for adoption when I was a teenager. I was very young and I knew that I could not provide a good environment for a baby while I was still a child." She started tapping her pen on the desk from tip to end. "I don't know how to say this. I really don't. You can't adopt a child if you have placed a child for adoption." We sat there, dumbfounded. She continued. "You can't decline to share it, either. It is linked to the records through your date of birth and your social security number. " She smiled a very forced smile.
"The only option for you is to go surrogate. No agency in the United States will allow you to adopt a child if you have placed a child up for adoption. Not even a state agency." She thanked us for our time, shook our hands and ushered out of the building, lest the taint of my "sin" contaminate her.
My ex and I were not deterred. We tried several more agencies, some in person and some on the telephone. We were blunt when we spoke on the phone. "Can we adopt if one of us has placed a child for adoption?" Each time, we were told "No. You cannot." Sometimes, the next sound that we heard was dial tone. It was one of the most disheartening times of my life. I had been told by the agency that I placed my child with that we would "both be starting with a clean slate." I had been told that "No one need know about this part of your life." I always responded with "I am not ashamed of my child. I did not go out to try and get pregnant. I never wanted that. I was molested."
The incident with my ex-husband is something that I have not thought about in over a decade until a friend of mine called me today to tell me that she and her husband had been declined by an adoption agency because she had placed a child for adoption while she was still in college. All of those raw emotions came forward for me. It hurt to basically be told that you are not eligible to raise a life because you placed a life up for adoption when you could not raise them.
There has to be a better way to treat birthmothers. Not to marginalize them or punish them for a decision that they were encouraged to make when their child was born. For some of these women, the choice was not even a choice. They were told that they would not be able to return home if they chose to parent their child. They were made to end the relationship with the birth father. There are as many stories as there are birthparents. The decision to place a child for adoption is not one that is made lightly.
When I was pregnant with my son, I promised all of my family members that I would place my child for adoption. I promised them that I would "do the right thing". That did not stop me from having hopes and dreams for myself and the child that I was carrying. That did not stop me later in life wanting to have a little family to raise.
I am not a secret and this needs to stop.
She wore the ring on her finger every day since she graduated from school with a degree in bookkeeping, the woman explained. Her mother made her get her full name and Social Security number in it in case it was ever lost, hopefully somehow, that would help the ring come back to her. Her mother worked at the grain silo, where she would initial each man's time card as they came in for work. Again in the afternoon, she would perform the same task. After a year there, her boss rewarded her with a rubber stamp. "Sarah" was grateful for the stamp as the pen rubbing against her finger would sometimes make a blister. "It was a shorter than normal pen, and it hit me right below the ring. Sometimes it would creep under my ring and that really hurt!" She said, laughing as she rubbed the ring.
Her parents told her that she could either have a ring for graduation or a vacation. She chose the ring because her father was friends with a jeweler.
The man came in every day to the silo. He always took the time to make a small joke and bring her a copy of the newspaper when he remembered that she asked "Are you finished with that paper?" as he was leaving the office. She learned his name was "Jack" and that he lived only a few miles from her. For 3 months, they merely exchanged pleasantries. She even told him of a man that had asked her out for a dinner date. "You can't go out with him, Sarah!" He exclaimed, hitting his leg with his hat. "Why not, Jack?" She asked. "Because you should go out with me." He replied, not looking at her.
She agreed. They went to dinner. Walked around the block of downtown, looking at the windows of the department stores. They went on dates every week for three weeks. On their one month anniversary, Jack asked Sarah if she would consider marrying him. She agreed. At the end of the next month, they were married, with the only other ring she would ever wear, her wedding band. She also had it engraved with her new last name and Social Security number.
A year later began the children. Four in total. Two girls and two boys. Each would complete college and would be offered the same as their mother. A gold class ring or a vacation. Each one, having heard the story of the ring their whole lives would choose the ring. As did their children.
We sat together in her living room where I was her daytime caregiver. She was nearing the end of her time here on earth, and she asked me to write down the story for her children. She was afraid that the children would forget the story of the two rings.
I told her that I was sure that they would not, but she also wanted to note in the facts that I was writing for her where both rings came from so that both girls could get a duplicate of the ring that they would not be inheriting made if they chose to.
I love it when I find out the history of items, because in that history is the history of people and family. Do you have jewelry with a family history in it? Share in the details!
I have been looking for a certain relative for a number of years. He is not a "close" relative, but I believe that he could help me in my search. I have looked at search sites, social media sites, phone number sites and more. It is like this person does not exist after a certain date. No wife, no children, no nothing. I was doing everything that I could do and having no luck doing it. To say that I was frustrated was very much an understatement!
Tonight, watching Forensic Files, got me to thinking about this person that I was looking for. I reached for my book, The Manual to Online Public Records, which I reviewed here recently. I flipped to the last state that I have any information on my missing relative to see if anything would stand out for me as a place to search. There was my lead. Sexual Offender Registry. Could it be? Would I find my person there? I went to the address and typed in the name. Sure enough, there was my "missing person." I was sad about his life situation, but I now understood why he fell off the radar.
When you are looking for someone that seems to disappear, look in cemeteries, obituaries, city, county, parish, state and federal jail and prison records. Look in neighboring communities as well.
I have noticed that with prisoners who die in prison, it is very rare to see an obituary. If there ever is one, I have never seen an obituary for an everyday person note that the person died in jail or prison. I am sure that there are exceptions, however, I have never seen them.
Another place to look for your missing person is in local newspapers in the "Police Blotter" section. It may be called something else, but do take the time to look around.
There was a newspaper in a small coastal town in Texas that used to publish photographs of everyone that had been arrested for drunk driving. I don't know if they still do that, but the first time I saw it, I was appalled. I thought about how embarrassing it would be to live in that town and have a moment like that captured for a newspaper. Talk about an incentive to be good!
Finally, get in touch with the relatives closest to this person. Were they troubled? A drifter? Chemical addictions? Any clues like that might point you to where you can find the person.
Now that I have found my answer, I can close a chapter of a search. I was looking for this person to determine if they could be the father of someone. At the time of the person's conception, they had already been incarcerated for 5 years. So, he is eliminated and we can focus on other people. What a ride it was to get to this place, though!