Find the Black Sheep in Your Family: Records from Alcatraz and Other Federal Prisons Now Online at Ancestry.com
One in Eight Americans has a Felon in their Family Tree; Find out Where They Did Time for Their Crime
PROVO, Utah, October 21, 2010—Does every family really have a “black sheep?” According to Ancestry.com, one in eight Americans has a felon in their family tree. If you’re curious whether your ancestor is among those who did time for their crime, Ancestry.com has made available online a collection of nearly 75,000 records of prisoners from several of the nation’s most infamous U.S. penitentiaries, including Alcatraz, Leavenworth, McNeil Island and Atlanta. The prison record collection spans 1875 to 1963 and even includes photo ID cards of nearly 3,500 inmates who did time in McNeil Island.
“I think many of us at one time or another has wondered whether we have an outlaw in our past, and if we might be related to Billy the Kid, Jesse James or Al Capone,” said Quinton Atkinson, director of content acquisition at Ancestry.com. “This unique collection allows individuals to explore that curiosity to see if they really do have an outlaw ancestor, and offers us a peak behind bars to see what their criminal life might have looked like.”
Those who search this collection of prison records can learn a wealth of information about the inmates such as conviction date, offense committed, alias, where the prisoner came from and much more. In fact, the record indexes from Leavenworth and Alcatraz will be permanently available for free on Ancestry.com.
If your ancestor served time at one of these institutions, they could easily have rubbed elbows with some of America’s most well-known criminals also found in the collection, including:
- Al Capone—This notorious Prohibition-era Chicago gangster was among the first to be sentenced to Alcatraz after making life too cozy for himself in another penitentiary.
- The “Birdman of Alcatraz”—Robert Stroud, otherwise known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” was sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter in August 1909 at McNeil Island, was transferred to Leavenworth in 1912, and finally ended up in Alcatraz in 1942.
- Roy Gardner—[Shown above to the right, click on the image to see a larger picture] Gardner, an infamous bank and train robber, escaped twice on his way to McNeil Island and later escaped McNeil Island in 1921. His mug shot and prison record from McNeil Island can be found in this collection.
- George “Machine Gun Kelly” Barnes—Barnes, a Prohibition-era robber and kidnapper, did time in both Leavenworth and Alcatraz.
This collection of prison records also reveals other notable facts about our nation’s criminal past from that timeframe, including:
- Worst and Best-behaved States— Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Oklahoma top the list of worst behaved states according to this collection. Which states made the list for “best-behaved?” Those include Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
- Common Offenses—Some of the most common offenses perpetrated by these inmates included bank and postal robbery, which were most common in maximum-security facilities. Mail fraud, IRS law violations and counterfeiting topped offenses of those in medium-security facilities.
- Likelihood of Going to the Slammer—From the late 1870s through the mid 1900s, if you committed a felony your chances of going to the slammer was about 1 in 10, which is surprisingly comparable to today.
- Length of Sentence—The average length of sentence that an inmate served during this timeframe was nearly 2 ½ years.
Those interested in exploring whether they have a black sheep in their own family tree can search today by going to www.ancestry.com/blacksheep.
About Ancestry.com Inc.
Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) is the world's largest online family history resource, with approximately 1.3 million paying subscribers. More than 5 billion records have been added to the site in the past 13 years. Ancestry users have created more than 19 million family trees containing over 1.9 billion profiles. Ancestry.com has local Web sites directed at nine countries, including its flagship Web site at www.ancestry.com.
It seems the same database is also available on Ancestry.co.uk, even though it is a database of U.S. records. The following was written by Ancestry.co.uk:
Al Capone, ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’ and Machine Gun Kelley – 75,000 criminal records of America’s most dangerous criminals launch online today – Ancestry.co.uk
Ancestry.co.uk, the UK’s number one family history website , today launched online for the first time the U.S. Penitentiary Records, 1875-1963, detailing the prison lives of thousands of America’s most dangerous criminals from the country’s most notorious penitentiaries, including Alcatraz, Leavenworth, McNeil Island and Atlanta.
- Available online for the first time ever
- Records include 3,500 ‘mugshot’ images of inmates (available upon request)
Included in the collection, which dates from 1875 to 1963, are some of the criminal underworld’s most famous names of all time, including Al Capone, Robert Stroud AKA ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’ and George ‘Machine Gun Kelley’ Barnes.
The collection details 75,000 prison records in total, detailing the prisoners’ conviction date, the offense committed, where the prisoners came from and even their aliases.
Approximately 3,500 photo ID cards of inmates who ‘did time’ at McNeil Island are also included in the records (record images available upon request).
World-renowned villains include Basil ‘The Owl’ Banghart, Harold ‘Peg Leg’ Harpin, Thomas ‘Smokey Joe’ Wofford and most famously Alphonse ‘Scar Face’ Capone.
Alcatraz remains one of the world’s most famous prisons, located on an Island in San Francisco Bay, California. Often referred to as ‘The Rock’, Alcatraz was a prison from 1934 to 1963, during which time it held some of the US’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone.
The infamous prohibition-era gangster was among the first to be sent to Alcatraz after being indicted for tax evasion. It is believed that Capone previously ordered the 1929 St Valentine’s Day Massacre, where five members of a rival gang were shot dead in a garage in Chicago. It is regarded as the most notorious gangland killing of the 20th century; however no one was ever put on trial for the crime.
Further famous criminals who feature in the collection include:
Analysis of the records reveal that Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Oklahoma top the list of worst behaved states, having sent the highest proportion of people to prison. Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island and New Hampshire were the best behaved, sending the fewest people to prison.
- Robert Stroud – Known as the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’, Stroud was sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter in August 1909 at McNeil Island, and was later transferred to Alcatraz in 1942. His alias came from his hobby of rearing and selling canaries, which was the subject of two books he wrote while in prison
- Roy Gardner – Gardner was an infamous bank and train robber who escaped twice on his way to McNeil Island, and later escaped McNeil Island itself in 1921. He earned the reputation as America’s most infamous prison escapee and became the most celebrated outlaw of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. His mugshot is included in the records
- George Barnes – Known as ‘Machine Gun Kelley’, Barnes was a Prohibition-era robber and kidnapper who ‘did time’ in both Leavenworth and Alcatraz. Kelly's nickname came from his favourite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “Crime and criminals never cease to intrigue and this collection, perhaps more than any other, throws the spotlight on some of America’s most infamous criminals – those who achieved worldwide notoriety.
“This is a wonderful addition to the other records of rogues already available at Ancestry.co.uk, including the Criminal Registers which feature 1.4 million trials from 1791 to 1892 and the Victorian Prison Hulk Registers, which detail 200,000 convicts who were imprisoned on giant floating jails.”