Posted by on 21 October 2010 in General, Record Collections

 I’ve always had a strange fascination with the underworld. Criminals, prisons, gangsters – you name it, I’m interested.  So you can imagine my delight when I learnt that we were to publish 75,000 prison records from four of the US’s most notorious penitentiaries! 

Alcatraz, Leavenworth, McNeil Island and Atlanta – if buildings could tell a story…  One of our offices is based in San Francisco, so a number of my colleagues have visited the old prison and rumour has it that blood can still be found on the walls, left by prisoners being beaten by fellow inmates and guards.

The U.S. Penitentiary Records, 1875-1963 capture those who fell foul of the law between 1875 and 1963 and include a host of information including the prisoner’s conviction date, 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 and it’s these that I’m most fascinated by.  I could spend hours trawling through the thousands of mug shots of these historical villains who experienced life in one of the world’s most infamous penitentiaries.  Most of those I’ve seen fit the stereotypical historical criminal and some are even wearing the stripey overalls like in the record below, but others look highly respectable and would look out of place in any prison, let alone one of these four! 

These records are a fantastic addition to our existing criminal records, which you can read about at


Andre Castro 

Short, succint, enjoyably well-written!

22 October 2010 at 4:09 pm
Maria Buckley 

What a fantastic concept! I doubt I have any ancestors who were in these prisons, because my relatives weren’t THAT interesting, but I will look forward to checking this out.

Keep up the good work! You do a great job!

22 October 2010 at 9:36 pm
Kathryn Schumann 

Beautifully written and very interesting. I am too scared to look though ; ) Thank you Ancestry.

24 October 2010 at 3:42 pm