Notorious train robbers, mob bosses, “butter imposters” and financial schemers are among the infamous outlaws who appear in a unique collection of federal prison records we just added to Ancestry.com.
Provided by the National Archives at Atlanta, the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary Collection (1902-1921) spans two decades and consists of more than 14,000 inmate records documenting some of the worst criminals in U.S. history.
Some of the most common offenses perpetrated by Atlanta Federal Penitentiary inmates, and documented in this new collection, include illegal distilling, tax evasion, counterfeiting, mail fraud and mail theft.
The collection also contains records documenting some more curious kinds of crimes, including:
- Butter Imposter – Several individuals in the collection were sentenced to federal prison because they violated the “Oleo Margarine Act,” which made it a crime to produce margarine that looked too much like butter. Beginning in 1916, John R. Seymour spent 19 months behind bars for violating the Oleo Margarine Act.
- Bad Seed – One individual, David A. Keys, spent more than three years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary because of “scandalous conduct tending to the destruction of good morals.”
- Lead Foot – In 1915, Charles Arnett was sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary to serve 19 months of jail time for “joy riding” in Washington, DC.
- Youngest Prisoner – In 1905, twelve-year-old Preston James was sentenced in Jacksonville, Fla., for embezzlement of U.S. mail, and went on to serve a 2-year prison term.
The first residents of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary arrived in 1902. Because only three federal penitentiaries existed at that time, each served a large region of the country. Criminals tried in Eastern and Southeastern states including New York, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida were often sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary to carry out their sentences.
Check out the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary Collection to see if there’s a notorious character in your family tree.