Posted by Paul Rawlins on October 21, 2010 in Collections

What’s a Mexican anarchist and revolutionary doing in a prison in Puget Sound? Twice?

We’ve just added two new federal prison records databases to our collections: Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S. Penitentiary, Name Index to Inmate Case Files, 1895–1931, and Alcatraz, California, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, 1934–1963. We’ve also updated the McNeil Island, Washington, U.S. Penitentiary, Photos and Records of Prisoners Received, 1875–1939, database with about 3,000 photo ID cards. Add all these to our Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, ca. 1880–1922, and you have access to almost 75,000 federal prison records—and just as many stories.

Some of the names are already well known: Robert “The Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud or Al Capone. But I had never heard of Roy Gardner, last of the Old West train robbers and prison escape artist. Roy is one of the inmates included in the photo cards just added to the McNeil Island database. These are some great records. First you get a photo:

And many of the photos (though not all) include a write-up on the back:

There’s a trick to using the McNeil photos. Your search will typically bring up the back of the photo card, where the prisoner’s name appears. Use the left arrow key by the Go button (at the top right of the page) to move back one page for the picture.

Roy escaped on his way to McNeil Island and later broke out of McNeil itself. This propensity for releasing himself from the custody of the state helped land Roy in Alcatraz. The new Alcatraz records are only an index to the larger case files you can order, but saying “only” in this case sells them a bit short. Here’s Roy’s entry:

I’ll take an index entry like that any day.

My Mexican revolutionary imprisoned at McNeil was Ricardo Flores Magón.

Magón came to the U.S. after his writings opposing Mexican president Porfirio Diaz landed him in jail in Mexico, but he kept right on agitating for change back home.  He did his first stint at McNeil in 1912, sentenced to a year and a day for violating neutrality laws. In 1918 he was back, and this time the charges—and the sentence—were more serious: 21 years for mail and espionage violations:

Magón was eventually sent to Leavenworth, where he died in 1922. He shows up in the Leavenworth index as well, though it’s nowhere near as detailed as the Alcatraz index. This one gives me just the information I would need to order Magón’s case file:

The case files themselves can be very detailed, and something tells me Ricardo’s could be a thick one.

I know prison records can be a double-edged find. It may be one thing to discover that your relative was a storied revolutionary and quite another to learn he was imprisoned on a narcotics charge or for manslaughter. But if you’re ready for whatever might turn up, the details you can uncover in one of our federal prison records databases can really make crime pay. You can read about all four of the prisons in our databases here:


  1. Sharon

    This has nothing to do with this subject but when I click on a census record it comes out so large all I see is the name. I’m not able to scroll down and see the rest of the family. The font is huge!!
    This isn’t happen anywhere else so it doesn’t seem to be my computer problem.

  2. Amy Bertsch

    Just amazed that you chose to highlight notorious robber Roy Gardner, whose family I’ve been researching (for other reasons) for several years! His father ran a hotel in Missouri at the turn of the century and his ancestors were stoneware potters in Virginia in the late 18th and early 19th century. If anyone wants to know more about these Gardners, please message me.

  3. Helen

    Had the same problem as Sharon. I was working late last night at first everything was fine. Then the ancestry provided census record went large and to the left. I couldn’t even scroll down. I could only use page down to try to see the bottom half. Then the census page itself was large. I could reduce it with a could clicks but could save things correctly etc. It was still a problem today but everything seems okay now.

  4. Same problem as Sharon, Helen and Nancy!
    When opening a document on the profile page, the Index font is large and I can’t work with the page. Working diligently on my tree and this is hampering my progress. PLEASE!!!!

  5. worshacf

    Andy, Mel #5 is my cousin. He’s been emailing me for the last 24 hours about needing help with whatever this problem is. As you know I’m a iMac user and don’t have the simular situation happening, nor do I know Windows well enough to assist him. His browser is Internet Explorer, his computer is Windows XP.

    Would you please go into more detail about what you referred to in your comment #6. FYI, he’s not real computer literate so be real specific, and don’t use acronyms.


  6. Debbie

    Back in June of this year I started doing research for a friend who knew nothing about his family. He knew they came from Italy in 1880’s but didn’t know what part. I was able to get 1909 newspaper article which ended up being his great grandfather from Italy named Saverio Ventola. He had been arrested for blackmailing other italians in the Columbus, Ohio area. A part of the “black hand society.” He was convicted & sent to Leavenworth in 1910. I told my friend that we could probably get his records since it had been so long ago. For $15 we got his mug shots, finger prints & court record. But the other thing was the list that the prison made of letters coming in to him showing who they were & where they were from. By that information we could confirm several different family members.
    We really couldn’t believe all the information we got from prison file. It also had a copy of a letter that he wrote to the warden in 1911 when he got out. So my friend really enjoyed that.
    Black sheep are a great way to get information & pictures. We put Saverio’s mugshot on the family tree. It was well worth the effort.
    Debbie Gahn & Frank Ventola

  7. RE: #5
    Being pretty quick to criticize or panic when things don’t go as expected, I must not forget to be thankful when things go the way I enjoy them. Everything is working well as of now so I wish to give my gratitude to those who supported my cause in the last couple of days. Perhaps patience is a virtue. Thanks Carol, Andy, etc. I certainly am getting a great deal of pleasure through this site.

  8. Bill

    I was really disappointed to see that misspelled the word “received” in all the Alcatraz records. I haven’t checked the other prison records but suspect the same error. The only people who normally misspell this simple word are people who dropped out of school in the third grade. How unprofessional!

  9. Rich

    “First you get a photo”? I searched several Alcatraz records of well known offenders and not one resulting record showed a photo of the inmate and there was no link to view one. Looks like the people in Utah have a lot of bugs to work out even though they’ve been doing this kind of thing for ages.

  10. Shirley Gillespie

    Walt Coburn, the western writer, knew Roy Coburn when he worked in San Diego. Roy had robbed a mail truck and the sack contained $85,000. Walt met up with Ray and I think helped capture him. Roy was tried and sentenced to 25 years at McNeil Island. On the way to prison on June 7, 1920, Roy distracted the guards and escaped. At a hotel in San Francisco, Roy sealed off a small bathroom and dropped a lethal dose of cyanide in the sink. Contact me for information on my book about Montana that includes more on this story about Walt Coburn and Roy Gardner.

  11. Debbie

    Rich, I know I had to send to Leavenworth for the information I wanted & got mugshots & fingerprints. I’m thinking you will have to pay to get those records. It only cost me $15.00 & got 20 pages of information.

  12. Anna

    Is ancestry working toward removing images and only providing their version.

    I cannot seem to bring up many images and it is seriously crippling my ability to work and recheck items. It takes me to citation pages which are worthless or in one case takes me in a circle back to my own tree, listing my tree as the source. My tree is not the source and didn’t use to be listed this way. I have tried from my tree, from a general search and even going through other people’s trees in both source and member connect. These trees used to list the source and now they either list my tree or an ancestry produced citation page. Is there some adjustment needed on my computer, ancestry problem or direction they’ve chosen to take. If it is just my computer what should I try? If it is the direction ancestry has chosen to take then so much for the argument that we are paying for sources.

  13. worshacf

    Anna #22

    For some reason, several months ago not all the records can be accessed from the middle of the profile page anymore where they are listed in event sequence. When that area is used to access, it birngs up that useless citation you refer to.

    Try obtaining the record from the right hand side of your profile, where the very large lettering shows, for example Marriage. Click on the word marriage, then you should obtain the actual record, then you can open the image afterward.


  14. Anna

    Thank you. I appreciate the helpful response.
    I have tried from all three locations, of my profile page sources, timeline and right hand side as well as searches that do not originate from my tree. I think some of this is how the citation was produced. There was an odd explanation on one page that was an ancestry produced statement. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I saw that and I read it quickly before I realized how much trouble this was going to be.

    In one situation I went through the card catalog and got to the title page and page 2. After that none of the pages would come up. I have viewed this source many times and I have seen the other pages. There was a description of the source which listed chapters and when I clicked on the two pages Title and Contents they came up but when I clicked on the other chapters I got sent back to the original search. Also, where I used to hit search and see the view boxes now I was just sent back to search.

  15. worshacf

    Guess you did wake up moderator, but now since you removed those Span comments, everyone will think I’m a nut.

  16. Anna

    I notified them of the above and have been able to view some of the images again. In case anyone else runs into what I described above, here is what I suspect. It looks like ancestry does not have their ancestry provided listing which comes up for “View all” for all of their items, such as a census, etc. As I worked my way through one source, several pages did not have the “view all” option. Perhaps this is part of the reason they could not be turned into the citation pages ancestry produced, when ancestry made these some time back. The ones that replaced what we had.

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