Do you have any ancestors who got involved on the wrong side of the law? Lots of citizens had scuffles with the sheriff and sometimes ended up in the local jail, but those records can be mighty difficult to locate if they even still exist.
My husband’s 3X great grandmother, Rebecca Wooldridge Bandy, is mentioned once in court records. She was actually indicted for burglary in 1844, but was acquitted in Lawrence County, Ohio, where the family had settled around 1830. I’ve never been able to locate further details about the surrounding circumstances, like who made the accusation or what it was she supposedly burgled.
While poking around Lawrence County records in the Family History Library, though, I did come across two record sets pertaining to “correctional institutions” there.
1. Jail register 1867-1923, FHL Film #973,437
2. Prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio from August 1833-September 1905, Martha J. Martin, 977.157 J6
Unfortunately, the jail register isn’t anywhere near early enough for Rebecca’s name to be found and she wasn’t sent to the State Penitentiary, so her name isn’t there, either.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what the jail register looked like. There is actually quite a bit of information on it:
Sample Page from Jail Register
No. of Commitment
Place of Nativity
Date of Commitment
By What Authority
No. of Days in Jail
No. of Days in Dungeon (!!!)
Then there is a section for Sheriff’s Fees:
Board and Washing
Attending Prisoner Before Court
Finally, there is a section for Remarks.
I find it interesting that the sheriff charged 75 cents to commit a prisoner, but then charged another 75 cents to discharge.
This one page made for very interesting reading. #348, Marion Shockley, was charged with bastardy, but was discharged when he got married. 🙂
#352, Chas. Sesler, was charged with rape. The authority by which he was discharged is “Escaped.”
#373, Russell Johnson, was charged with “shooting to kill” but was acquitted.
I mentioned earlier that finding criminal records can be quite difficult. Have you visited Ron Arons’ website? He has written books about fleshing out the details of your criminal’s past. Ron is a frequent speaker at genealogy conferences, too, so if you have an opportunity to hear him, take it!
Another research tip is to visit the FamilySearch Research Wiki Page. Enter a location where your ancestor was found and then check for “correctional institutions” records.
If there are surviving newspapers from the time period in which your ancestor committed the crime, you may find articles about the crime, court proceedings and punishment.
Finally, if court proceedings and any subsequent appeals happened in a modern time frame, like in the 20th century, contacting local county clerks might be fruitful.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe there are any further records about my Rebecca’s burglary and acquittal.