Source Information

Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Prison, Reformatory, and Workhouse Records, 1829-1971 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data:

Prison Records. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

A full list of sources can be found here.

About Pennsylvania, Prison, Reformatory, and Workhouse Records, 1829-1971

About This Collection

This collection from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) consists of records from the Eastern and Western State Penitentiaries, the Allegheny County Workhouse, and the Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory in Huntington, Pennsylvania. It includes a variety of records, including inmate registers, bertillon hand books, identification cards, hospital records, and descriptive lists.

Details will vary depending on the type of record, but the registers often include the following items:

  • date of commitment
  • name
  • nativity
  • occupation
  • crime
  • sentence date and term
  • conviction date
  • county sent from
  • age
  • occupation
  • physical description
  • discharge dates
  • prison number

Description and identification records include many of these same details, as well as photographs and more detailed descriptions, sometimes with Bertillon measurements. The Bertillon System of Criminal Identification was an anthropometric measurement system that used precise measurements of various parts of the body, particularly facial elements, to identify criminals.

Following is a list of the types of records available for each institution:

Allegheny County Workhouse

  • Discharge and descriptive dockets
  • Register of prisoners tried and sentenced to hard labor

Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon

  • Biographical and descriptive registers
  • Physicians' record of prisoners
  • Registers of prisoners

Eastern State Penitentiary

  • Bertillon hand books
  • Convict reception registers

Western State Penitentiary

  • Descriptive lists
  • Prisoner fingerprint identification cards
  • Discharge descriptive dockets
  • Hospital record book
  • Record of county and federal prisoners

For more details on the records available for each institution, see the browse menu.

Additional information on these records also is available at PHMC's website.