Thursday, August 7, 2014

Doing Time in the Missouri State Penitentiary

I've been working on the family of my great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Bennett (1849-1914), who married Josiah Randolph Coppenbarger (1844-1934). I had previously found her brother, Ephraim P Bennett (abt 1841-?), listed as a prisoner in the 1900 census. I looked at the record more closely and realized it was the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri. Online, I found that their records are located at the Missouri State Archives.

1900 Census - Missouri State Penitentiary
Ephraim Bennett is last in image
Last night I watched this season's first episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" with Cynthia Nixon via DVR. She traces her female ancestor to the Missouri State Penitentiary! (It's an amazing episode!) I was thrilled to see not only the penitentiary, but also the Missouri State Archives! There is now a wonderful feature about the episode and the findings on the Missouri State Archives site which takes you step by step through some of their discoveries.

From that page, there's a link that says: "Are you looking for a pardon record? If so, the Archives has a name index available here. Submit a research request if you find a record you are interested in." So, I searched for Bennett & didn't find Ephraim... but I DID find his brother, William H Bennett (abt 1840-1897) which shows him being pardoned in 1892! I didn't even know he was incarcerated! I've already sent off my 'research request'. I'm eager to learn more about why these two brothers were locked up & why one was then pardoned.

(NOTE: I have now received the records and, while Ephraim Bennett is the brother of my ancestor, William H Bennett is NOT. He is about 20 years too young! I messed up & jumped to a conclusion. Just because a name matches doesn't mean it's the same person!!!)

I told my brother about this and he mentioned he'd watched a show about the Missouri State Penitentiary. It is now a museum you can tour! There's a great website here which describes it as "the bloodiest 47 acres in America." I'm off to read all about it!

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please write me at

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