Thursday, September 11, 2014

What Does a Penitentiary Record Look Like?

After discovering Ephraim P Bennett in the Missouri State Prison on the 1900 census, I emailed the Missouri State Archives about his penitentiary records. First of all, they were incredibly helpful and emailed back within hours. And, they explained how to order his two-page record. The cost: only $1!

I had never seen a penitentiary record before and wasn't sure what it would contain. It is actually quite interesting and helpful! The record book is obviously a large book as I got two 11x17 pages. I don't have a scanner that can scan that will scan those, so I'm going to share 4 images which are really a two-page spread.

I thought the physical descriptions were really interesting. My favorite columns were the "length of foot", "whiskers worn", "habits of life", and "education."

  • Register No: 12163
  • Name; Ephraim P Bennett
  • Age: 53
  • Nativity: Tenn[essee]
  • Trade: farmer
  • Height: 5 ft 10 1/4 in
  • Length Foot: 10 1/2
  • Hair: Dark
  • Eyes: Gray 

  • Complexion: Dark
  • Whiskers Worn: Full Beard
  • Religion: None
  • Habits of Life: Temp[erance] [everyone on the page says the same thing]
  • Education: R & W [Reading & Writing]
  • Former Imprisonment: None

  • Marks and Scars: 
    • Single Parent Compton Mo. [Missouri] 
    • Scar left side neck
    •   "     muscle left arm
    •   "     back first finger left hand
    •   "     inside right wrist
      • Wright 172 [everyone on page says this & I wonder if it is a mark for whoever is describing the person]
  • Offense: T. C. - Murder 2nd Deg.  [everyone else says "P. G.", not "T. C." but I don't know what these mean... maybe it relates to the offense?]  
  • County: Dallas
  • Sentence: 10 Ten Years from Oct 16 1894

  • Term of Court: Oct 1894
  • When Received: Oct 20 1894
  • Expiration of Sentence:
    • Full Time: Oct 16 1902
    • Three-Fourths Time: April 16 1902
  • Discharged: [stamped] Discharged under 3/4 law [not all readable] [stamped] APR 15 1902
P.S. I am new to doing citations and have both looked in Elizabeth Shown Mill's "Evidence!" and searched the internet and cannot find an example of a way to write this source. Any help would be appreciated!

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


  1. Hi,

    I want to let you know that your wonderful blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Terrific info - thank you! I re-posted on my blog Genealogy: Beyond the BMD

  3. These are great records! You can learn a lot from these records. I found one record listing the color of an inmate's undergarments!

  4. This is another great find Dana. I've never seen a penitentiary record. I have a little bit of bias interest in anything relating to law enforcement, justice or crime because both myself and my husband are retired law enforcement.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  5. If it were today "T.C." would be a conviction under the Transportation Code [of laws] that he killed someone in a motor vehicle or train accident. I don't know if Tennessee had a set of laws entitled "Transportation Code" in the 1890's but it could be something to look into.

  6. Thanks, Jo. I found out more about the murder & it didn't have anything to do with a vehicle or train. But, it's something I do need to look more into.


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