Sunday, May 24, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Find Your Felonious Black Sheep in the Florida State Archive

The Florida State Archive, located in the R. A. Gray Building in Tallahassee, holds a number of records containing information that could be valuable to black sheep researchers. Most of these records pertain to prison inmates or patients at the state mental hospital. A downside to Florida State Archive research is that none of their materials circulate. A researcher must either go to Tallahassee in person, or hire someone to do the research. A good way to find a reliable researcher is through either the Florida State Genealogical Society or the Florida Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

For felonious black sheep who may have been fortunate to have either been pardoned or had their sentences commuted, a good place to start is Record Group 690, Series S 158: Pardon, commutation, and remission decrees, 1869-1909. These records consist in official copies of decrees of pardon, commutation (of sentences), or remission (of fines). The information in these documents includes name of the individual, date and place of conviction, the crime, the sentence, the reason for granting the pardon or other action, and the final conditions. These records are chronologically arranged.

Another possible source is Record Group 690, Series S 443, the state Board of Pardons Application case files, 1887-1975. These consist in applications for pardon from prisoners. These files are restricted, and one must apply for permission to view them to the Custodian of Records in the Office of Clemency, in the Office of the Governor. The application for permission to view a file can be faxed to (850) 488-0695. The application must cite the Archives record series (690- S 443), the specific file being requested (probably by the name of the inmate who made application for pardon), and the restriction that applies to those files. Further information on the specifics of the restrictions can be found at this listing at the State Archive website.

To locate an inmate in a specific prison from 1875 through 1959, help can be found in Record Group 670, Series S 500, Prisoner Registers 1875-1959. The original handwritten registers, arranged chronologically, are accompanied by typed transcriptions which are arranged alphabetically. The typed transcriptions can serve as an index to the handwritten registers. In the registers a researcher will find the names of all the convicts received into the state prison system during the stated period, with each individual’s name, sex, race, age, birth state, crime, sentence, and the date he (or she) arrived at prison and the date of release. Those prisoners who escaped are also notated, along with the date of their recapture – if they were nabbed! Other notations include their prison ID number, and whether they completed their sentence, were released, or died in prison.

If your black sheep ancestor paid the final price for his crimes, that may be recorded in Record Group 156, Series S 12: Death Warrants, 1869-1972, 1992-2005. They are found in several boxes, some of which are arranged chronologically, and some alphabetically by surname. Papers consist of death warrants, correspondence relating to the warrants and the subsequent executions, transcripts of court testimony, and reports and correspondence of the clemency board. Three volumes marked 1896-1965 have copies of all the death warrants issued.

Next time I’ll list some of the records the State Archive has pertaining to mental patients.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. J

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

You're welcome, and I hope it helps your research.