Secrets from the stacks: Erie County Penitentiary Prisoner Identification Cards

The “Secrets from the Stacks” is a program that is offered only a few times a year to spotlight items the Research Library does not typically get to show off. The program being held on June 6, 2015 will feature the Erie County Penitentiary prisoner identification cards (Mss. B85-6). The collection dates from 1896 to 1914, with the bulk of the photographs being from 1899 to 1905. This collection was donated to the Research Library by the Erie County Correctional Facility (Wende) in 1986 and just recently has been arranged, indexed and cataloged, making it accessible to interested researchers with a Scholar Pass.

Antwater Back WatermarkThe identification cards used by the Erie County Penitentiary are the precursor to modern day finger printing. The cards mimic the Bertillon system in order to identify repeat offenders by their physical features and dimensions, such as their head length, length of middle finger and the length of their foot. The cards also contain the offender’s name, aliases, age, nativity, occupation, charges and sentencing information. These cards were then arranged by a unique system and referenced upon their re-arrest. The Research Library greatly appreciated the donation due to the collections valuable genealogical, sociological, criminology and anthropological research potential.

The program will feature many of the identification cards for the attendees to view, along with photographs of the Erie County Penitentiary to help place the collection within context and other true crime resources. The program will run from 10 am to 12 pm on June 6, 2015. The completed index is available online, by going to http://tinyurl.com/TBHM-prisoners.

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

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