Have you had any of your relatives incarcerated in the Texas State Prison System? It you have, then you’re in luck! (A good scandal makes for interesting genealogy.) The prison system included Huntsville Penitentiary, which opened in 1849, and Rusk Penitentiary, which operated from 1883 to 1891. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) holds 29 ledgers covering the years 1849–1954, with indexes for the period 1849–1970. The original documents are fragile, but they have been microfilmed and are available to research by interlibrary loan. There is considerable overlap of dates and entries between the individual indexes, especially those that cover the years 1849-1915. When researching convicts in the system prior to 1882, it is necessary to check three separate indexes.
From 1849 to 1891 the following information may be found in the ledgers:
Convict’s number
Convict’s name/aliases
Age
Height
Weight
Complexion
Eyes (color)
Hair (color)
Marks on person
Marital relations
Use of tobacco
Habits
Education
Occupation
Nativity (birthplace)
Time of conviction
Offense
Terms of imprisonment
County
Residence
Money
When received
Expiration (of sentence)
Remarks
In late 1891, the categories were expanded to include:
Able to read
Able to Write
Number of years at school
Date of birth
Birthplace of father
Birthplace of mother
Plea
Exservice (military)
Once you’ve determined which reels of microfilm contain the volumes you wish to view, contact your local library to arrange an interlibrary loan. Up to six reels may be borrowed at a time. See the website for details.
TSLAC also has Conduct Registers for the period 1855 through about 1976. Although entries were not made for each convict, unique information found in the registers includes the prison unit where the individual is assigned (Huntsville, prison farm, railroad camp, etc.) and any notable punishments. Entries began in 1855 with convict number 207.
In Austin, you may view the 60 original Conduct Registers at the Texas State Archives, located just east of the Capitol at 1201 Brazos Street. The Archives is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and most federal holidays. The conduct registers have not been microfilmed nor are they available for use in the Genealogy Collection.
 For more information on the History of the Texas State Prison system, see The Handbook of Texas Online.