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Black sheep ancestors are often the most interesting. If your black sheep ancestor lived in nineteenth- or twentieth-century Vermont, they just got even more interesting. The Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA) recently accessioned records from the Vermont State Prison at Windsor. The prison registers begin in 1809, and often include specific towns, counties and states of birth for the inmates. We are talking about specific birthplaces for folks born in the 1700s! A few of the reasons these records are important include:

  • Many adults living in Vermont during the earliest decades of the 1800s were born outside of Vermont, and documenting their specific place of birth can be key to determining who their parents were.
  • The dates of admission and discharge on the prison records can be important to locating other records pertaining to the case – court records and legislative petitions for pardon come to mind.
  • Some of the records include physical descriptions of the inmate, and records after 1917 may include a photograph.

I know some of you are thinking, “My ancestor might have caused a little trouble, but nothing serious enough to land himself in a state prison.” You might want to rethink that. Last week I researched a client’s ancestor who found himself in the state prison for stealing oxen. His accomplice, a 12-year-old boy, was also imprisoned. The prison records led to the original legislative petitions for pardon. Those netted an original signature of the client’s imprisoned ancestor and a signature of the boy’s father. He identified himself as the father when he signed, offering proof of kinship to a man who was of age to have fought in the Revolutionary War. It doesn’t often get better than that.

If you want to search these records, the Archives staff will do limited look ups for you. For more in-depth research, you’ll need to visit the VSARA personally or hire a researcher to go for you. Below are screenshots for entries from a series database search on the VSARA website for the records in this record set:


If you don’t find your wayward ancestor in the state prison records, VSARA also has prison registers from Grand Isle County and Rutland County prisons, beginning in 1877. Aren’t black sheep ancestors fun? Do you have a story to tell about yours?