The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and its predecessor agencies kept ledgers to record personal data and incarceration information about convicts entering the Texas prison system. The prison system included Huntsville Penitentiary, which opened in 1849, and Rusk Penitentiary, which operated from 1883 to 1917. For more information about the history of these institutions, see the Prison System article in the Handbook of Texas Online.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) holds 29 ledgers covering the years 1849-1954, with 10 indexes for the period 1849-1970. TSLAC also has Conduct Registers for inmates entering the system during the period 1855 through 1945. Notations to those entries continued into the 1970s. Although there are not entries for each convict, unique information found in the registers includes the prison unit where the individual was assigned and any notable punishments.
Convict Registers, vols. 1998/038-138–1998/038-176. Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas.
The record ledgers are excellent sources of individual convict descriptions and information about their incarceration.
|Ledgers dating from 1849 to 1891 may provide some or all of the following elements:
||Marks on Person
||Terms of imprisonment
||Use of tobacco
||Expiration (of sentence)
||Time of conviction
|Categories expanded in late 1891 to include:
|Able to read
||Birthplace of father
|Able to write
||Birthplace of mother
|Number of years at school
|Date of birth
Researchers may benefit from reviewing listings of the more common abbreviations, occupations, and offenses used in the ledgers, listed below on this page.
Our staff recommend using the Ancestry database described above, which is fully indexed and allows name searches.
The original Convict Record Ledgers and indexes are extremely fragile so we restrict onsite access to this collection to high-quality microfilmed copies, made possible by a generous donation from the Friends of Libraries and Archives of Texas. The Conduct Registers are not available on microfilm.
- Check the indexes by time period and name to locate the convict's number. See Using the Microfilm Indexes below.
- Use the convict number to find the corresponding entry in the Convict Record Ledgers. See Using the Microfilm Ledgers below.
The microfilm is available through the options below:
Interlibrary loan. Your local library may submit a request on your behalf for up to five (5) microfilm reels from this collection. Ask your local library for more details about the ILL program. Find Texas libraries near you using our Find a Library tool.
When requesting film, provide your library with the specific reel numbers you wish to borrow, as well as the OCLC number: OCLC #49380030.
Private researcher. Staff are unable to search this collection on your behalf or provide you with copies. If the above options do not meet your needs, consider contacting a private researcher.
Using the Microfilm Indexes
The entries in the indexes provide:
- Convict's name
- County of conviction
- Year of entry
- Convict number, listed in columns labeled "H" and "R" for Huntsville and Rusk. Convicts may have had more than one number assigned to them and may have been held at both institutions, depending on the number of times they were incarcerated.
- Later indexes may provide information such as ethnicity or gender.
Arrangement. Entries in the indexes are arranged alphabetically by the first letter and first vowel of the last name, then in chronological order by year of entry. Separate pages are designated for each letter pair; for example:
Smith or Simmons: found on the S-I pages
Bryant or Blythe: found on the B-Y pages
Edmonds or Eronson: found on the E-O pages
Prisoners may have been listed under a nickname or alias instead of their real name, so it is important to thoroughly explore various forms of names. For example, a prisoner whose given name was Joseph Fairchild may have been known exclusively as "Big Joe" and then indexed under that name; for example:
Big Joe: found on the B-I pages
Joe, Big: found on the J-O pages
If the allotted space for a letter pair became full, the name list would be continued at the end of the pages for the preceding or following letter pairs, usually noted at the bottom of the page.
The index volume needed, as well as the corresponding microfilm reel number, can be determined using the table below:
|Index Volumes and Corresponding Microfilm Reels
||Request Film Reel
||Index Reel 1
||Index Reel 1
||Index Reel 2
||Index Reel 2
||Index Reel 3
||Index Reel 3
||Index Reel 4
||Index Reel 4
||A - J, 1956-1970
||Index Reel 5
||K - Z, 1956-1970
||Index Reel 5
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.
Using the Microfilm Ledgers
Once you have located the convict number and year of incarceration, you are ready to search the Ledgers for the corresponding entry.
Arrangement. Entries in the record ledgers are arranged numerically by the convict number, which was assigned sequentially as the inmates were received.
Three different numbering sequences were used in the convict ledgers held by TSLAC. Determine which sequence was used in order to choose the correct ledger:
Rusk series. Prisoners incarcerated at Rusk range from numbers 1 to 4,622. Any number larger than 4,622 will be a Huntsville number.
- Although Rusk Penitentiary was open only from 1883 to 1917, there are some Rusk numbers that appear to date from 1870. These earlier numbers may represent convicts who were first incarcerated in Huntsville and later transferred to Rusk.
- Please note that the ledger held by TSLAC represents inmates sent to Rusk through 1891; the indexes represent inmates through 1898.
Huntsville “A” and “B” series. The year of incarceration, along with the convict number, will allow you to determine whether the number is from the "A" or "B" series.
- The "A" series began in 1849 with convict number 1, discontinued in 1882 with number 10,012.
- The "B" series began in 1882 with renumbered the "A" series convicts 10,001 through 10,012 as "B" series numbers 1 through 12.
The ledger volume needed, as well as the corresponding microfilm reel number, can be determined using the table below:
|Ledger Volumes and Corresponding Microfilm Reels
||Convict Numbers Covered
||Request Film Reel
||Rusk 1 - 4,622
||1870 - 1891
||1 - 3,000 Huntsville A Series
||1849 - 1873
||3,001 - 7,550 A Series
||1873 - 1879
||7,551 - 10,012 A Series;
1 - 2,507 B Series
|1879 - 1882;
1882 - 1884
||2,508 - 7,240 B Series
||1884 - 1891
||7,241 - 12,177 B Series
||1891 - 1895
||12,178 - 17,158 B Series
||1895 - 1898
||17,159 - 22,080 B Series
||1898 - 1902
||22,081 - 27,060 B Series
||1902 - 1906
||27,061 - 32,060 B Series
||1906 - 1911
||32,061 - 37,000 B Series
||1911 - 1915
||37,001 - 42,020 B Series
||1915 - 1918
||42,021 - 47,020 B Series
||1918 - 1921
||47,021 - 52,020 B Series
||1921 - 1925
||52,021 - 57,100 B Series
||1925 - 1927
||57,101 - 62,200 B Series
||1927 - 1929
||62,201 - 67,400 B Series
||1929 - 1931
||67,401 - 73,300 B Series
||1931 - 1933
||73,301 - 79,300 B Series
||1933 - 1935
||79,301 - 84,740 B Series
||1935 - 1937
||84,741 - 90,340 B Series
||1937 - 1939
||90,341 - 93,340 B Series
||93,341 - 99,300 B Series
||1939 - 1942
||99,301 - 105,140 B Series
||1942 - 1945
||105,141 - 111,655 B Series
||1945 - 1948
||111,656 - 117,915 B Series
||1948 - 1950
||117,916 - 124,255 B Series
||1950 - 1952
||124,256 - 131,135 B Series
||1952 - 1954
||Contains a few scattered entries between 1,196 - 3,363 A Series. Its purpose is unknown.
||1868 - 1874
Although we are unable to provide photocopies of records from this collection, patrons are welcome to print or save images from the microfilm or Ancestry.com.
Patrons may also request from TSLAC printed copies of the images available on Ancestry.com. All images will be printed on 8.5” x 11” paper and our copy fee is $.10 per page, plus postage. You may e-mail your request for a price quote, along with the name and/or convict number, to email@example.com or send a letter to PO Box 12927, Austin, TX 78711-2927.
Legibility issues. Entries in the ledgers and indexes are handwritten, in a variety of inks and styles, some of which may be difficult to read. Shadows and fading of ink, as well as the physical condition of the items, make some entries nearly illegible. There is a great deal of duplication between the first three indexes, so if an entry is illegible, it may be possible to obtain the information by checking another of the earliest indexes.
If it is impossible to read an entry on Ancestry or on the microfilm, please contact TSLAC for further assistance. It may be possible for staff to read the entry from the original ledgers. You may e-mail your request, along with the reel and page number, to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to PO Box 12927, Austin, TX 78711-2927.