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Newly digitized records of Alcatraz

The Legal Genealogist is a total fangirl when it comes to the bad boys… and bad girls… of our family history.

Because — sigh — the one thing they do that so many of our teachers and preachers and farmers don’t do, is leave records.

And if anybody from any branch of your family tree ended up at Alcatraz — the U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, California — between 1934 and 1963, have I got a record set for you…

Morton Sobell

Just announced from the U.S. National Archives is a set of records called the “Warden’s Notebook Pages, 1934 – 1963,” and it’s part of Record Group 129: Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870 – 2009.1 The records are described this way by the National Archives:

1,527 descriptions and 1,188 digitized pages make up this series of looseleaf notebook pages containing basic summary information about, and an identification photograph (frontal view of face), of each inmate. In some cases collateral material, such as disciplinary reports or news clippings, are also included.2

And they’re in the process of being digitized, meaning we can play around in this set of records online. Some 749 items of the 1570 total items described in the series are already online.

And boy are these fun…

The image you see above is the top part of the notebook page for Morton Sobell. The record says he was convicted in 1951 of espionage. It also says his fellow conspirators included Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. According to his 2019 obituary in The New York Times, “Serving 18 years in prison until 1969, Mr. Sobell asserted his innocence until 2008, when, in an interview with The New York Times, he startled his defenders by reversing himself and admitting that he had indeed been a Soviet spy.”3

Or perhaps you’d prefer the entry for Edward O’Brien, described as “now serving a 50 year sentence for assaulting and robbing mail carrier; He is an organizer and leader and has an ungovernable temper…; Is very clever and resourceful and his influence is detrimental to the instiutution discipline.”

Or maybe the record for Hayes Van Gorder, “now serving sentence of 31 years and 26 days for forgery and using mails to defraud” who was described as an “astute schemer … responsible for a large part of the agitation among prisoners transferred to Atlanta from Leavenworth and while confined in Leavenworth he escaped by having forged a Court Order.”

Or… okay … I admit it … this one is my favorite:

Al Capone

Yeah, that’s that Al Capone. And it’s just the top part of the page…

Have fun in these records…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Loving the bad boys…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 7 Jan 2022).


  1. See See Warden’s Notebook Pages, 1934 – 1963, National Archives Catalog, U.S. National Archives ( : accessed 7 Jan 2022).
  2. “New Records for the New Year,” National Archives Catalog, email 7 Jan 2022.
  3. Michael T. Kaufman and Sam Roberts, “Morton Sobell, Last Defendant in Rosenberg Spy Case, Is Dead at 101,” The New York Times, online, 30 Jan 2019 ( : accessed 7 Jan 2022).
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