Thank you for your interest in researching Eastern State Penitentiary and/or its inhabitants! We receive many requests for information, and try to help whenever possible; but our collection is relatively small, and there are many other resources that may help you learn everything you’d like to learn. The Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, PA, houses the most comprehensive collection of original records from Eastern State Penitentiary. Click here to see the State Archives’ holdings specifically related to Eastern State. The State Archives and other repositories may be able to conduct research for you for a fee.
We also offer a service to have one of our staff members search our archives for information regarding a specific inmate, staff member, or topic.
We do not recommend this service for inmates admitted after 1940, since we have very few inmate records from that period. Our records concerning individual guards are even more limited. There is no guarantee that any search we conduct will result in the information you have requested. If you contact us before sending in your request, our staff will be able to help you decide whether it will be best for you to begin your research at Eastern State or another repository.
Two hours of research costs $40 for members of the historic site (click here to become a member), and $75 for non-members. This research includes up to ten black and white photocopies of documents in our collection. Additional black and white copies are $0.50 per image. There is a $25 fee per high-resolution image of any materials in Eastern State’s collections that have already been digitized: previously un-digitized materials are $100 per image. These fees do not include reproduction rights.
For genealogy research, our staff will examine our collection, particularly the following resources:
- ESP’s Inmate Database (Approximately 23,000 inmates listed by number, some with names. 1829-1930, bulk*)
- Annual Reports of Eastern State Penitentiary (Inmates usually listed by number only. 1829-1941, bulk*)
- Death Ledger (Inmates usually listed by number only. 1830-1896, 1904-1935)
- Commutation Book (Inmates listed by name and number. Inmates discharged 1885-1888)
- Bertillon Card Collection (Inmates usually listed by number, sometimes with name. Inmates admitted 1904-1940, bulk*)
- The Umpire (Inmate-produced weekly newsletter, inmates usually listed by number only. 1913, 1916-1918)
- Catholic Chaplain’s Diary (Inmates usually listed by number only. 1929-1939)
- Eastern Echo (Inmate-produced quarterly newsletter, inmates usually listed by name only. 1956-1967)
- Oral History Interviews (conducted 1993-2012, discussing 1950-1971, bulk*)
- Eastern State Penitentiary’s Historic Structures Report (also available here)
- Warden’s Daily Journals and other materials from the Pennsylvania State Archives**
- Online Resources (Inmates usually listed by name only. New York Times database, Google News Archive, GoogleBooks, Free Library of Philadelphia Pennsylvania Historic Newspapers, Library of Congress. 1829-1922, bulk**)
*“Bulk” indicates that the majority of materials fall into the listed date range, but there may be some outliers.
**ESPHS will not copy articles not in the public domain, and/or in another repository’s collection, but will provide a summary and detailed information about how to obtain a copy. ESPHS does not have copies of all materials held at the Pennsylvania State Archives.
Ready to get started? Download our genealogy request form and mail or email it to the address below.
If you have questions or if you would like to make an addition to our resources list, please contact us.
Manager, Research and Public Programming
Eastern State Penitentiary Archives
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 236-5111 x27