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Research Resources

Use the resources below to conduct research about Eastern State online and at other repositories.

The purpose of Eastern State Penitentiary’s collections is to identify, acquire, preserve, and make accessible documents and artifacts relating to the administrators and inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary, the physical structures and objects within the walls of the penitentiary, the Pennsylvania System of Punishment, and Pennsylvania corrections policies. We appreciate all additions to the collection, as each one brings us a new and better understanding of this National Historic Landmark and the people who lived and worked within it.

We are also interested in conducting video or audio interviews with former inmates, guards, and staff members. If you are (or know) someone who lived or worked inside the building, or if you are interested in donating items to Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site’s collections, please contact us at 215-236-5111 x223 or [email protected]

Genealogy research services will be on hold until March 1, 2020. Please check back then!

We 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, or $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.

**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.

There are a surprising number of books with information about Eastern State and its inhabitants.

  • Bibliography 
    This is a list of several books regarding Eastern State and penology created by our supporters.
  • Google Books 
    In addition to searching on your own, be sure to check out The Annual Reports of the Inspectors (1830-1917). These books often give information about inmates by their number and you can access them for free. At Google Books, type in "annual report of the inspectors," (use quotation marks) and the first link will be an edition of the report. Click “more editions” for the full run of what’s available. You may be able to determine the inmate’s number by looking at these reports. The University of Pennsylvania has additional years and hard copies of many of these books. Click here for UPenn’s library catalog. Search for “Annual report of the Eastern State Penitentiary” (use quotation marks) to see the record. Also at Google Books, type in “a concise history of the eastern penitentiary,” (use quotation marks) and you’ll see the minority report of an investigation of the penitentiary published in 1835 by Thomas McElwee (ESP staff often refers to this document at “The McElwee Report”). This book provides an in-depth look into the general conditions of the penitentiary in its early years. At Google Books, type in "warden cassidy on prisons," (use quotation marks) and you’ll see a book written by Warden Michael Cassidy in 1897. This document contains a lot of information about the penitentiary in general in 1897 as well as some photographs.
  • Library Company of Philadelphia 
    The Library Company houses a collection of rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, ephemera, prints, photographs, and works of art.
  • Your Local Library 
    Click the link above to find the library nearest to you (you may need to zoom out if your library is more than 2 miles away from your location). Make sure you let the librarian know what you’re looking for: he or she might have more helpful tips!

The Eastern State staff often relies on newspaper accounts to create programs on site. Searching for newspapers is fun, and is made increasingly easy through online databases. When searching, keep in mind that names are often misspelled and you may want to try several variations. Also, try searching for various keywords, dates, and names of people involved in the case to find the best results. Remember that Eastern State was called by different names throughout its history (e.g. Cherry Hill, Eastern State Penitentiary, Eastern Penitentiary, the penitentiary in Philadelphia, etc.).

  • Google News Archives 
    For best results, after entering your search, click the “Search Tools” button below the search bar and then change “Any Time” to “Archives.” Please be aware that some articles you find may require a fee to see them, while others are completely free. Although The New York Times is included in this search engine, you can also search The New York Times separately (some articles require a fee).
  • Your Local Library
    Your library may have copies of newspapers that have not been put online, or may be able to obtain copies for you for free. Click the link above to find the library nearest to you (you may need to zoom out if your library is more than 2 miles away from your location). Make sure you let the librarian know what you’re looking for: he or she might have more helpful tips!
  • American Philosophical Society
    A search on APS’ Digital Library for the word penitentiary will reveal many full text free online sources. Of particular relevance are their Eastern State records from 1819-1955. You can see a finding aid for that collection here.
  • Cumberland County Archives
    Cumberland County’s Archives holds several series of documents concerning Eastern State Penitentiary up to the year 1887. These documents include annual bills from Eastern State for maintenance costs of prisoners convicted in Cumberland County and discharge certificates for those inmates. To see lists of holdings and some images, go to Cumberland County's Listings Page and search all archives for the word “penitentiary.”
  • The Pennsylvania State Archives 
    Click here for information specifically about prison records at the State Archives. The Pennsylvania State Archives has the most comprehensive collection of inmate records from Eastern State Penitentiary. Click here for the Genealogical Research at the Pennsylvania State Archives web page.
  • University of Pennsylvania
    The Rare Book & Manuscript Library Collections hold the daybooks of Eastern State architect John Haviland from 1820-1837 as well as the papers of J. William White, who was a surgeon at Eastern State and a member of the Board of Inspectors in the late 1800s. For information about modern penology, also see the Johan Thorsten Sellin Papers.
  • Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network
    This website gathers geographic materials like maps, atlases, city directories, and industrial site surveys documenting historic Philadelphia from the 1600s to today. The Interactive Maps Viewer allows you to view 19th and 20th century maps of the region that document how land use in Philadelphia evolved.
2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner