It was raining as it had almost everyday about the time the mail came. There was the usual detritus of our not-yet-paperless society and a package that looked like it had been around the world a couple of times.
“Hmm,” I thought, “this may be the book I’ve been waiting for.” And indeed it was. Seems I had given the sender a Zip Code that was one digit off my actual zip code. And naturally, nobody actually reads the address except the Zip Code, so the book had been off to places exotic and mundane, but none close to the actual destination.
When I opened the battered package, I found the book had survived with nary a scratch. It may well have been an allegorical allusion to the solid work I would find inside.
The book is called Wanted! subtitled US Criminal Records–Sources & Research Methodology. It’s the latest effort from Ron Arons (The Jews of Sing Sing).
In the Introduction, Arons says “Whether you have a criminal ancestor in your family or are interested in learning more about a famous gangster or lesser known felon, you’ve come to the right place.” Yes, indeed.
Arons gives several pages of practical advice on finding criminal records, but the meat of the book is its 365 page state-by-state finding aid for criminal records (he points out that most of such records are not digitized and available directly on the Internet). In each state section one finds the name, web address, physical location and telephone number for repositories of criminal records. For each repository, there is a table listing record types, location or call numbers, the author of the records, and of course a title and description. Each state section also lists the federal records from that state held by the National Archives, together with the location and contact information for the NARA facility with records from that state.
Some states are broken down to the county level.
The author has also included for every state a Web address by which to locate inmates or access a list of executions or both in that state. (The book covers all fifty states and the District of Columbia; it does not include the territories).
The records that Arons catalogs are prison records, court records, parole and pardon records, and even some investigative and police reports. He leavens the raw information with occasional photographs or documents that he has come across in his research, some of which relate to famous and notorious outlaws. Some of these documents relate to Arons’ great-grandfather, Isaac Spier, the New York bigamist, the discovery of whose misdeeds led ultimately to the writing of The Jews of Sing Sing.
I found the book easy to use and accurate with respect to the websites and the state archives that I have had experience with. I have frequent need for criminal and court records and frankly, I’m waaay tired with websites that purport to give directions to such information but are just a compilation of broken links. Here, Arons has created a truly useful finding aid valuable to veteran researchers, librarians, archivists, law enforcement and legal historians, and biographers as well as the occasional user.
Most people won’t stay up all night looking at this book cover-to-cover as I nearly did. But most historical researchers sooner or later will need a finding aid to criminal records As a lawyer and former judge, I’m glad to have this “one-stop reference” as Arons calls it. It really is the book I’ve been waiting for!
Wanted! (Oakland, Calif.: Criminal Research Press 2009),
Copyright 2009, Ron Arons
Go to Ron Arons’ website, www.ronarons.com, for ordering information.
January 31, 2010 Sunday at 7:26 pm