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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States: Institutional Records  by Amy Johnson Crow, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Juvenile Offenders

In the early days of the state penitentiary systems, juveniles were segregated from the adult prison population, but they were still in the same facility. Beginning in the mid-1800s, as prison systems were starting to experiment with the ‘reform’ movement, states opened separate facilities for young offenders.

These facilities were often called ‘reform schools’ or ‘industrial schools’. The inmates were expected to work; the work done in the trade shops and on the school farm supported the institution.

Many of the children in these institutions were never charged with a crime. Instead, they were placed there by parents or guardians for truancy or for being ‘incorrigible’. In some ways, reform schools became a default orphanage for children whose parents could not (or would not) handle them.

Admission Records

The nature of reform schools was set toward rehabilitation. It was thought if the boys and girls were put in a disciplined environment, they could become productive members of society as adults. Because of this, the admission records contain family information so that school officials could gauge the extent of the reform that would be necessary.

The Figure below shows the admission record for Harvey Whitney into the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio, committed in 1860 ‘at instance of his Mother’.[1]

Figure: Admission Record to a Reform School

Admission Record19V.jpg

Placement Records

Reform schools would sometimes ‘place out’ an inmate to a local family or to a person who applied to the school to have an inmate placed with them. They can give excellent clues to residency as the records name the location of the person with whom they are being placed.

The image below shows the placement record of Charles Martin from the Boys Industrial School.

Figure: Example of a Placement Record

Placement Record19V.jpg


  1. Boys Industrial School, Inmates' Case Records, 1858-1956, State Archives Series 1097, microfilm GR3384, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Institutional Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.