Alcatraz Library, circa 1960
NARA-San Bruno

Please respect archival materials and other researchers. Ask the archivist for cotton gloves before handling photographs. If you are allowed to photocopy the documents yourself, please copy each individually. Leave the files neat and orderly. Use a pencil instead of a pen to take notes. Resist the temptation to steal documents. (In the Federal archives, this is a felony!) Observe all house rules regarding records and behavior.

National Archives
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno, California

The National Archives is the designated chief repository for all administrative records and inmate records for the prison. Before researchers can view the records, they must be screened. Contact the archives to make an appointment. These records are incomplete, however, due to the following problems:

  • A never-ending Federal Bureau of Prisons contract which has placed many of the more interesting and important records in the hands of a lone researcher who has been conducting a study of them for the last twenty years or so.
  • Pilferage by former Alcatraz employees who took files so that they could write their books. One General Services Administration caretaker is said to have sold many files to autograph collectors.
  • Older files were cleared out of "nonessential" records and correspondence.
  • Possible destruction of records by the Native American occupiers of Alcatraz Island. (They burned records to keep themselves warm.)

The Archives also holds District Court records, however, which include all the documents introduced in court trials regarding the prison. What San Bruno does not have are the original court cases for each and every prisoner. You will need to contact your local District Court archivist or the nearest National Archives for this information. (For example, Doc Barker's records will be found in the archives of the District Court for the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The 1946 Blast-Out trial was conducted in San Francisco and so the San Bruno archives has this case.) Trial transcipts and exhibits sometimes accompany the trial motions.

Copies of records cost $0.50 per page by mail or $0.10 if you do it yourself. Charges for photos and microfilm are more. Contact the archives for more information.

Online documents from this source are designated as NARA-SB.

National Archives
Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Branch

8601 Adelphi Road,
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Ordering information:

This branch of NARA features newsreels with footage about various escape attempts including the 1946 Alcatraz Blast-Out and public relations footage. Notable films include "Protecting the People" (NWDNM(m)-129.1, Accession Number 662), "Alcatraz Prison Riot" (NWDNM(s)-200-G-1579 Accession Number NN-375-228), and "Crime and Prisons" (NWDNM(s)-200-MR-2552 Accession Number 374-153)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
San Francisco, California

There are several portions of the National Recreation Area with useful information about Alcatraz:

  • Alcatraz Island (705-1042) - has the prison itself, which is open to the public. It's email address is: The Web site is
  • J. Porter Shaw Library, National Maritime Museum - has official photos from Alcatraz's penitentiary days and some Alcatraz prisoner files.
  • Army Records Center, The Presidio (415-561-5001) - has records from the period when Alcatraz served as a military fortification and a military stockade. A good contact is Curator for Military History John Martini ( Unfortunately, files for individual prisoners were destroyed by the Army after the abandonment of Alcatraz. The park's collections, however, remain useful to students of architecture and military fortifications.

Not affiliated with the National Park Service, but of importance to those who wish to visit Alcatraz is the Blue and Gold Fleet. Call for reservations two days in advance at 415-705-5555.

Online documents from the Historical Documents Collection of the J. Porter Shaw Library are cited as GOGA-JPS-HDC.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Archives
320 First Street NW
Washington, DC 20534

Some records which cannot be found at NARA San Bruno can be located here as photocopies. (The originals are held by Professor X.) Note that before NARA or FBP can release records, they must be screened. They are not trying to hide governmental conspiracies: what they remove are documents of a personal nature. Records pertaining to dead prisoners are available, but if the record makes reference to a still living relative or another inmate, the archivist will remove it. Under the Freedom of Information Act, you can have one hundred pages for free. Typical records include admission information, medical reports, and FBI reports explaining the reason for incarceration.

FBI Freedom of Information Act Unit
Office of Public and Congressional Affairs
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20535-0000

Records of crimes may be found in the FBI archives. Note that not all prisoners sentenced to Alcatraz were arrested by the FBI or its predecessor, the Division of Investigation. The Post Office Department, for example, pursued forgers and post office robbers. Counterfeiters were tracked by the Treasury Department. Drug offenders and income tax evaders were also the province of the Treasury Department. Even the National Park Service got involved when crimes occurred on its lands. The records of many famous criminals can be found at this address however.

The FBI charges 10 cents per photocopied page. The first 100 pages are free.

A useful web site for tracking FBI records is Michael Ravnitsky's Secret No More, which lists the names and file numbers of thousands of files now open through the Freedom of Information Act. This can be a helpful shortcut when it comes to finding information about Alcatraz prisoners and their crimes. Note that Ravnitsky's list does not include all FBI files, only some of the more interesting ones.

San Francisco Public Library
Main Library
100 Larkin Street - Civic Center
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-4400

The San Francisco History Room collections include newspaper and magazine clippings about the prison with specific files dedicated to notable escape attempts, court cases, and prison riots. Also available to researchers is a reference collection of books about the prison and an extensive photo collection.

Vital Statistics Section, Dept of Health Svcs
P.O. Box 730241
Sacramento, CA 94244-0241
Web Site:

Death records for Alcatraz prisoners can be obtained for a small fee from this office. More information about charges can be found at the web site.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
Columbia Point
Boston, Massachusetts 02125
Tel: 617-929-4500
Fax: 617-929-4538
Web Site:

Western-based historians may find the trip across the country worth their while to look at the papers of James V. Bennett, who was Director of the Bureau of Prisons from 1937 onwards. The collection includes a 1974 interview with the former director, portions of which are closed.

Vital Records Office
400 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102-4607
(415) 554-4114

Another place where you can obtain death records. Burial records for individual Alcatraz prisoners can be obtained first by securing the death certificate and then contacting the cemetery to whose care the body was given.

San Francisco County Medical Examiner
850 Bryant Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 553-1694

Here you can find the autopsy reports for Alcatraz prisoners who were slain while escaping or who died of other causes. Unfortunately, the accompanying coroner inquest transcripts for the period before the 1960s were destroyed after being transferred to the San Francisco County Recorder.

Even with the loss of records,
it is hard to bring the subject of Alcatraz
down to a manageable size.

Photo Courtesy Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

See also:
Annotated Bibliography
Links to other prison sites
Notes on San Francisco Genealogy
Return to Researching Alcatraz