#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Crime and Punishment

I’m taking part in genealogist Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. It’s a free program she developed to inspire family historians to write about their ancestors and other relatives. This week’s prompt is “crime and punishment.”

I’ve written about the time my great-grandfather was arrested for drunk and disorderly, so I’ll turn to my husband’s side of the family tree this time. His grandfather, John Crittenden Raney (or sometimes Rainey) served time in prison twice.

The first inkling I had that he’d been a convict was when I found him listed as a prisoner in the 1900 Census. He’s listed as John Rainey, born March 1880 in Kentucky, to parents also born in Kentucky. That all matches what I know about his family. His parents and siblings had all moved to Collin County, Texas, between 1886 and 1891; that’s based on birth locations for John’s youngest sister and brother. His maternal grandparents are listed as dying in Texas in 1895 and 1896.

John Crittenden Raney.
My husband’s grandfather John Crittenden Raney, years after he spent time in prison.

That 1900 Census is the earliest official record I have for John C. Raney. He is not listed in the 1880 Census, and his parents married in the summer of 1880. I suspect he was really born in 1881 and somehow it got confused over the years. Of course, the 1890 Census was burned.

So, he’s in prison in 1900 and again in the 1910 Census. We checked with my husband’s mother, but she didn’t remember ever hearing that he’d been in prison.

I did a little digging online and found the Texas Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945. These are basically log books with basic information about each inmate and his time served.

The earliest record lists John as J.C. Rainey, age 19, and provides a physical description. It shows John pleaded guilty in April 1899 to property theft over $50 in Collin County, Texas. He arrived at Huntsville Prison on May 6, 1899, and was discharged on February 3, 1901. The Census shows him incarcerated at Burleson and Johns’ Convict Farm in 1900.

His second stint, he’s listed as John Rainey with “J.C. Rainey” written just above. This one lists his date and place of birth as 1881, Kentucky. It says he pleaded not guilty in Grayson County to a charge of incest, but he was convicted on September 14, 1909. He was discharged from prison on March 26, 1913.

I contacted the Collin County Clerk’s Office to see if the court records still existed, and I struck gold. For just $1, they looked up the records and emailed me eleven pages about the case. It says he was indicted by a grand jury of taking $100 cash from someone named Tom Faulkner. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide any details about how the theft occurred.

I didn’t have similar luck with the Grayson County Clerk’s Office. I would really like to know the circumstances of that case. I did find a brief mention of John’s arrest for incest in the McKinney, Texas, Weekly Democrat-Gazette. It says he was wanted in Sherman, Grayson County, and arrested in Copeville, Collin County, which is where his brother Joe was living, according to the birth record for Joe’s son born in 1909.

Article on John Rainey's arrest in Copeville, Collin County, Texas.
McKinney Weekly Democrat-Gazette, Texas, 20 May 1909

Some of John’s Harris cousins (his mother was a Harris) lived in Grayson County in 1900 and 1910, and Sherman is the county seat. I don’t know if a first cousin would be considered incest, or if one of his closer relations would have been Grayson County for some reason in 1909. For now, it remains a mystery.

The discoveries – especially the 1909 case – have been a disappointment to John’s descendants. We have to take the bad with the good in this hobby, though, and I can be pleased to know that his grandson did not follow him into a life of crime!

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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