Our Criminal Ancestors is a public engagement project, led by the University of Hull in collaboration with Leeds Beckett University, that encourages and supports people and communities to explore the criminal past of their own families, communities, towns and regions.

We interpret ‘criminal’ broadly to mean people that have historically encountered the criminal justice system. This might include the accused, victims, witnesses, prisoners, police, prison officers, solicitors and magistrates among others who worked in the criminal justice system.

Our criminal ancestors were often ordinary people, most were minor offenders whose contact with the criminal justice system was a brief moment in their lives – only a small minority were what we might term today ‘serious offenders’.  This project hopes to share a greater understanding of the sometimes difficult situations and context for understanding how or why individuals, and sometimes groups of people, encountering the criminal justice system.

Please join in with your stories (go to HistoryPin) – we are looking for stories and events from between roughly 1700 and 1939 (lots of records are subject to closure of between 75-100 years).  Tell us (and each other) about crime history in your local area or your family history – we are interested in stories ‘big’ and ‘small’ – perhaps your ancestors was a police officer, prison warder or a witness to a crime, they may have been an offender or a victim – using crime history records can reveal some fascinating stories but also important contextual information about our social history.

This website aims to provide a useful starting point for anyone looking to explore their criminal ancestry, providing handy tips, advice and insights on the history of crime, policing and punishment as well as case studies, blogs to help in your own research.

We hope you enjoy the resources on this website and welcome constructive feedback and suggestions. If you have a story from your own research that you’d like to share, please do get in touch. You can email us at ourcriminalpast@gmail.com.

Professor Helen Johnston, University of Hull
Professor Heather Shore, Manchester Metropolitan University (formerly Leeds Beckett University)

Editorial work and content on this website is also produced by Dr Ashley Borrett.

(Please note, we are not a genealogical research service and therefore we are unable to undertake research on your behalf.)

Latest Updates on Twitter

As my book ‘Trials of the Self: Murder, Mayhem and the Remaking of the Mind, 1750-1830’ is now out, a short thread on what’s in it! /1 https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526153142/

2-36 Jamaica St, 1930
Gardner and Son's warehouse (no. 36, now Martin and Frost) is one of the most remarkable cast-iron warehouses of its date anywhere in Britain; built 1855-6 by John Baird I and using a structural system patented by R McConnel, ironfounder. Archive Ref:

‘The Openings’ Robin Hoods Bay. In Victorian times it was often called ‘Baytown, to distinguish it from the bay. In 1536 King Henry VIII’s topographer, John Leland, described the village as a ‘a fischer townelet of 20 bootes.' It was considered more important than Whitby

On 26th April 1867, the Hull whaler Diana returned to port after 353 days away, mostly spent trapped in ice in Frobisher Bay in the Arctic. 13 men died of scurvy and dysentery.  Captain  John Gravill is buried in Hull General Cemetery. 15,000 people attended his funeral.

Some fascinating figures in the doorway of this Holloway Penny Bazaar, 1914.

And an interesting reflection in the left hand window @sainsburyarch !

🇬🇩 I've been lucky enough to work in several archives in the Caribbean. They all have amazing staff doing great work on tiny budget, but this is worrying news from Grenada. Side note: Caribbean history is also British history (via @nowgrenada) https://www.nowgrenada.com/2021/04/video-dire-state-of-grenadas-national-archive-needs-urgent-attention/

Is this ghost like figure #SomethingScary or a trick of the light captured in this photograph of the billiard room at Carton House c. 1891? #Archive30

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#MapMonday Station Road, #Belvedere on 1907 @OrdnanceSurvey #map and 1906 #photo showing the railway station in the background @LBofBexley @BelvedereForum @Se_Railway

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If you aren't using this website for your #WWI research then you are missing out. It's my No 1 go-to every single time I find a client's WWI ancestor. #Genealogy https://twitter.com/1418research/status/1386718002612215814