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

Looking for #PoliceHistory books?
They’re all here... https://mangobooks.co.uk/collections/police-history
@PolHisSoc1985 @MPSHeritage @Police_Gazette @PoliceHistory

⁦@prisonhistoryuk⁩ Watchet Court Leet Lock Up, Market St, Watchet, Nth Somerset. Court app still meets annually & ceremoniously ‘true men of Watchet’, at Bell Inn since 1643.

A doll dressed in the uniform of the Clifton Industrial School for Boys. Pupils at schools like these made uniforms for dolls that were then sold to raise money. In 1857 the law gave magistrates the power to send 7-14 yr olds to one of these institutions for vagrancy.
#DollDay

On 29 July 1864, Solomon Allies was appointed as Borough Gaoler @tolhousemuseum
Great Yarmouth Local History & Archaeological Society have kindly given us permission to share an article about the last gaoler & predecessors at the Tolhouse.
Read full post http://ow.ly/JC4Y50AETWQ

@tolhousemuseum @timetidemuseum Very interesting article on last gaol keeper in Great Yarmouth @tolhousemuseum @prisonhistoryuk @ourcriminalpast

Great view of Glasgow Cross showing the tolbooth building before its demolition in 1921 Archive Ref: P9629
#Archivesathome #Glasgowlifegoeson

Was your ancestor punished by transported? Get started with guide for tracing your transported convict ancestor(s) - Our Criminal Ancestors #familyhistory #genealogy #ancestors https://ourcriminalancestors.org/source-guide-for-tracing-your-transported-convict-ancestorss/

Tracing your police ancestors? Some simple tips to get started - Our Criminal Ancestors #familyhistory #ancestors #genealogy https://ourcriminalancestors.org/police-ancestors/

Looking for introduction to where to find criminal justice system records - start here - Our Criminal Ancestors #familyhistory #genealogy #ancestors https://ourcriminalancestors.org/where-to-find-criminal-justice-system-records/

Researching your prison ancestors: an introductory guide - Our Criminal Ancestors #familyhistory #genealogy #ancestors https://ourcriminalancestors.org/researching-your-prison-ancestors-an-introductory-guide/