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

Our asylum team continues the story of Orlando Bridgeman, as concern grows at the family home of Weston Hall when letters about his condition continue to arrive. Read more https://staffordshireasylumrecords.wordpress.com/patients/ #staffsasylums (image Weston Hall, County Archaeology Dept/staffspasttrack.org.uk)

This 1872 drawing by the City Engineer William Mackison is a design proposal for a cattle market and abattoir at East Dock Street. A cattle market was built there but to different designs.

#Dundee #Archives

Whistling Willie was a Perth eccentric who was renowned for his obsession with the Glovers' Michaelmas dinner. Whenever he was asked, he could immediately answer how many days there were until the next dinner.

This photograph of Willie was taken by Magnus Jackson c. 1880.

Browns Castle also known as The Black Dog prison. Notorious smuggler and Privateer Luke Ryan escaped here in 1779. He seized back control of his vessel, picked up his crew at Rush and sailed for the smugglers haven of Dunkirk to later embark on a prolific career as privateer.

Hear unique insights and stories from The National Archives’ records and learn about the long history of public health responses in Britain. How did outbreaks from the past affect real people and how did they change Britain? #PodcastRecommendations

https://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/public-health-crises-exploring-britains-medical-history/

** Small bit of paid work available **

I'm looking for someone who can decipher (if possible) the form of shorthand used in these two manuscripts. I *think* they are in the hand of Edwin Chadwick, and they deal with the elderly Jeremy Bentham's ailing health

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Did your ancestors have a 'Fleet Marriage'? Up until the first half of the 18th century, irregular or clandestine marriages were much more common that you might think! https://bit.ly/37jFx2K
#AncestryHour #Genealogy #Marriage
Image: Caricature of a Fleet Marriage (Wikipedia)

We continue to mark the life and achievements of Hull aviator Amy Johnson by releasing Part 4 of her letters which are now available to view online. These cover April 1927 to Whitsun 1927 http://hullhistorycentre.org.uk/research/research-guides/amy-johnson-letters.aspx @hull_libraries @jrlthull @Hull_Museums