Our Criminal Ancestors is a public engagement project 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, Leeds Beckett University

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

Latest Updates on Twitter

There are lots of myths about the Victorians being prude, unsmiling, stiffs. They are shattered by these photographs I’ve been happily discovering of them smiling, laughing & goofing around. And there are many more to be found. Thread

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Are you an experienced information professional? Would you like to work for the Parliamentary Archives? We are currently recruiting for a Senior Archivist. For more information about the role and to apply, please visit https://t.co/hPT39r0ORU Closing date: 28th July #heritagejobs

Our free exhibition 'Prisoners or Patients? Criminal Insanity in Victorian Scotland' with @HistPsychiatry @univofstandrews is coming soon to @edfringe #Edinburgh #MakeYourFringe https://t.co/Gh8yTz5q5O

Look forward to presenting Police as Ploughmen at Social History Society conference, Gender, Labour & Consumption in historical perspective 13-14/9/2019 U. of Essex @PolHisSoc1985

Remembering @WMPolice @brumpolice PC George Snipe, fatally injured when attacked by a mob trying to free a prisoner - aged 29, 19/7/1897

#LestWeForget

@helenrogers19c @OldBaileyOnline Kathy Chater talked about Ann Duck in her book "Untold Histories
Black people in England and Wales during the period of the British Slave trade, c. 1660–1807" (2009) https://t.co/GXMoP1i8XI - but not sure if there's been much else besides the ODNB entry on her?

‘You answered him back and used your tongue pretty freely’: patriarchal dismissal of domestic abuse https://t.co/fGHS1FUbuN

New on my sleuthing blog: Mr Dawson's Infamous Beerhouse - the story of my own nefarious ancestor! #familyhistory #crimehist #Manchester https://t.co/3NupINc4qV