About Us

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 (see tab and link 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.

Dr 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

Whilst I am on holiday, taking a break from writing about courtroom and prison museums for my thesis, I still made sure to visit the Memorium Nuremberg Trials. A very different kind of courtroom museum compared to the ones I’m used to seeing. #darktourism

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Fantastic talk today at the @WMPolice #Lockup by Kay Hunter on capital punishment after another busy open day with #AFairCop book display. One step closer to fully fledged police museum 😃

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4 days until Echoes of Holloway Prison Exhibition opens! Counting down our 5 Questions that are part of the Exhibition https://t.co/jAp3hEXE0W so here is 👇🏾👇🏼👇🏽
Q2. "Does prison work for women?"

Fascinated with historical clothing? The get down to #StoneLibrary on 17th July to hear artist Ruth Singer talk about criminal clothing @CriminalQuilts Free to attend #DontMissOut

Read articles on historical criminology in the summer @BritSocCrim Newsletter from the brilliant @dchurchill01 @blalygamal @iainchanning and @yeomans_henry https://t.co/z8CdMYx8ud

COME AND JOIN THE HISTORY LAB COMMITTEE! Elections July 12th at 5pm. Interested? email: ihrhistorylab@gmail.com

This is a great opportunity for PhDs at whatever stage of research. As the academic job market becomes ever more competitive, involvement in an organisation such as History Lab represents a valuable addition to your CV.

Call for Papers for the upcoming symposium on how immersive experience of #heritage shapes our understanding of the modern world.
https://t.co/yep6IN3y2G