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

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

Tracing your police ancestors - Our Criminal Ancestors #AncestryHour https://ourcriminalancestors.org/police-ancestors/

Where to find criminal justice system records - Our Criminal Ancestors #AncestryHour https://ourcriminalancestors.org/where-to-find-criminal-justice-system-records/

Types of 'employment' & wages of prisoners in #Ripon House of Correction in 1872. Oakum picking had been introduced by the Governor, William Smith (formerly Sgt of the Ripon Police) in 1863. #NorthYorkshire @ourcriminalpast @prisonhistoryuk @CaPnetworkUK

@MAMBarLife @ourcriminalpast Yes. Ideally no windows, though some had small windows or grates for ventilation. Box Blind House is a true blind house - they managed to put the ventilation in the chimney https://tinyurl.com/eju6un9w

Finding a burial record is an important part of tracing your ancestor's story. Here's how to search the records of local cemeteries online

https://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/tutorials/cemetery-records-online/

1. Another in our #LostPrisonsofDublin series. "New Newgate" opened in 1781 to replace "Old Newgate", the medieval city prison located in Cornmarket. Designed by Thomas Cooley, it was quickly seen as out-dated and overcrowded with poor ventilation and sanitation. (image DCC)

2

Although the Met had detectives from 1842, when the painter William Frith wanted 2 real life officers as models for his depiction of an arrest (right), he used Michael Haydon and James Brett of the City of London Police, 2 of the finest thief takers of the day #AVeryBritishMurder