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

This is a glorious thread fro Swansea Workhouse Punishment Book but this one had to be my favourite @Prison_Voices @TheirWrite @upsetvictorians https://t.co/sWOI3zUwnH

'I'd get a room at three bob a week and then enjoy meself — go to the theay-ter and that.'
Two poor lads overheard in 1895 in #Shoreditch discussing what they'd do if they earned £400 a year (a very good wage).

Explore Australian prisons through time #maps #crime #history #DH https://t.co/3TcNXfsZVf

More photos from @ourcriminalpast's excellent talk on the institutional & cultural history of borstal at @LeedsTownHall @Centrcultureart

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Illustration from A Report on Sanitary Conditions in #Preston by Rev. John Clay 1842. Your old friend @Traceyhughes200

My colleague Heather Shore @ourcriminalpast talking about the creation of the borstal system @Centrcultureart @becketthistory #CulturalConversation

Love these remarkable cartoons of Preston Lockout 1853 though of course rights of English workers pitted against Irish 'knobsticks' like this poor shoeless lass. From Preston Digital Archive on Flickr https://t.co/YcZ6MMlCA5

@cccjhull Professor Helen Johnston shares her experiences in developing @ourcriminalpast funded by @ahrcpress at @UniOfHull Digital Humanities workshop

Want to know more about the new @BritSocCrim Historical Criminology Network? The 'About' page on #HCNet should help: https://t.co/epqfuP3vwR
Want to know more about Historical Criminology generally? Network Chair @dchurchill01 says "it's about time...": https://t.co/SXXKJ2K82F

Check out Our Criminal Ancestors, a UK-based project that supports those exploring the criminal past of their families @ourcriminalpast #crimehist https://t.co/8p9886nxy9