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

@OU_Williams @northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @WelshRaffles @earlypolicing We'd confirm - seems to be wearing an indoor tailcoat and unlikely for a Runner to be armed with a sword in this scenario. @blackpoppies14 has researched the earliest known Met mixed-race officer, Robert Branford, with us 1838-1866:
https://twitter.com/Southwark_News/status/1263560495598129153

@earlypolicing @OU_Williams @northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @MPSHeritage @WelshRaffles @BritPoliceHist @colpolicemuseum Thomas Latham is noted here. However dates do not coincide.

https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-firsts/john-kent-britains-first-black-policeman/

@northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @MPSHeritage @WelshRaffles @earlypolicing I don't think he's drawn in there as a Runner -- he's getting up from his chair. So it looks like PC Kent of Carlisle Police remains the earliest confirmed (1830s) black constable. There could well be others out there though.

I'm spending today back in the murder files, reading through trial depositions and looking for evidence of detective practice and early CSI techniques. Great to have finally got round to sorting out the data from my last archival visit! I shall report back…😀🔎 #detectives #PhD

The 1810 Bastards Act placed the responsibility for the maintenance of an illegitimate child on the putative father rather than the Parish. Mary Bilham of Carbrooke, Norfolk named Stephen Beeks as the father of her child. Her daughter was baptised in January 1812. #101Documents

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@victoriansleuth @ourcriminalpast Shouldn't be too difficult to knock up some stocks from a few wooden pallets and some scrap timber, attach some wheels, we're mobile. 🤔😂

I have several 'criminals' in my family tree, who were convicted of theft, poaching, swearing on the highway (!), and keeping a disorderly house 😱 Have you found any criminal ancestors? #AncestryHour

@TheRothOfKhan @PlymCSecResp @CrownhillPolice @PlymASecResp @plymspecial999 @PlymPoliceBSec @PlymouthVPC @CustodyPlymouth @MPSSouthwark @MPSGreenwich @DevonHeritage @HMNBDevonport @NatMuseumRN @theboxplymouth @britainsocean @PlymouthUK2020 @oneplymouth @sarewaddington Fortunately we also have a digitised copy of his divisional ledger entry on M, where he was M341. He'd switched from carman for a haulage company (1911) to labourer by the time he joined the Met, making the transfer to No. 3 (Devonport) Division on 4 July 1917.

@TheRothOfKhan @PlymCSecResp @CrownhillPolice @PlymASecResp @plymspecial999 @PlymPoliceBSec @PlymouthVPC @CustodyPlymouth Here's his Met joining signature. An Essex-born taxi driver in 1911, he started out on M (@MPSSouthwark) & was on R (@MPSGreenwich) at his retirement with an "Excellent" conduct certificate on 12 September 1937. Riverside divisions were quite a common pre-/post-Dockyard posting.

#OnThisDay in 1940, Reserve PC Alfred Crosby was seriously injured in an air raid whilst directing people to a shelter. He died the next day. RPC Crosby was an ex-Met PC & served 25yrs at Devonport Docks. He was the first policeman in Plymouth to die as a result of enemy action.