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

Interested in the history of capital punishment? Leeds Historical Criminology event on 19th June at @leedsbeckett @becketthistory. CEO of @TheHowardLeague @francescrook @lizzieseal and Vivien Miller (Nottingham) are speaking. All are welcome, please RT: https://t.co/1HfY7CDeEl

Interested in the history of capital punishment? Leeds Historical Criminology event on 19th June at @leedsbeckett @becketthistory. CEO of @TheHowardLeague @francescrook @lizzieseal and Vivien Miller (Nottingham) are speaking. All are welcome, please RT: https://t.co/1HfY7CDeEl

‘It is really quite dreadful to see young children standing in the dock charged with drunkenness’. Two young girls are led astray https://t.co/EP9M5oyF6U

In 1936, over 200 men marched in protest against extreme poverty and unemployment in the North East of England. This march, from Jarrow to London, is known as The Jarrow March, or The Jarrow Crusade. #AuthenticAccounts #OralHistory #UOSH @BLSoundHeritage https://t.co/2awtJpVXAC

Flash Histories Symposium 5th July – Creative Histories of Witchcraft

Looking forward to #FlashHistories - another in fab series of #creativehistories events organised by ⁦@willpooley⁩ https://t.co/1mmKCQzfCJ

We missed yesterday's theme of #MuseumWeek #SecretsMW These photos are from three years ago showing the space before the museum was built. Paging @DullMuseumSnaps

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Always good to see police and crime related museums succeed - especially the good ones - so please take a read. https://t.co/90mHzz8vYU