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 (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.

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

London, 1842: Pentonville Prison opens. But how are the inmates to be rehabilitated? Is there anything redemptive about solitary confinement? Can a religious outlook on life help with addiction? One troubled priest seeks to find out....Paperback and Kindle https://t.co/L5mmOeUMgn

The door of the prison where my ancestor James Duckworth was held in Warwick before being hanged for treason in 1773. His crime was coin-clipping, and when he was executed the newspapers reported he was the heaviest man in the county, weighing in at 23 stone.

"A Factory Señorita?" @femalefactoryol blog by @oldparramatta. Directs you to resources on the #OldBailey & #ParramattaFemaleFactory #convict #AdelaideDeLaThoreza inc. Gothic Fantasy 1878 bio & recent research untangling the truth #OzHist #twitterstorians https://t.co/9JhH0WYPFi

A selection of images on the topic of Photographing Prison Life in the Early 20th Century can be found on our website under the 'Explore Further' tab. Just click on the heading 'Digital Collections' and scroll down the page. Also available here: https://t.co/D1Wkv6079X

Great to be at the first meeting of the BSC's new historical criminology network today. Loads of exciting stuff will come out of this! Thanks @dchurchill01 for organising. #crime #criminology #History #twitterstorians

Exciting opportunity to hear Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, talk about how women’s lives have changed over the last century #Suffrage100 #Vote100 #eveningtalk https://t.co/gaREGnvqVF

Imagine a world in which there is no #art #music #film #drama - what life can exist in such a world? Latest issue of the Prison Service Journal explores the meaning of #arts for #prison @KateHerrity @YvonneJewkes @No1govhmpnotts @HmpStaffordGov @LauraSCaulfield #MusicInPrison

Don't forget to book for our event on 13 December - Suffragettes and the City https://t.co/EShMtZysA3 #londonhistory

#Listen: Ian Hislop and Tom Hockhenhull on dissent through the centuries https://t.co/D6aoywmQEQ #podcast