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 (see tab and link 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

‘She looked wild’: Infanticide and insanity in nineteenth-century Victoria https://t.co/KucV5VwDI4

Mrs HOWELL brought up her assigned servant MARY EDWARDS for having absented herself from service, & this being the 3rd offence of similar depravity, the mistress did not entertain any particular wish that MOLLY should “pleat” or “clear-starch” any more.


Trying to find records about crime, policing and punishment in your ancestry or local history - See https://t.co/TjCxebHMlG #crimehistory #genealogy #familyhistory Source Guide available ‘getting started’ @wdytyamagazine @RiponMuseums @ERidingLMA

Trying to find records about crime, policing and punishment in your ancestry or local history - See https://t.co/TjCxebHMlG #crimehistory #genealogy #familyhistory Source Guide available ‘getting started’ @wdytyamagazine

Thanks to @nycclibraries #Ripon library for hosting our FREE Find Your Criminal Ancestor event on June 20th @ourcriminalpast - FFI and to book a place : https://t.co/XRqZC3814J
#police #history

Looking forward to the LFFHS conference at #Preston tomorrow. I'll be doing two talks: one on children's homes and one on reformatories, industrial schools etc. https://t.co/6OHil9rkc2

A new dataviz of changing patterns of @OldBaileyOnline trials. Each horizontal bar represents one sessions between 1716 and 1913 with 1 tile per trial, coloured by offence category. I rather like this, complements heatmaps here https://t.co/Xrw9q9OeGi

Women's History Network Small Grants Scheme

Small grants of £1,000 for 1-day conferences on women’s history, organised by full time or part time postgraduates in universities or other HE institutions

Deadline: 13 July 2018
#twitterstorians #womenshistory

How can family historians, genealogists, academic historians, archives & libraries collaborate?

We're contributing to this great workshop on 14 July @LeedsCityMuseum: https://t.co/nFeDYzdBOw

All welcome! @railwaymuseum @DrLauraKing @JackieDepelle #ancestryhour @FederationFHS

TODAY I AM CELEBRATING! My edited volume, A Global History of Convicts & Penal Colonies, is out. Antoinette Burton: "A stunning account of convict circuitry across the globe." David Arnold: "Global history at its most innovative, insightful and combative." https://t.co/P5OUyhRvQa