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

New content from ⁦@HistoryWM⁩ ‘Not a penny off' - Birmingham and The General Strike 1926 https://historywm.com/articles/the-1926-general-strike-in-birmingham

We might not have a coastline here in Shropshire but there are plenty of other places to get into the holiday vibe. Can't afford a yacht on the French Riviera? Why not don a bikini and hike a lift on a supplies barge? [Blists Hill PH/M/1/4/128] #HolidayFashion

A house of correction in the 19th century and a women's prison in the 20th, the largest in Western Europe. Holloway Prison needs a fitting legacy. A women's building, with specialist services & accommodation for vulnerable women would be ideal. Read more https://tinyurl.com/277h6yz4

The greatcoats our #Nightwatchmen wore had gone up in price by 5 shillings in 1833 since they’d last been bought in 1828 for 28/5 each – about £100 in today’s money. Fascinating to see how the costs are broken down, such as ‘Altering capes to fit the neck’.
#Textilehistorians

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Lovely postcard from the collection showing #Manchester Assize courts. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1864 they were demolished in 1957 & suffered heavy damage during the Blitz.

We hold some calendars of prisoners for the Assizes in our collection.

#SecretsOfTheMuseum @V_and_A @BBCTwo female convict prisoners made mosaic tiles which make the beautiful floor in Cast Courts, Room 46 of V&A. Made by women held in Woking convict prison around 1870s/1880s #prisonhistory #prison @prisonhistoryuk @Victorian @YvonneJewkes

New article out now on 'flash houses' - pubs alledgedly used by members of the 'criminal underworld' in 19th-century London: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/09526951211024561

Have you ever wanted to stand inside a Kiln?

Well, at Coalport China Museum, you can!

Come and take at these amazing brick structures from inside and out 👀

Book your tickets now: http://www.Ironbridge.org.uk/plan/ticket-prices

#Museum #EngineeringMarvel

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Development Manager, National and Networks @SampsCaroline wrote a blog about the Research Resilience event we ran with @history_uk, where she calls for more conversations between historians and archivists to shape future ways of working.

Read it here: https://www.history-uk.ac.uk/2021/07/19/reflections-research-resilience/