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, Manchester Metropolitan 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

A riot caused by a clergyman’s violence http://thepolicemagistrate.blog/2019/11/29/a-riot-caused-by-a-clergymans-violence/

To find out more about this #Victorian poisoning case, pop into our library during opening hours and *lowers voice to a whisper* ask for London Collection Pamphlets, Box 76.
#MysteriousArchives #ExploreYourArchive

Today's #ExploreYourArchive theme is #ArchivesAtSea

We have a range of records relating to Newport Docks, including these photographs of the various goods being loaded and unloaded at the Docks.

(Ref: Pictorial/Newport67-68, 70 and 74)

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Are you struggling to find information on staff or prisoners at a particular prison? Do you want to know more about the links between prisons and local communities? Check out our new guide on using the Census for prison research https://tinyurl.com/tyyrbwh ✒️📖🗝️

For #MysteriousArchives we have an intelligence file on suspected Irish Republican Brotherhood suspects compiled by the Chief Secretary’s Office, 1892-1893. It’s a mystery how they were secretly photographed in public places, perhaps using an early spy camera? @explorearchives

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29 Nov 1686: John [Jack] Ketch public executioner who made a mess of many of his grim tasks is buried #otd at St. James Clerkenwell. Despite being paid for a speedy job, he took five blows to removed the head of the Duke of Monmouth.

@ourcriminalpast @channel5_tv @socialhistsoc @ResearchEssex #crime #historians may be interested in clips taken from the early 1900s film made about Charles Peace.

Look out for ‘Victorians in Colour’ in 2020 @channel5_tv. Just finished filming my contributions at the wonderful Whirled Cinema in Brixton. #twitterstorians @socialhistsoc @ResearchEssex

While we’re on the topic of Oliver Twist - Why don’t you take a look at Liverpool’s own workhouse, which stood on Brownlow Hill from 1834-1928.

The workhouse would be demolished in 1931, and replaced with, what is now, the Roman Catholic Church.