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

Post PhD reuniting with ‘old friends’. Time to give voice to juvenile criminals in long 19th C Ireland #crimhist #histchild #childhist @ReidyConor @ourcriminalpast @jessamycarlson

Inventing Australian women - The Countess

Superb essay on colonising women in Australia past & present by ⁦@msediewyatt⁩

⁦@ourcriminalpast⁩ ⁦@digipanoptic⁩ #twitterstorians https://thecountess.ie/inventing-australian-women/

I made a surprising discovery & found that in his youth, my ancestor spent a month in prison with hard labour. What was his crime & why did he do it? What was his experience of prison? #familysecret #Crime #prison @victoriansleuth @ourcriminalpast http://genealogyjude.com/2021/06/12/the-pair-of-boots/

Beverley-York rail route reopening plan examined https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-57352100

@EnglishRadical @AndrewThorpe4 Presumably this is portrait of him in captivity? Love that he’s smoking his pipe @ourcriminalpast

Reminds me of this cracking convict love token @nma http://love-tokens.nma.gov.au/highlights/2008.0039.0043

Appeal for tales of Hull airship crash which killed 44 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-57260147

Beverley-York rail route reopening plan examined https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-57352100

#histsex This (not to mess with) brothel owner is one of the people in the Dutch secret register of released prisoners, 1882-1897. Now available online @bhicarchief https://19thcprostitution.blogspot.com/2021/06/secret-register-of-released-prisoners.html

Really enjoyed our @Punishment_CRN panel at #LSA2021! 'Punishment and the Legacies of Empire' - with great papers from Florence Seemungal, Paul Khiatani, Smadar Ben-Natan, Mark Brown and Vijay Raghavan & @lizzieseal as discussant. From forthcoming special issue of @Pun_Soc!

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