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

The recording of our recent Wilberforce Institute Debate - 'Not Made By Slaves' - is now available through our channel if you missed it. Hosted jointly with @FreetownSociety and the @UniOfHull, it discusses the recent monograph by @BronwenEverill. Click ➡️ https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/6211628678705217026

Half the tickets are sold already! If you want to join me making embroidered images, please book soon. https://twitter.com/CriminalQuilts/status/1305902239630921728

The 1916 leader Eamon Ceannt was born on this day, 21 September, 1881. He was very active in the Gaelic revival and played the uillean pipes. When performing he sometimes wore a traditional Irish costume which included a sporran, now in the Kilmainham Gaol collection.

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🎇 Tuesday WelcomeFest is looking jam-packed! Here's what's coming up tomorrow...

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Today I finally finished one of the biggest tasks of my PhD. 3875 items collated from three asylum catalogues: each transcribed, sorted, cleaned up, individually researched to maximise information, & recategorised. Not too pretty, but ready for analysis!

If you missed any of the fascinating videos from last week's @heritageopenday you can catch up with all 14 from ourselves and @ERMuseums via this playlist on #YouTube 👉 🎥 🎞️

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