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, 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

#mugshot #mugshotmonday #wanted 1942 theft from #airraid shelter in #Somerset @ourcriminalpast @suspol_heritage @CaPnetworkUK @LawCrimeHistory @BritSocCrim @CrimCharacters @policelibrary @SomHeritage @ASPolice

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Help transcribe prison record of Doris Davis, convicted of insufficient means #crime #history #twitterstorians https://t.co/R0vuIYWOhK

In our fourth issue, read how the Metropolitan #Police #uniform would significantly change in the late 1960s from "the Bather" uniform as worn by these #WPCs to the #Hartnell design - a "combination of elegance and comfort with utility" https://t.co/BYNlHuRv7T

Excited to bring you a new story this week @RexWeiner about his discovery of a cache of letters to and from a young girl incarcerated in a youth prison in Hudson, NY. #TheAtticLetters

The Attic Letters: A Footnote To A Mystery https://t.co/6xb5y3g3el

Ethel Major - Helen Johnston & Victoria Dawson talking about fascinating 1934 case of Ethel Major #murdermysteryandmyfamily repeated today on ⁦@BBCOne⁩ ⁦@UniOfHull⁩ ⁦@HullUniEvents⁩ ⁦@cccjhull⁩ ⁦@Chalkboard_TV⁩ https://t.co/GAb9mtgsk0

Join in the discussion! - book now to avoid disappointment- some sessions are fully booked

There are four sessions between 1st-2nd Sept - book your free space here: https://t.co/s5I9hq6sfR

In partnership with @MyCastlGateway & @CityofYork

This suddenly feels rather timely.. My new paper on #prison building for the Howard Journal

Many thanks to @mannheimcrim for hosting me when it was written. I hope it does some justice to all those @UkNatArcRes records I stumbled upon many moons ago..

https://t.co/3Eg0qi8UZe

@FreedomFestHull 2019 has finally arrived!! @HistoryatHull staff and students will be out in force this weekend exploring #freedom. We are proud to be part of a university that champions the rights of everyone and celebrates diversity. https://t.co/1XH42H2f56 @UniOfHull

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‘Thus emerged an understanding that white leftist projects that refused to recognize the centrality of race were doomed’ – @lolaolufemi_ on the British Black Panthers. https://t.co/GX1BM0mLCj