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

News of #Peterloo travelled fast - #AnneLister records in her #diaries the first reports of the "sad work at Manchester"... "but reports are so vague and monstrous one scarce knows what to believe" #AnneListerInHerWords #Archives

Research guides can help you discover the location of records relevant to your research. Check out our variety of guides that offer step-by-step instructions on researching different topics: https://t.co/Abx8XPnXwt #Ancestry #FamilyHistory © Hulton Archives/Getty Images

And the answers.
top row, left to right Byland Abbey, Castle Howard, Helmsley Castle, Pickering Castle, bottom row, left to right Rievaulx Abbey, Mount Grace Priory, Scarborough Castle and Whitby Abbey. And there are Richmond, Middleham, Skipton, Jervaulx, Easby and many more. https://t.co/GDZkNU1ZOx

My article on the evolution of Valentine's Day between c. 1660 and 1830 is out today in @CultSocHistory! Fifty free copies available here: https://t.co/J331GGu37K #love #emostorians #valentinesday 💘

#OnThisDay, in 1886, Leicestershire PC Thomas Barrett was beaten to death at Breedon on the Hill. A room @leicspolice Force HQ is dedicated in his name. #NeverForgotten @CCLeicsPolice @LPSpecialistSup

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I’ve submitted my thesis! Now to celebrate and enjoy a few weeks of rest and relaxation 🎉 @HeritagePhD @becketthistory #phdlife

For @HeritageWeek [August 17th to 25th], we have produced a range of booklets which will be sold at our lectures with all proceeds going to charity. We hope you can come along to our events 'on the road' as we seek to raise €10,000 for charities. @pobal @Charities_Reg @galwayad

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