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

We were eagerly anticipating The Gruffalo @HullTruck this morning & we were not disappointed! Thank you @TallStoriesLive it was fabulous!! Great characters & wonderful rapport with audience! Hope it won’t be too long until you come to @HullTruck again! 👍👍👍

We have 100+ images of lock-ups in our database. More than illustrations, these are critical primary sources which reveal much about the history of these buildings. Find out more in our latest feature comparing images from the past & present 👇#twitterstorians #historyteacher https://twitter.com/prisonhistoryuk/status/1192469272246833153

Anyone here not read the latest @PSJ_UK yet?? You really should, it's a goodie - prisons in historical context.

Read all about it: https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/psj/prison-service-journal-246

#prisons #twitterstorians #history #criminaljustice

Absolutely riveting details given by @Elaineffarrell and @Leannemcck from their @ahrcpress project @BadBridget. Nuance, compassion, transnational ties, fathers pleading for their daughters and more. What an incredible research project

Actually this from 1947 is also pretty familiar then reflecting fears of ‘open’ prisons @YvonneJewkes @carceralgeog @drjamiebennett @crewebencrewe @drdommoran @tcguiney

On next page of scrapbook ‘prison staff complain of attacks’ and another story ‘hose turned on 100 boys: disturbance in approved school’ 1945 @YvonneJewkes @carceralgeog @drjamiebennett @crewebencrewe @drdommoran @tcguiney

Today I’m reading newspapers strikingly familiar tone ... ‘Blow up the Old Gaols’ Home Sec Morrison plans ‘revolution in the penal system, scrapping all the old prisons & the old methods’ Year? 1944 @YvonneJewkes @carceralgeog @drjamiebennett @crewebencrewe @drdommoran @tcguiney

This lovely picture shows a charwoman in 1855. A charwoman was a part-time cleaner, different to a maid in that they did not live in the house. Were any of your ancestors domestic servants?
Ref DE/Bi/4/54 #archives #servant #photography

Prison Service Journal: 246 ⁦@PSJ_UK⁩ great to see this new collection of historical perspectives on prison from ⁦@RhiannonPickin⁩ ⁦@allan_brodie54⁩ ⁦@tcguiney⁩ edited by ⁦@interwarcrime⁩ and Alana Barton https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/psj/prison-service-journal-246