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

Want to know how to find and understand pauper letters? webinar by @TheirWrite @UkNatArchives showing how we kind find the voices of the poor in these remarkable sources Tue 22 January 2019
18:00 – 19:00 CET https://t.co/yXcA2rlAyx

The final essay associated with the now complete @ERC_Research project 'The Carceral Archipelago' is published at https://t.co/bQBk0yfjJo. It's on covert convict transportation from small Germany states, and is open access. Author: @kinkirarufu

Lovely audience last night for my talk on the Sarah Jacob case in the magnificent "Iron Room" at Egwlys Fach. It nets another donation for @PrisonersAbroad
If you don't know the case check out the Welsh Legal History Soc website.

Society News: Our chair @ProfPamelaCox has been invited to speak at an event discussing research using social care records. You can find out more (and book a free place) here:

https://t.co/HLqlpI2X9B

Reminder: the next Leeds Historical Criminology Seminar is on 25 Jan, setting austerity, political economy and criminal justice in historical perspective with stellar guest speakers - register here: https://t.co/KQ5CnZ9a1b @CCJSLeeds @Law_Leeds @TimNewburn @BritSocCrim #HCNet

Happy New Year. Edge Hill is currently advertising a range of Graduate teaching posts. I would love to hear from students interested in researching crime/punishment from the Victorian era to 1939.
https://t.co/GjmD8AFTb8

We're getting very close to the deadline now. There are just few more days to get your ideas in for our 2019 conference! https://t.co/UQEV7zPORp

Up to Six Fully-funded PhD Studentships in Heritage Studies with the Heritage Consortium https://t.co/KBKmHymvG7