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

Great to welcome @DrMichaelReeve back to Hull to present a public lecture at @Hull_Museums on the role of Special Constabulary during the First World War. This is the first of a series of public lectures showcasing the excellent research by Graduate scholars at the @UniOfHull

Researching Charlotte this evening. Here she is in 1898.She spent 55 years in institutions. The last one, Ely Hospital in Cardiff, forgot her birthday and the names of her parents. None of that mattered - she was just a body to feed, sleep, wake and repeat. She died in 1953.

#BadBridget Mary McDonagh ‘Left her husband five weeks ago because he would not give her any money. Said he was stingy and would not buy her clothes.’

Lesson number 2: Don't marry a stingy man.
#ValentinesDay #wmnhist #twitterstorians #Irishdiaspora

West Yorkshire History Centre: Our Criminal Ancestors workshop for public, Tue 16 Jun 2020 at 10:30 | Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/our-criminal-ancestors-workshop-tickets-92952263723

Not 1 but 2 #historicalcriminology blogs for your delectation!

@dr_vnagy & I reflect on recent work by @dchurchill01 @yeomans_henry & Paul Lawrence

I’m not one for interactive twitter but interested to hear the thoughts of crims / crime historians... https://www.historicalcriminology.com/?m=1 https://twitter.com/dralexaneale/status/1228002835494834176

Researching Prison Governor’s conference minutes today @UkNatArchives, Oxford 1948: ‘the whole of the crisis now “the chronic situation” was caused by a shortage of staff, and a shortage of accommodation as against a surplus of prisoners’. #prisongovernors #prisonhistory

Fancy a stroll through East #London in 1889? On the Travels Through Time free podcast we’ll be walking through street markets, experiencing the stillness on the #Thames during the Dock Strike, and watching a boxing match in a #Shoreditch church.
https://www.tttpodcast.com/season-02/london-blackest-streets-sarah-wise-1889

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The architect for the new #Ripon House of Correction, was Lord Grantham of Baldersby, an amateur architect willing to plan the building for free. Grantham’s original 1815 design was rejected. @BritPoliceHist @ourcriminalpast @RiponTogether @GenealogyBeech @prisonhistoryuk