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

The next event in the Leeds Historical Criminology seminar series takes place at @becketthistory on 19th June. See details and tickets here: https://t.co/aDlmrCj4O7

Researching Criminal Ancestors - Hornsea & District Civic Society - Our Criminal Ancestors - looking forward to this talk on Weds evening. #crimhist https://t.co/ytDqgaGb5S

This week's female convict on display in British prison museums is Phoebe Harris, who was burnt at the stake outside of Newgate prison in 1786 for counterfeiting coins. She is on display in a video at @JusticeMuseum #WomensHistoryMonth #publichistory #museums #crimehistory

Help transcribe prison record of Dennis Corbett convicted of larceny in 1873 at 14 years old #crimehistory #childhist https///criminalcharacters.com/.jpg

Up bright & early to welcome @BBCYork to @RiponMuseums to chat to them about our new exhibition Secrets in the Cellar

Send a little girl named Rose Ann Reilly, aged nine years to St. Joseph’s Industrial School, until she attains the age of sixteen years. She was frequently found begging on the streets of the town at late hours. Northern Whig - Wednesday 06 August 1924

This weekend I got see the new 'Road to Recovery' exhibition by the @wyorksarchives, which focuses on the Stanley Royd Asylum. It was great, and I was struck by how the issue of surveillance dominated the institution's design - v. similar to penal structures.

Fyi @MrsAlghrani @lucie_wade @ourcriminalpast @AnnaLoisMckay https://t.co/DZCVEbu0UQ

trespass in search of game 1891 #Hampshire Observer Mar 3rd @HantsArchives defendants said they were hunting #hedgehogs 🦔🦔🦔Fined 3s each and 7s costs @hedgehogsociety @WildlifeOrphan1 @hedgehogreview @ourcriminalpast @thevicsoc @HantsPolHistory @RuralCrimeTeam @ChrisGPackham