Getting Started

Researching your prison ancestors: an introductory guide

Have you found a prisoner in your family history or are interested in learning more about past punishments in your local community? Our new introductory guide can help you to source relevant records and trace those incarcerated in prisons between 1800 and 1914.

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Port Arthur penitentiary, Tasmania

Source guide for tracing your transported convict ancestor(s)

Find out how to trace your transported criminal ancestors with our detailed source guide.

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old photo of a police force

Tracing your police ancestors

Find out more about the sources available for tracing your police ancestors.

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Royal Courts of Justice in London

Where to find criminal justice system records

The main historic records of the criminal justice system can be found in the National Archives and local record offices. Learn more about these records.

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The convict licensing system

Following the implementation of the 1853 Penal Servitude Act, a new licensing system for convicts was introduced in Britain, where well-behaved prisoners could be released early. Many of our criminal ancestors would have been part of this new system.

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Court gavel


The Assizes was a regional court circuit held twice-yearly, often dealing with more serious offences such as murder, rape and highway robbery.

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cover of the Hull and East Riding source guide

Source Guide for Hull and East Riding

Download our Hull and East Riding source guide to researching your criminal past.

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inside a reformatory school

Industrial and Reformatory School Registers

Industrial and Reformatory Schools registers contain a great deal of information about the criminal and destitute children who were sent to these institutions from the mid-nineteenth century until 1933.

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Hull Quarter Sessions gates

Quarter Sessions

Find out more about the Quarter sessions, which were local courts usually held four times a year in the seat of the county or county borough.

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Holloway prison

HMP Holloway: History and Sources

A history of Holloway prison, which was originally built as the New City of London Prison in 1852 and later re-designated to became the first female-only local prison in England.

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Latest Updates on Twitter

In 1835 'Thomas Muluoy, a Scotchman, was charged stealing a cheese from the shop of Mr. F. Thompson, grocer, #Ripon. The case was proved, & the Jury returned a verdict of Guilty. Sentenced prisoner to 3 months hard labour at the treadmill.' @ourcriminalpast

In a corner of the men's yard in #Ripon House of Correction was a tread-wheel. It operated machinery in the governor's,Thomas Stubbs, workshop. Stubbs was also inspector for Weights & Measures. It was replaced with 4 work cells for oakum picking in 1862. @ourcriminalpast


Researching your prison ancestors: an introductory guide - Our Criminal Ancestors #ancestors #familyhistory #Genealogy

In #Ripon an offenders were whipped an โ€˜at
the tail of a cartโ€™ which meant being pulled, on foot,
behind a small cart whilst being whipped. This was carried out around the Market Place.Whipping of females was abolished in 1820 & all public whipping in 1830. @ourcriminalpast


The last time the stocks were used in #Ripon Market Place was in September 1859 when 2 individuals suffered 6 hours in them for drunkenness. At this time the use of stocks as a punishment was scarce. @ourcriminalpast


I've just published a new case study of Caroline Pulley

Mary Barclay from Huntly is the focus of the latest Criminal Portraits blog...

My column on 'Records of Illegitimacy in England' has just been published in 'British Connections', the journal of @ISBGFH. An illegitimate ancestor need not be the end of the line for that branch of your research! #genealogy #familyhistory #research

Enough niceness, back to the docs!
I twote last week about the statutory ban on Law French. It applied to Latin too: here's a before and after from a Herefordshire manor court. Raymond LCJ was appalled by this "dumbing down", saying people would want to use Welsh next!


Received confirmation today from @uniofleicester that I am officially Dr McKay!! See how this (factually accurate) comic drawn by @AmyAMcKay perfectly mirrors the shifting naval/penal debates concerning prison hulks with the changing role of Javert/Aubrey! โ›ต๐ŸŒŠ๐ŸŽ‰๐Ÿพ