Tracing your police ancestors

By Dr David J. Cox, University of Wolverhampton

Local archives/record offices

Policing agents can appear in a wide variety of sources, ranging from Justices’ notebooks, Petty and Quarter Session (QS) registers, newspaper reports of trials (these usually relate to more serious offences), QS minute books detailing the appointment of parish constables, Finance or Watch Committee records, council committee records etc. It is always best to seek the advice of the local archivist first, as they know their records better than any online catalogue!

Newspapers

Either at local archives/record offices, or at the British Library, St Pancras – note that the BL reading rooms at Colindale closed a few years ago. Many historical newspapers are also available online through various subscription services – check with your local archives/record offices to see if they offer access to any of these services (which can otherwise be very expensive to subscribe to). Be aware that colonial newspapers also carried reports of trials which took place in Britain – a surprisingly good source can be National Library of Australia (NLA) Trove website.

Online resources

Too numerous to mention individually – many police forces have some form of online presence which includes a historical aspect (but be aware that the police have been notoriously poor at keeping historical records – many forces have absolutely no records!).  The most obvious starting points are Ancestry and Find My Past- the latter has particularly good digitised newspapers. The various censuses (especially from 1841 onward) are very useful as they provide occupational records, as well as street directories etc.

Suggested further reading list

  • Clive Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History, Routledge, 1996 (2nd edition), ISBN 978-0582257689
  • Clive Emsley, The Great British Bobby, Quercus, 2010, ISBN 978-1849161978
  • Philip Rawlings, Policing: A Short History, Willan, 2001, ISBN 978-1903240267
  • Stephen Wade, Tracing Your Police Ancestors, Pen & Sword, 2009, ISBN 9781844158782
  • Martin Stallion and David S. Wall, The British Police: Forces and Chief Officers 1829-2012, Police History Society, 2011 (2nd edition), ISBN 9780951253861
  • Police Ancestors – Who Do You Think You Are? website.
  • The National Archives website – How to Look For Records of Police.
  • Police History PDF guide to Tracing Your Police Ancestors.

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Over on our Research Exchange blog, @janetlweston has been reflecting on the limits of thinking about HIV/AIDs as a matter of human rights in the 1990s, and the place of this within the dynamic history of prisons.

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I’m (Heather) off to the @BritishAcademy_ to talk to @thehistoryguy and 300 young people from schools and colleges about Victorian youth/street crime.

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In 1909 @leicspolice Boro PC John Mason was presented with a silver tipped walking cane by Leicester Boro Police Band. In 1960 his family loaned the cane to Leicester City Police as part of an exhibition, and was never seen again.

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Just in case you missed it earlier we have launched our 1893 Special Edition #Saltaire map today. Prices start at just £10. Further details can be found at our website: https://t.co/Z8axm687wX Please ReTweet 😃
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A little obsessed with prison plans at the moment...here’s a sketch by George Dance of the new Newgate (c.1770s) held at @LdnMetArchives that I wish I could use in my thesis but probably won’t as I need the more detailed, final version (sob)

Late to the party but, in Ep.2 #GentlemanJackHBO Ann Lister asks a magistrate 'is it not the constable's job to gather evidence?' It wasn't actually in 1832. They undoubtedly did, but no legal requirement. Otherwise v. good. #pedant #pettyconstables

Help transcribe prison record of Mary Portus, occupation listed as home duties #crime #history #FamilyHistory https://t.co/R0vuIYWOhK