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.

Latest Updates on Twitter

A riot caused by a clergyman’s violence http://thepolicemagistrate.blog/2019/11/29/a-riot-caused-by-a-clergymans-violence/

To find out more about this #Victorian poisoning case, pop into our library during opening hours and *lowers voice to a whisper* ask for London Collection Pamphlets, Box 76.
#MysteriousArchives #ExploreYourArchive

Today's #ExploreYourArchive theme is #ArchivesAtSea

We have a range of records relating to Newport Docks, including these photographs of the various goods being loaded and unloaded at the Docks.

(Ref: Pictorial/Newport67-68, 70 and 74)

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Are you struggling to find information on staff or prisoners at a particular prison? Do you want to know more about the links between prisons and local communities? Check out our new guide on using the Census for prison research https://tinyurl.com/tyyrbwh ✒️📖🗝️

For #MysteriousArchives we have an intelligence file on suspected Irish Republican Brotherhood suspects compiled by the Chief Secretary’s Office, 1892-1893. It’s a mystery how they were secretly photographed in public places, perhaps using an early spy camera? @explorearchives

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29 Nov 1686: John [Jack] Ketch public executioner who made a mess of many of his grim tasks is buried #otd at St. James Clerkenwell. Despite being paid for a speedy job, he took five blows to removed the head of the Duke of Monmouth.

@ourcriminalpast @channel5_tv @socialhistsoc @ResearchEssex #crime #historians may be interested in clips taken from the early 1900s film made about Charles Peace.

Look out for ‘Victorians in Colour’ in 2020 @channel5_tv. Just finished filming my contributions at the wonderful Whirled Cinema in Brixton. #twitterstorians @socialhistsoc @ResearchEssex

While we’re on the topic of Oliver Twist - Why don’t you take a look at Liverpool’s own workhouse, which stood on Brownlow Hill from 1834-1928.

The workhouse would be demolished in 1931, and replaced with, what is now, the Roman Catholic Church.