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 – http://trove.nla.gov.au/

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

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