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

Our work continues during lock down. Here's a new blog from our 'Unlocking the Treasures' local studies collection series: Hull convict George Benson's experiences of transportation to Australia in 1828. http://hullhistorycentre.blogspot.com/

We've plenty of #ArchiveSecrets, just not the ones some folks expect of a museum of policing and crime. For instance, Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline's scrapbook of news cuttings about his cases contains nothing on events in Whitechapel in 1888. #ExploreYourArchive #Archive30

Our third broadcast features two members of our history family, @drnicholasevans and graduate Andrew Ede. They discuss how the First World War changed part of #Lincolnshire. Listen here to one of a series of @BBCRadioLincs programmes from 2014: http://ow.ly/dA2E50z60mn #WW1

#ArchiveSecrets are the theme today for #Archive30 This 'Secret' document is the City Engineer's report on the Hull Blitz May 1941, including the harrowing report on the destruction of the Prudential Building. #ExploreYourArchive

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http://www.florencenightingale.org/ H/T @ConversationUK

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118 years ago today Rose Ann Goodwill was sentenced for police assault, attempted prisoner rescue & being drunk and disorderly, 3 of 57 convictions in 20 years. She’s been ‘adopted’ by a present inmate of HMP Askham Grange for my project #PrisonersOnPrisoners with @RiponMuseums.

This is a brilliant book that anyone with an interest in pirate history needs a copy of - cannot recommend highly enough https://twitter.com/corkup/status/1247491594875527170