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

Types of 'employment' & wages of prisoners in #Ripon House of Correction in 1872. Oakum picking had been introduced by the Governor, William Smith (formerly Sgt of the Ripon Police) in 1863. #NorthYorkshire @ourcriminalpast @prisonhistoryuk @CaPnetworkUK

@MAMBarLife @ourcriminalpast Yes. Ideally no windows, though some had small windows or grates for ventilation. Box Blind House is a true blind house - they managed to put the ventilation in the chimney https://tinyurl.com/eju6un9w

Finding a burial record is an important part of tracing your ancestor's story. Here's how to search the records of local cemeteries online

https://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/tutorials/cemetery-records-online/

1. Another in our #LostPrisonsofDublin series. "New Newgate" opened in 1781 to replace "Old Newgate", the medieval city prison located in Cornmarket. Designed by Thomas Cooley, it was quickly seen as out-dated and overcrowded with poor ventilation and sanitation. (image DCC)

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Although the Met had detectives from 1842, when the painter William Frith wanted 2 real life officers as models for his depiction of an arrest (right), he used Michael Haydon and James Brett of the City of London Police, 2 of the finest thief takers of the day #AVeryBritishMurder

#365Relatives #365Anniversaries My 3xGt Grandmother, Helen PHILIP (née TAYLOR) died on 8 April 1876 at the Haddington District Asylum. She had been admitted to the asylum in December 1873. The @scottishindexes website is a great source for details of patients in Scottish asylums.

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Final call: PhD studentship on the Corps of Commissionaires in C20 Britain. Great opportunity to explore social history of military, post-military transitions, charity and private security. Deadline this Friday https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SmN88AkqFzhqVLYgxvPK18KY_2hNFbMc85K0uLoR2zE/edit#heading=h.g0dsvd6a6j6t

On Wednesday 14th, our final Criminology Rising Star speaker for the year will be Ben Jarman @bjarman_ discussing 'Penal theory, moral communication, and personal ethics’ (1pm). Support (12.15pm) is from our own Simone Santorso @cccjhull. Register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/criminology-rising-star-guest-speaker-series-202021-tickets-125894041467