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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@OU_Williams @northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @WelshRaffles @earlypolicing We'd confirm - seems to be wearing an indoor tailcoat and unlikely for a Runner to be armed with a sword in this scenario. @blackpoppies14 has researched the earliest known Met mixed-race officer, Robert Branford, with us 1838-1866:
https://twitter.com/Southwark_News/status/1263560495598129153

@earlypolicing @OU_Williams @northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @MPSHeritage @WelshRaffles @BritPoliceHist @colpolicemuseum Thomas Latham is noted here. However dates do not coincide.

https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-firsts/john-kent-britains-first-black-policeman/

@northernhistory @ourcriminalpast @DrewDGray @MPSHeritage @WelshRaffles @earlypolicing I don't think he's drawn in there as a Runner -- he's getting up from his chair. So it looks like PC Kent of Carlisle Police remains the earliest confirmed (1830s) black constable. There could well be others out there though.

I'm spending today back in the murder files, reading through trial depositions and looking for evidence of detective practice and early CSI techniques. Great to have finally got round to sorting out the data from my last archival visit! I shall report back…😀🔎 #detectives #PhD

The 1810 Bastards Act placed the responsibility for the maintenance of an illegitimate child on the putative father rather than the Parish. Mary Bilham of Carbrooke, Norfolk named Stephen Beeks as the father of her child. Her daughter was baptised in January 1812. #101Documents

2

@victoriansleuth @ourcriminalpast Shouldn't be too difficult to knock up some stocks from a few wooden pallets and some scrap timber, attach some wheels, we're mobile. 🤔😂

I have several 'criminals' in my family tree, who were convicted of theft, poaching, swearing on the highway (!), and keeping a disorderly house 😱 Have you found any criminal ancestors? #AncestryHour

@TheRothOfKhan @PlymCSecResp @CrownhillPolice @PlymASecResp @plymspecial999 @PlymPoliceBSec @PlymouthVPC @CustodyPlymouth @MPSSouthwark @MPSGreenwich @DevonHeritage @HMNBDevonport @NatMuseumRN @theboxplymouth @britainsocean @PlymouthUK2020 @oneplymouth @sarewaddington Fortunately we also have a digitised copy of his divisional ledger entry on M, where he was M341. He'd switched from carman for a haulage company (1911) to labourer by the time he joined the Met, making the transfer to No. 3 (Devonport) Division on 4 July 1917.