Do I have ancestors with a criminal record?

Statue of Justice above the Old Bailey (photo by Rachel Scott Halls CC-BY)

Statue of Justice above the Old Bailey (photo by Rachel Scott Halls CC-BY)

Family history researchers must be always ready to be shocked when they find a ‘skeleton in the cupboard’ while researching their family tree. Thieves, arsonists, bigamists and even murderers can be revealed.

In the UK, types of records relating to their criminal past can be many and varied, and found in many different archives including the National Archives and County Archives.

A family tree researcher can access criminal registers; court records, such as assize, quarter session and petty session records; calendars of prisoners; prison records; and transportation records. Sadly, most of the records are rather short on the facts of the case and only have very brief details of the offence charged.

Newspapers are another source, they may be able to provide a little more information as to the circumstances of the case. For more information on newspaper archives see this Google Knol article: Newspapers Genealogical Resources for the Family History Researcher.

One of my favourite archives for researching crime and criminals is the Old Bailey Proceedings published from 1690s to 1913. 197,745 criminal trials are listed and many of the proceedings give detailed accounts of the trials which were heard at what is now England’s central criminal court. Apart from the prisoners’ names, the proceedings often contain the names and verbatim words of witnesses, details of executions, the life of a condemned person before they were taken to Tyburn to be hanged, and their last words.

The site has a good search engine and it is easy to use.

Take a look, you may find that Great Uncle Charlie was perhaps not as boring as the other family history records you have found on him suggest.

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