Millions of criminal records now available on Findmypast

By Jon Bauckham, 30 June 2015 - 4:14pm

Family historians could discover whether there are any black sheep lurking in their family tree following the digitisation of millions of records from The National Archives

William Jackson

A file for 22-year-old William Jackson reveals that he was imprisoned for obtaining a gold watch worth £15 under "false pretences" (Credit: Findmypast/The National Archives)

Researchers could discover black sheep lurking in their family tree following the digitisation of millions of historic records.

On Monday (29 June), genealogy website Findmypast.co.uk added over 1.9 million new criminal records to its online collections, revealing details of felons and their victims as far back as the 18th century.

Fully searchable, the material – comprising 18 unique record sets – can provide users with details of their ancestors’ names, ages, addresses, the crimes they committed and the punishments they received.

In some cases, a mugshot photograph may also be enclosed within the file, enabling people to see their convicted kin in the flesh.

Famous names to feature in the collection include serial arsenic poisoner Mary Ann Cotton, who was hanged outside Durham County Gaol in 1873, as well as John Bellingham, who assassinated British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812.

However, the documents also reveal the stories of thousands of ‘ordinary’ people who were handed harsh punishments for petty offences. This includes Eastbourne resident Edward Bell, who was given the death sentence for trying to use a forged £5 note.

“These new records offer a unique insight into the country’s criminal past,” said Myko Clelland, historian at Findmypast. “Whether villain or victim, anyone can now discover whether their family tree contains any hidden ‘black sheep’ or victims, from their very own home at the touch of a button.

“Offering unrivalled detail and content, the records now online make it possible today to trace criminals through the justice systems from details of their arrest to punishment and rehabilitation.”

The records have been made available online thanks to an ongoing Findmypast partnership with The National Archives to digitise its key criminal collections.

Although a large number of the documents have not previously been accessible on the web, several record sets – including the prison hulk registers – were added to Findmypast for the first stage of the project in February 2013.

A Findmypast spokesperson told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that a third and final tranche would also be added later this year.

To search the collection, click here (requires subscription or credits)

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