Criminal ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

They may have been the black sheep of the family but an ancestor who was less than squeaky clean can be a mine of fascinating information, says Jenny Thomas.

It’s not unusual for some genealogists, when they discover a criminal ancestor, to simply delete the evidence from their records and pretend they never stumbled across it. Great-great-grandfather Joe was simply missing from the 1881 census, they might say, and it’s just a coincidence that someone of his description turned up in the local jail.

But others relish the idea of an ancestor who was a little out of the ordinary, and rush to find out more about their midsdeeds. Uncovering the facts of your ancestor's particular case can make for a fascinating investigation.

Examing the wider social picture is also interesting. We are often surprised by what was considered criminal in days gone by, and which misdemeanours were subject to the harshest punishments.

Here are some suggestions as to how you might search for more information about your criminal ancestry.

Photo © Getty Images

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