Trial and conviction

This guide was last updated in 2009

For this you will need a little patience. It is sometimes a bit of a challenge finding the records relevant to your ancestor: the surviving material is shared between local and national archives, some will not survive at all and only some of the rest will be name-indexed.

But, with a bit of persistence, you might well come across a goldmine. A good place to start for 19th century criminal records is examining criminal registers and calendars of prisoners.

The criminal registers will give details of the indictment and sentence in criminal cases, and will tell you when and where the trial took place, which should lead you to the appropriate court records. Calendars of prisoners provide similar information, and may also contain a photograph and a date of birth for your ancestor, to assure you that you really are on the trail of the right person.

Equipped with the date and place of the trial, you are in a position to examine court records, some of which are held in local archives and some at The National Archives, depending on the type of court the trial took place in.

The National Archives has produced an invaluable, detailed, research guide which should help you find the records relevant to you.

There are also some good online resources for really serious crimes. For example, the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1834 are available at www.oldbaileyonline.org.

For smaller crimes, your best bet is to start with quarter session records, which are likely to be held in the local record office for the county in which the trial took place.

For more about the various courts and types of trial throughout our history, have a look at this extremely useful page on the BBC's history website.

To locate the county record office relevant to you, have a look at: The National Register of Archives, and the Access to Archives site, which holds catalogues of local archives in England and Wales.

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