TNA or local archives?

This guide was last updated in 2012

As mentioned on the previous page, the appropriate record location will depend on the court your ancestor was tried in. You may be able to find mention of your ancestor in trial records and prison records, too, again held either at The National Archives (TNA) or locally.

Criminals were either tried in assize courts, quarter sessions, petty sessions or magistrates’ courts. Assize court records will be found at TNA and the rest at your local archive (a large number of records are also now available online – see below). However, the majority of trials were held in Assize courts and the types of records that may survive are:

Crown and Gaol Books or Minute Books: these would list the prisoners and their crimes and may include notes of the trial verdicts.

Indictments: these records would give the exact nature of charge, the names of the defendant and victim and date of the alleged crime

Depositions: witness statements taken before the trial. Very few survive after 1830 and only those for the most serious trials exist.

More information about assize records that are held at TNA can be found be clicking here. TNA also holds records for the Court of the Kings Bench, which was the main court of appeal for criminal trials until its abolition in 1875.

Further information can be found here. Prison registers were also kept by many counties and may still be found at the local archive until the Home Office became responsible for the administration of prisons in 1877 and henceforth any records will be held at TNA. TNA also has a collection of Criminal Registers which can now be searched online on Ancestry at the website here.

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