Discover the black sheep in your family tree with these fascinating legal, criminal and institutional records. If your ancestor crossed the law, were incarcerated in prison, spent time in workhouses or had government dealings, here is the best place to find them. The crime records often include details of the victims as well as the criminals, and occasionally police photographs of your wayward relatives.
The main records you’ll come across in our Institutions & Organisations category concern legal and criminal proceedings. These records usually contain excellent detail, making them extremely valuable when you research your family history.
With much stricter laws in the past compared to today, many of your Irish ancestors would have spent time in prison, sometimes for the most minor crimes. Drunkards, thieves and murderers feature heavily in The Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924. These records contain vivid detail about prisoners that you won’t find in other records, making them equally as enthralling as they are shocking.
The Irish Petty Session Court Registers are an excellent window into small-town life in nineteenth century Ireland. These courts dealt with civil cases and the records contain everything from trespassing to cross-dressing. The Petty Sessions records often fill an important gap in your family history, for a time when other Irish records do not exist.
Included in this record collection are more than 1.3 million workhouse registers, prison records, asylum registers, and quarter sessions, and the Bankrupt Directory 1820 – 1843. Until 1869, insolvent debtors could face prison terms, and this directory reveals the names of those bankrupt individuals whose names were published in The London Gazette. The Crimes, Prisons & Punishment collection contains over 500,000 records of criminals who passed through the justice system in England and Wales from 1770 to 1934, both as criminals and as victims of crime. The justice system was much harsher in Britain in the past, with severe penalties for minor acts like stealing apples. The types of crimes people were locked up for can also tell us a lot about society at the time; for example, a woman was sentenced for “unlawfully concealing the birth of her infant child”. These records often include black and white photographs of your ancestors who committed crimes.
This category contains records of your less fortunate Canadian ancestors. There are extracts from sheriff’s records in Ontario as well as the history of a psychiatric hospital in Ontario. In addition, you may be able to discover your British or Irish ancestors who got on the wrong side of the law in prison records, or who were victims of poverty or mental illness in asylum and workhouse registers. The Crime, Prisons & Punishment record set may reveal not only your ancestors who committed the crime, but also those who were victims of crime. In addition, you may find out if your ancestors went bankrupt in the Bankrupt Directory 1820 – 1843.
Our Institutions & Organisations section contains over 660,000 records from Australia and New Zealand. Included in this category are police gazettes, Supreme Court records, parliamentary papers and jury rolls, as well as quarantine admission registers, old age pension lists and hospital admission records. Police Gazettes are a valuable resource for your family history research, and despite what many people mistakenly presume, they do not only contain criminals! Victims of a wide variety of crimes (such as theft, embezzlement and even wife desertion) are also included; as well as missing persons (including children), inquests, and people reported dead for whom no relative could be found.
Like other police gazettes, the South Australian Police Gazette 1880 contains a wealth of useful information including promotions, demotions, discharges, resignations and deaths relating to the police force. There are often physical details on persons (missing, wanted or released), with everything from basic details to descriptions of clothing worn - a great way to form a more realistic picture of your ancestors! Information is also given on housebreak-ins, robberies, arson, murders, deserted seamen, warrants issued, prisoners discharged, missing friends, lost and found items and more.