Many families suspect that they may have had long-forgotten skeletons in their closets – and now family-tree sleuths will get the chance to find out. Family tree website ancestry.co.uk is giving genealogists the chance to unlock their criminal past.
The website has published the registers for all 1.4 million criminal trials that took place in England and Wales from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries. Infamous names featured in the records include Jack the Ripper suspect Dr Neill Cream, and Queen Victoria’s would-be assassin Roderick McClean.
The England & Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892 are taken from 279 original paper volumes held at the National Archives in Kew and document trials and sentences for crimes ranging from the use of bad language and scrumping (stealing apples from orchards).
Trace overseas relatives
They could also hold the key to tracing overseas ancestors. One in every 14 of the crimes (97,000) detailed in this collection resulted in a guilty verdict for which transportation to Australia was a common sentence. Details of the fate of these convicts can be found in the Convict Transportation Registers already available on ancestry.co.uk.
Death penalty sentences
The records also document the brutal period of English history infamously known as the ‘Bloody Code’ so called due to the large number of crimes made punishable by death. In the late 18th century, around 50 different offences led to the death penalty. This figure rose to more than 200 by 1815.
Crimes carrying the death penalty included stealing anything worth more than five shillings (equivalent of £30 today), theft of livestock, poaching from a rabbit warren, cutting down trees or being caught at night with a ‘blackened face’, which was assumed to mean that the perpetrator was a burglar.
Ancestry.co.uk managing director Olivier Van Calster said: ‘This collection will be of great use to social historians as they contain a variety of in-depth information about crime and criminals in England and Wales during a period of great poverty, change, and ultimately, reform.’
The records include details of:
- 900,000 sentences of imprisonment
- 97,000 transportations
- 10,300 executions
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