Top Tips for Skeleton-Hunting




All families have skeletons in their genealogical cupboard and finding a criminal ancestor can add colour and drama to family history. Once you start, it won’t be long before bones start rattling – here are some top tips on where to look:

1. Explore family myths – interview members of the family about stories of dubious ancestors. Note down the your first clues to the truth.

2. Ask family members for any evidence that might be lurking at the back of a drawer, such as an old newspaper clipping.

3. Enter your family name into online data searches to see if they bring up any criminal records – start with popular sites, and/or findmypast

4. Local Record Offices in the UK hold court records and many have online search facilities, such as Hertfordshire Archives – try the record offices close to where your family lived.

5. Search the online catalogue of The National Archives or, even better, visit Kew if you can. They also have excellent online research guides and links to many other repositories.

6. Transcripts of Old Bailey trials are available online too, so check in case one of your ancestors was in the dock.

7. If you think a law-breaking ancestor may have been transported, check out Convicts to Australia for further information and links.

8. For the lurid details of a gruesome crime or even a petty offence, try an online name search in contemporary newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive

9. Visit the Society of Genealogists – there are many hidden treasures on their shelves.

10. Be tenacious, ever suspicious and leave no stone unturned – those nefarious ancestors will be lurking somewhere in the past.

If you would like more information about finding your criminal ancestors, you can download my free research guide from the Society of Genealogists. Happy hunting!














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