Criminals in the 19th century suffered great hardships at the hands of an almost inhuman state – and the experiences of those who entered the criminal justice system in this period are contained in multiple records still held by The National Archives.
The vast collections of criminal records are a rich source of detail for family historians and many others: they provide an insight not only into crime and punishment in the 1800s, but also into the daily lives of working people who are so often anonymous in the historical record.
Criminal records can be complex and are often interlinked. It can be difficult to know where to start with these records so here are some top tips for exploring criminal pasts.
Look at our research guidance
The criminals, courts and prisoners section of our guidance pages is a great place to start. It details what records we have, what they are and contain, and how you can get hold of them.
Work out where your ancestor was tried – and who holds the records
The National Archives doesn’t hold the records of all historical criminal trials and convictions. If someone was tried for a serious offence at the travelling assize courts, then we should have a record. A trial at local quarter sessions might generate some records at The National Archives, but the trial records will be held locally. And those tried at petty sessions are likely only to be recorded in the local record office.