Was Your Ancestor on a Most Wanted List?

4 July 2023

Researching old crimes and uncovering information about your criminal ancestors can be a fascinating journey into the past. Whether you’re interested in delving into the history of infamous outlaws or tracing your own family’s criminal history, this blog will guide you through the process. By utilising various tools, resources, and techniques, you can shed light on the hidden stories of the past and gain a deeper understanding of your family’s roots – and maybe discover your ancestor on a most wanted list!

FBI ancestor most wanted fugitive newspaper

The National Archives

One of the most valuable resources for researching ancestral criminals in the National Archives. These archives hold a treasure trove of historical records, including criminal records dating back centuries. To begin your search, visit the website of your country’s national archives and familiarise yourself with their online databases.

Start by searching for your ancestors’ names or any known aliases. You may also want to narrow down your search by location or period. Keep in mind that spelling variations and transcription errors are common, so be open to different spellings or alternative names.

Once you find a potential match, delve deeper into the record. Look for details such as the nature of the crime, court proceedings, and any subsequent punishments. These records can provide a vivid glimpse into the lives of your ancestral criminals and the justice system of their time.

Genealogy Websites

In addition to the National Archives, there are several genealogy websites and resources specifically designed to aid in tracing ancestral criminals. Websites like Ancestry, Findmypast, and FamilySearch offer extensive databases that can help you uncover the hidden stories of your criminal ancestors.

When using these websites, start by inputting the basic information you have about your ancestors, such as their names, birth dates, and locations. These platforms often have advanced search features that allow you to filter the results based on criminal records. Take advantage of these features to narrow down your search and find relevant records.

It’s important to note that some genealogy websites require a paid subscription to access certain records. However, many offer free trials or limited access to their databases, so you can still gather valuable information without committing to a subscription.

Criminal Ancestor Mug Shots

Court and Legal Documents

Court records offer a wealth of information for uncovering criminal connections in your family history. Search for criminal case files, arrest records, court transcriptions, and prison registers. Depending on the time and location, these records may be available at local courthouses, archives, or online databases. Look for clues related to criminal offences committed, sentences served, or any significant legal proceedings involving your ancestors.

Additional Resources

  • Local historical societies and archives: These institutions often hold unique records and can provide valuable insights into your ancestors’ criminal activities.
  • Academic journals and books: Explore scholarly publications related to the time and location of your ancestors. These sources can provide in-depth analyses of the social, economic, and legal aspects of ancestral crimes.
  • Oral history interviews: Reach out to older relatives or known descendants of your ancestral criminals. They may have stories, photos, or documents that can provide further context to your research.
  • DNA testing: Consider taking a DNA test through platforms like AncestryDNA or 23andMe. DNA matches can connect you with living relatives who may hold valuable information about your ancestral criminals. If you need help choosing the best test for you or unpicking your results, check out our DNA testing services!
  • Newspapers: Newspaper archives are a treasure trove of information when it comes to unearthing stories about criminal ancestors. Local, regional, and national newspapers may have reported on criminal activities and trials involving your family members.
"London's Crime Wave" newspaper article

Tips and Tricks

  • Start with what you know: Begin by gathering as much information as possible about your ancestors. Talk to older relatives, collect family documents, ,and create a detailed family tree. This foundation will guide your research and help you identify potential criminal ancestors.
  • Be persistent: Uncovering ancestral criminals may require digging through numerous records, cross-referencing information, and piecing together fragments of the past. Stay persistent and patient, as the process can be time-consuming.
  • Seek out local resources: Visit local libraries, historical societies, and archives in the areas where your ancestors lived. These institutions often house valuable records that may not be available online.
  • Collaborate with other researchers: Join genealogy forums or social media groups dedicated to ancestral research. By collaborating with others who share your interest, you can exchange insights, tips, and even discover distant relatives who have information about your criminal ancestors.
  • Embrace the unexpected: Keep an open mind during your research journey. You may come across stories that challenge preconceived notions or uncover unexpected connections. Embracing the unexpected can lead to a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of your family history.

Explore the Social Context

To truly understand the stories of your ancestral criminals, it’s essential to explore the social context in which they lived. Examine the economic conditions, political climate, and prevailing cultural norms of the time. By doing so, you can gain a deeper understanding of the factors that may have pushed your ancestors towards a life of crime.

For example, during times of economic hardship, individuals may have turned to illegal activities to provide for their families. Social inequalities and discrimination can also contribute to criminal behaviour. By examining the social context, you can paint a more comprehensive picture of your ancestral criminals and the challenges they faced.

Common Roadblocks

Researching ancestral criminals can present severe challenges, but with perseverance and resourcefulness, these obstacles can be overcome. One common challenge is the scarcity or loss of records, especially for older periods. However, alternative sources such as newspaper archives, court transcripts, and local historical documents may contain valuable information about your ancestors’ criminal activities.

Another challenge is the potential stigma associated with having criminal ancestors. It’s important to approach this research with an open mind and remember that your ancestors’ actions do not define you. Embrace their stories as part of your family history, acknowledging both their triumphs and their misdeeds.

Car crash into shop window with ancestor onlookers

In conclusion, tracing your criminal ancestors can be a fascinating and sometimes challenging endeavour. It requires meticulous research, patience, and a willingness to navigate through various sources of information. As you explore the shadows of your family tree, remember to approach the subject with empathy and understanding, recognising that people’s lives are often complex, and their actions cannot be judged solely on their criminal past.

So, embark on this adventure into your family’s past, and uncover the hidden stories of your ancestral criminals. Their tales are waiting to be discovered and woven into the rich tapestry of your family history.

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