Find your ancestors in Series HO140, MEPO6, PCOM2, & PCOM3

Were your ancestors in trouble with the law? Follow them through over 5 million records of criminals who passed through the justice system in England and Wales between 1770 and 1935. Find out where they stood trial, what sentence they were given and what their life was like in prison.

In association with The National Archives, Findmypast is excited to release an extensive collection of records from criminal cases, gaols, hulks, prisons, and criminal calendars. England & Wales, crime, prisons & punishment, 1770-1935 is the largest single collection of British crime records online. Explore the world of courts and prisons, and discover if your ancestor committed a criminal offence and what your ancestor’s sentence was. You can also find physical descriptions and photographs of your ancestor, whether your ancestor was executed or transported, and official correspondence about your ancestor’s case, as well as petitions sent by the accused individuals and their family and friends to have sentences reduced. This extraordinarily rich collection of records covers the justice system from the days of the Bloody Code – where most property crimes carried a death sentence – to the justice system we know today. The collection holds 22 series of records from The National Archives. Below you can find out more about the files.

HO140: Home Office: calendar of prisoners

These records include over 630,000 people for the period 1868-1929. The records contain after-trial calendars, which are lists of prisoners tried at assizes and quarter sessions and cover England and Wales, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Prisoners awaiting trial in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey are also included as well as those due to be tried in Admiralty Courts.

Most records include the prisoner’s name, age, profession, and level of education. They also include the name of the magistrate who committed the case to trial, the date of arrival to prison, details of the crime, the name of the trial judge, and the conviction and sentence received.

MEPO6 Metropolitan Police: criminal record office, habitual criminals' registers and miscellaneous papers

These records include details of over 151,330 habitual criminals for the period 1881-1936. These are the registers of habitual criminals kept by the police and circulated among the force on a regular basis. They include a detailed physical description noting all distinguishing marks and a full criminal record with notes on whether the convict had been apprehended. Some records are from the Police Gazette appendix which included photographs of some of the prisoners. Also included is a list of 5,824 habitual drunkards from the period 1903 to 1914, which would have been circulated weekly to licensed persons and secretaries of clubs. They usually contain two photographs of each drunkard: face-on and profile.

PCOM2: Home Office and Prison Commission: prison records

There are over 842,372 records covering records held by the Prison Commission and the Home Office concerning prisons and prisoners. These are a very diverse set of records with records covering prisons all over England and Wales as well as Gibraltar prison and some prison hulks. There are registers of prisoners and habitual criminals including several photograph albums. Calendars of prisoners to be tried at assizes and quarter sessions contain records going back to 1774. Prison records include a wide range of records, which can include minute books, visitors’ books, order books, journals of governors, chaplains and surgeons, and the records for groups of prisoners on work parties. There are extensive records for Pentonville, Chatham, Portsmouth, Millbank, and Wormwood Scrubs prisons, among others. There are also army prisoners held in the Savoy prison in Middlesex.

These records can give an incredibly detailed look at your ancestor’s life in prison going far beyond the details of their conviction and prisoner number. Since there are several books of photographs of prisoners here, you may even be able to view a photograph of your convict ancestor.

PCOM3 Home Office and Prison Commission: male licences 1853-1887

This set contains almost 36,700 records of male convicts who were granted licences to be at large—meaning allowed out on parole—by the court. There are notes of the licences and also notes of revocation of the licence.

These are lovely records for family researchers as the images include rich details about the convict. You can find out the following information about a convict: marital status and number of children, the name and address of next of kin, profession, and a full physical description, as well as where the convict went upon release from gaol. Best of all, if you explore through the file on your ancestor you are likely to find a photograph of your ancestor stuck on the last page.