What’s available online and in the archives
County record offices hold records from petty sessions, quarter sessions and magistrates’ courts. Check The National Archives’ online Discovery catalogue ( discovery.nationalarchives. gov.uk) to see in which archive details of about your ancestor’s trial might be held. Collections usually include additional documentation, which might give more detail about the crime. Prison records were originally created locally and, after 1878, prison registers are more likely to be found in county archives, rather than at TNA. Prisoners were often moved to institutions with enough space, so you may have to widen your search to other parts of the country. Census records may help in the search, too.
The National Archives
Most of the criminal records for England and Wales can be found at TNA. Its extensive collection comprises all Home Office records ( HO Divisions) including criminal registers, entry books for criminals, convict records, prison registers and assizes records. Criminal registers were created as prisoners moved through the prison system. Series HO 26 covers London and Middlesex (1791-1849), after which date the entries were incorporated into HO 27 (1805-1892), with those from the rest of the country. For calendars of prisoners (1868-1971), search the Discovery catalogue ( discovery.nationalarchives. gov.uk) by year range in HO 140 to find the date and location of trials. They are arranged by year and then alphabetically by county. There are excellent research guides for records about criminals, courts and prisons at nationalarchives. gov.uk/help-with-yourresearch/# find-a-researchguide with clear guidance and helpful advice.
Findmypast ( findmypast.co.uk) has the largest online collection of criminal records covering 1770-1936, thanks to the recent addition of 1.9 million records. It now includes Home Office calendars of prisoners HO 140 (1868-1929), Prison Commission records PCOM 2 (1880-1885), after-trial calendars of prisoners CRIM 9 (1855-1931), criminal petitions HO 17 (1817-1858), Metropolitan Police habitual criminals registers MEPO 6 (1881-1936) and Prison Commission male licences PCOM 3 (1853-1887). In addition, there are also transportation records, such as Australia Convict Ships (1786-1849) and registers of convicts in prison hulks, ADM 6 (1818-1831). Regional records include Manchester (1847-1881) and Irish prison registers (1790-1924).
In addition to the criminal registers HO 26 and HO 27 (1787-1892), the digital collection at ancestry.co.uk includes Criminal Lunatic Asylum Registers HO 20 (1820-1843) and Criminal Lunacy Warrant and Entry Books for England and Wales HO 145 (1882-1898). The website offers a selection of regional records, such as Dorchester prison registers (1782-1901), West Yorkshire prison records (1801-1914), Birmingham calendar of prisoners (1880-1891 and 1906-1913) and Lancashire Quarter Sessions (1648-1908).
Thegenealogist.co.uk has more than 90,000 criminal records (1782-1970) for England and Wales, including the Worcestershire Calendar of Quarter Sessions (1591-1643). The site also has the important Convict Transportation Registers (1787-1867). The Diamond subscription allows access to copies of the Illustrated London News.
The National Archives’ Discovery catalogue is the best place to start your search for criminal records held at TNA and around the country