BOOKS & DIGITAL PICKS
This month’s family history inspiration
by Lucy Williams and Barry Godfrey Pen & Sword, 224 pages, £14.99
Female ancestors can be very difficult to research, because their histories often went unrecorded. This is particularly true for women who broke the law. Yet their offences not only inform us about their experiences as individuals, but offer valuable insight into life for women in the past. In their indispensable and highly readable book, crime historians Dr Lucy Williams and Prof Barry Godfrey offer guidance on how to research women’s crimes and find out more about the environment in which they committed them. Criminal Women 1850–
1920 is divided into three parts. The opening chapters explore the context in which women turned to crime, including types of offences, typical punishments, their experience of the prison system, and post-release supervision.
This informative section is followed by 30 case studies of convicted women. These concise life narratives provide a range of interesting stories, revealing patterns of criminal activity, differing experiences of the penal system and underlying themes particularly relevant to women such as poverty, inequality, illegitimacy and bereavement.
The final part offers clear and comprehensive guidance on how to research female offenders, covering civil and criminal records, the media and some more unusual sources, such as prison museums. Each key source is followed by a helpful evaluation of its strengths and limitations.
Criminal Women 1850–
1920 is a well-researched and instructive book, in which the authors share their considerable professional expertise in this fascinating, yet often overlooked, area of research into life in the past. It is easy to follow, with clear explanations and ideas for further study. The title is an essential reference for those who are interested in crime history, as well as providing inspiration for all family historians to look more closely at the experience of lawbreaking women in the past.
BOOKS Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the Finchley Baby Farmers, were hanged for murdering the babies they took