• Black Sheep Ancestors

    Pirates, Outlaws and Ne’er do wells; it would be uncommon to research any family tree without finding at least one skeleton in the closet.

    Ancestors with a criminal record can range from unfortunate debtors who paid a price for being poor to thieves and pickpockets or even those executed for murder. Although none of us wants to find we descended from a cold-blooded killer, having a rogue in the family tree does add a little excitement.


    Throughout history there have been criminals and alongside them court systems and institutions for dealing with them. With prisons and courts come the records they generate and those records are a wonderful resource for genealogists and family historians looking for a missing ancestor.

    Information found in court and prison records can include the accused or inmate’s next of kin, name and age. Whether or not they could read, their trade, the reason they were in trouble and the sentence they received for their crime.

    Finding Criminals Past

    Blacksheep Ancestors is a free genealogy site filled with prison lists and court records that encompass Great Britain, Canada and the US.

    One fantastic and free searchable list is The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913, which has a fully searchable database that contains 197,745 criminal trials from London’s central criminal court.

    The site also has links to the biographies of petty and master criminals alike where you can read the stories about:

    • Catherine Hayes, who in 1725 conspired with her lovers to kill her husband and was tried, convicted and executed for her crime.
    • The Fourth Earl Shirley, Laurence Ferrers, who was the last peer of the realm convicted as a common criminal and hanged
    • Eliza Fenning, a young cook who was found guilty of the attempted murder of her employers by poisoning their food. Up until the moment Eliza was put to death, she claimed her innocence.

    Whether you have an ancestor who was a minor miscreant or someone with an infamous criminal past, Blacksheep Ancestors is a fascinating genealogy website dedicated to helping you trace the romantic rogues and villainous scoundrels in your ancestral line. Share your Black sheep story on Genealogy in General.

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