We’d all like to think that our ancestors were good, kind-hearted, upstanding citizens who followed the letter of the law. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and sometimes we find a few leaves in our tree attached to troublemakers. Whether they were trying to sell unsuspecting customers snake oil, or became experts in lock-picking or safe cracking, some of our ancestors were scofflaws. Fortunately for us, the descendants of these rabble-rousers, their evasion of the law created an array of records. Here are some of our favorite criminal records available on Ancestry.com:
Put together by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, this is a 200+ page collection of criminal records and a treasure trove of information if your ancestor was among the offenders. Each record includes a photograph (mug shot), any aliases, physical descriptions, associates, and more – making these records an amazing find.
We particularly love this collection because it also tells you if and when your ancestor ever served time in prison – leading you in the direction of more records.
The Police Gazette was used as a way for the New South Wales police department to communicate to one another about a variety of items. The Gazette included descriptions of wanted criminals, major criminal activity occurring, notices of changes in the law, missing persons etc.
These records not only have valuable information that could help you track down more information about your ancestral troublemaker, but also gives you some context into what kind of place your ancestor was living. There’s also some fun and interesting information you’ll find like this list and description of horses and cattle gone missing in March 1888 (note: you will need to have a World Explorer membership to view this collection):
If your ancestor ever spent any amount of time in prison between 1886 and 1952 in the great state of Alabama, they might be included in these convict records.
These convict records include information such as age, sentence term, crime committed, whether or not they escaped prison, and if they were recaptured. You might be surprised how often inmates escaped, although many were recaptured and re-sentenced. Take a look at these amazing handwritten records:
This database has a lot of great information, as this is the log kept for incoming prisoners into McNeil Island Penitentiary. The prison was established in 1875, and in 1889 it became a federal penitentiary. Since then many inmates have come through its doors.
As a part of receiving prisoners at McNeil Island, they had to go through a process, which is how these records were created. They include details such as the following:
- Offense, crime, or cause of arrest
- When and where arrested
- Where tried
- When convicted
- Date and term of sentence
- Physical description (age, height, weight, color of eyes, complexion, color of hair and whiskers, marks)
Those are just a few of the fields you’ll find if your ancestor was a McNeil Island resident. The real gems in this collection, however, are the photographs. As prisoners were received they each took a photo, which we have made available in this collection to search and browse.
One of McNeil Island’s most notable prisoners was Robert Straud, who later became known as The Birdman of Alcatraz. Received in 1909, he stayed at McNeil Island until he was transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1912 – where he came to care for and sell canaries from his prison cell, and eventually became a respected ornithologist before being transferred again to Alcatraz in 1942.
In an ideal world, all of our ancestors would have kept their nose clean and abided by the law, but sometimes having a prisoner or inmate ancestor makes for a great story! These are just a few criminal records we have available, feel free to explore others in our database and find those family tree troublemakers.