New Help Articles

If you have questions regarding the New England Naturalization Indexes or the England and Wales, Criminal Registers you’re in luck!  We have two new articles to assist you in keying these projects.  The articles address the more frequently ased questions so if you have questions that we didn’t answer in these articles please send them to

We are working on additional articles and will keep you posted as they are available.

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In the article on the England and Wales Criminal Registers, the answer given to the question on what to do when the death sentence has been commuted is at variance with what I was instructed by email on 13 November, 2008. I was told to use the original sentence which, to me, was the logical answer it being the outcome of the trial and being, I believe, the statutory punishment for the offence. Also, the column for recordindig commutations and executions is not highlighted and the change can easily be missed.
I am surprised, too, by the decision not to differentiate between the more severe sentence of penal servitude and that of imprisonment although I can see that it is more convenient.

I agree, this goes against what I had been informed, that the sentence ie Death was what was inputted, not any change following appeal or commutation. Also, I was told that No Bill or Discharged were not the same as aquittal, since the defendent had not been tried. This means that I have now discovered that many hundred of my keyed entries are probably incorrect & feel very disheartened.

reference commutation of death sentences. It is very important to the research of family historians that an accurate record is available as to the fate of their possible ancestor. It is important that a death sentence commuted to , say, transportation is recorded as such so that further research is not compromised by a well-meaning, but innacurate transcription of what did eventually happen. the project badly needs further thought.

The New England Naturalization index FAQ article did clear up some questions. Here are a couple others-
When I come across the back side of a card with a denial or other info should I just leave a blank line?
When a card says came of age Mo. day yr should I put in the month and date as birth dates?

When a surname has an entry such as Smith (Army), what does that indicate? Should Army be put in the Alias Surname section? I have been putting it there but I don’t think it’s an alias.

Is someone at Ancestry going to go back and add the names of states later? Most of the Rhode Island cards do not list the name of the state, but are otherwise more complete than the Connecticut cards. I feel quite confident in my ability to fill in the correct state name but will abide by the guidelines provided.

If everything in the Acquittal column is to be recorded as ‘Not Guilty’, on what occasion would one use select ‘Other’?
Like many other ‘keyers’, I too have listed Discharged, No Bill &c as ‘Other’


I got an answer regarding the “Arrived at age” entries. They are to be left blank.

I suspect that the Army in your example is a maiden name. I list those in the Alias field.

Regarding Rhode Island, when I see a card listing Prov or Providence mixed in with others that have RI, I enter Rhode Island because it just makes sense to me. May be wrong but it’s what I do.

Re “acquittal”.
The OED defines acquittal as:
3. A setting free by verdict, sentence or ather legal process 1535.
To meet this definition a trial need not have taken place as the decision not to proceed is itself a legal process.

Re death sentence.
We are producing an index of the records and not a detailed copy and this is why the original death sentence should be recorded. The fate of one’s possible ancestor will be available by study ofDetails of the offence and any commutation of sentence will be available from the image of the record.

Sorry I hit the submit button before I’d finished editing my last comment. The last bit should read:
Re death sentence.
We are producing an index of the records and not a detailed copy and this is why the original death sentence should be recorded. The fate of one’s possible ancestor will be available by study of the image of the record as details of the offence and any commutation of sentence will be available thereon.

Thank you for the guidance, but I see that my accuracy rate will be suffering, with Salop and the ‘Death’ sentence stuff….as I thought I was to enter the original sentence.
Please keep the guidance coming, as this is EXACTLY what we need.
Oh, and Bryn….a good example of ‘Other’ is when people are just whipped or fined….. 🙂
Oh, and I’ve totally put Penal Servitude as Transportation, as it was in the same column on a different county….so, sorry arbitrators….I’ve learned loads! Keep it coming! 🙂 thank you.

Having spent half an hour on a contribution to this thread, I mus confess to being somewhat disappointed to press submit and have a screen come up with a message to the effect that my contribution seemed a bit too “spammy”, whatever that may mean, and inviting me to go back and try again. And when I did, I found that the whole of my comment had disappeared.
I will try again.
John UK

I will try submitting in smaller parts, in case that is the problem.

I find myself in total agreement with James’s comments about the desirability of recording the original sentence, whatever may have subsequently happened, and I have hitherto written Death if that was the sentence.
Perhaps the answer may be for the Indexes to carry on annotation pointing oiut that in many cases a Death sentence was not carrioed out, being commuted to transportation, a lighetr sentence, or ven a Discharge or Pardon, and that it is of the utmost importance to look at the original record.

On the other hand, I find myself in disagreement on recording . . .[to be continued in next post]

John UK

[continued from previous post]

On the other hand, I find myself in disagreement on recording anything other than “Acquitted”, “Not Guilty” or “N.G.” as an Acquittal.
This site
provides guidance on these topics at

[which should be essential reading for anyone transcribing the criminal registers]
make it clear that when “No Bill”, “No Prosecutor” is recorded, the accused did *not* face trial, and was free to go. However,these did not rule out subsequent prosecution at a later date if the Prosecutor appeared, and sometimes an accused would be tried at a later date [and sometimes the Register records that yet again the Prosecutor did not appear.
An Acquittal [Not Guilty, N.G.] on the other hand was a finding of innocence following a trial, and meant the accused could not be re-tried for the same offence.

If rather than record “No Bill” &c. as Other, which I must confess I have hitherto consistently done, but as an “Acquittal”, then may I again suggest that Ancestry annotate the index to show clearly that “Acquittal” as used in the Index may cover times when no trial took place, and it is essential that the researcher should look at the original image.
The last term I would like to address is “Discharge” . . . [to be continued]
John UK

[continued from previous post]
The last term I would like to address is “Discharge” .
It is used in a variety of ways, to indicated the acccused was released from custody.
In the earlier Middlesex Registers there is often a separate column for “Discharged” or “D.P.” [Discharged by Proclamation – see further below]. The format of the Registers themselves seem to have developed over the years, and are in more forms thatn the basic form types provided.
If sentence [other than Death] had been completed, the the convict was “discharged”.
The term may also be found where there had been no trial [see above] or the prisoner had been tried and acquitted.
Conviction [particularly for keeping a bawdy house] might be followed by [small fine and] “Discharged with sureties” – presumably the equivalent of the more recent “being bound over” .
“Discharge by Proclamation was a special procedure.
Discharge by Proclamation [see… ]

appears to have been a system by which prisoners were discharged [i.e.set free] without trial or verdict.
It appears to have been used to clear out the prisons, and in cases where the witnesses for the prosecution had not appeared.
I presume that this left the courts free to prosecute again at a later date.
I see that some of the entries note that despite the Discharge by Procamation the prisoner appears to have been retained in custody to face trial on other charges.
The debate in Hansard on the above web-site shows that by the 1830s the D.P. sustem was regarded as an abuse of process in many cases

Lastly “Respited” or “Judgement Respited” or “J.R.” appears where the sentence has been commuted – reduced, often considerably.

I hope that these comments have been helpful.In addition, for trials which took place at the Old Bailey,
enables you to call up the details of trials, and perhaps check names.

John UK

Thanks for the links. I’ll be having a browse later.
The majority of the records that I’ve keyed list No Bill, No Prosecution etc in the column headed acquittals and, in my view, should be indexed as such despite the wide variance in significance of the various terms. The 1860 Middlesex records which I am keying at present are more difficult as the clerk(s) seem to be doing their own thing and ignoring the form’s layout when they feel like it.
“Trial postponed” alone I have entered as “Other” but if followed by retained in custody I have entered as “Imprisonment”.

From the context on the latest image that I’m keying, “Respited” would appear to be used in its meaning of “delayed” or “rested”.

Some more on Judgement respited can be found here:
Peter King has also written a book
“Crime and Law in England, 1750-1840” (Cambridge, 2006)(parts on Googlebooks) which seems to deal extensively with the whole question.

Returning to JR, King writes
“The main The main instrument that the Old Bailey judges mobilised in order to make use of the Refuge, and to a much lesser extent of the Philanthropic, was their tradition of recording a suspended sentence of ‘ respited’ This had been used quite extensively in the eighteenth century in other contexts. In May 1793, for example, at the beginning of the war against France, 17 per of the sentences handed out to males at the Old Bailey were recorded as either ‘ respited for a soldier’ or ‘ respited to go to sea’ Two more sentences used the overlapping tactic of a nominal fine with a compulsory condition attached – ‘ one shilling to enlist as a soldier’ This tactic was used less frequently at other times because rapid armed forces recruitment was rarely such a high priority, but it was still used occasionally. In 1806, for example, the criminal registers include a 14-year-old boy given a sentence of ‘ respited, sent to serve in the navy’ . . . The opening of the Refuge for the Destitute in 1806, where the only age criteria was that those under 12 were not eligible because the Philanthropic already catered for them, made it possible for the Old Bailey judges to gradually increase this particular use of respited judgements.[9] To what extent did they actually do so? This is not an easy question to answer. The Home Office criminal registers, as we have seen, make virtually no mention of the Refuge for the Destitute. Usually by the 1810s young offenders alongside whose names a cryptic ” (for Judgement Respited) is recorded are then put down as merely receiving a one shilling fine before being discharged. Equally, when the printed Calendars first become available in 1820 the hand written post trial entries that record trial outcomes are no more revealing. For a number of offenders each session the entry simply reads ‘ respited’ with the only indication of what happened after that being the printed ‘ upon Orders’ entry at the end of the subsequent session which sometimes offers no further information but often records that they were ‘ one shilling – discharged’ Behind these opaque recording practices, however, an extensive system of referring
cases to the Refuge had in fact developed. Asked directly by a Parliamentary committee on London’ prisons in 1818 whether the Refuge ‘ receive a good many persons from Newgate … who have been found guilty, sentenced to a fine of a shilling and discharged with the understanding that they were to be sent to that institution’, a representative of the Refuge replied in the affirmative.”

Curiously, I find the term “Judgement Respited” still in use in modern Home Office documents where the convicted prisoner is remeanded to await sentencing at a later date.

So I think your are right, respited means primarily delayed, but the effect in the late 18th early 19th century was the commutation or reduction of a sentence thathad been given, or might otherwise have been given.
John UK

I too was following the guidelines that recommended the original sentence was the one that was entered. I feel that the original sentence would have been what the clerk would have entered and the commutation would have been entered at a later date. This is clearly evident when a death sentence was carried out and the date is some weeks after the initial entry.

What would happen if both keyers entered the initial findings ie death, both entries agree therefore no moderation would apply and the commutation of sentence would not be recorded. The same is true if they both enter the commutation sentence, the researcher would not know the original sentence was death. This is why when having found a record via an indexed system it is encumbent on the researcher to check the complete entry and not just the index.

The article on the England and Wales Criminal Registers states to record Penal Servitude as imprisonment, but according to the Britannica Encyclopedia of Criminal Law it became the term for transportation which took effect 1924. If this is true then should it not be recorded as Transportation? The time served also supports this…Or maybe we should have that as an option now

The Penal Sevitude Act of 1857 replaced the sentence of Transportation with that of Penal Servitude. However, they need not have been identical. The early registers for Middlesex list the prisoners still confined in Newgate prison at the end of the previous year. Some of them were well into the term of their sentence of transportation and may never have left the shore of the UK. Also, by 1857 the new prisons, such as Dartmoor, which had been built to accommodate French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars had become available for home use.

I have family experience of just this point. My 3rd gt grandfather – William Horatio Pankhurst was sentenced to 14 years transportation in 1852, Stoke on Trent. He served time in Stafford, Portland and lastly Dartmoor Prisons until he died in 1854 in Dartmoor. Apparently at that time even though transportation was still being sentenced, not very many went in that latter period. There must have been at least a 2 year delay in William’s case.

Which is why any researcher worth their salt will need to go further than just the index anyway

After reading the many submissions regarding Criminal Records I now know I’m not alone in feeling totally confused as to what is required by the project organisers.
It has been stated that we are creating an index which will lead researchers to the original registers and hence find the full story of their ancestors crimes, sentences etc.
If so, why are we struggling to key in the sentence at all?
Entering only the person’s name and age would have many beneifts, including speeding up the keying process, removing the confusion over what to include, exclude or interpret in the sentence field etc.

I am sooo confused now!

I only started keying records a week ago and made sure I read the guidelines carefully first.

It said to enter the original sentence so why has that now changed?

I too entered penal servitude as transportation as it was in that column and that was what tranportation was.

They were “transported” to another country where they served a sentence of penal servitude where they had to work. They were then freed and could return home if they could afford the fare which most of them couldn’t do.

I don’t know what to do for the best now!

I wondered about the varying entries in the Acquital column and as a selection among what type we could use. As much as I thought this way and that about it I realized that the column was headed “Acquital” and thus whatever was in the column was considerd as an Acquital for the people of THAT time & court period. They did not seem to worry about defining it more – that was THEIR choice as to where to put the data. So I use Acquital when possible as I have noticed this column also seems to be place where notes are also written. Sometimes it seems that there are further indications as to what happened with the courts ruling. I am among those that consider what happens when the original sentence is amended. If a person I was searching for was to “Death” and then recieved Transportation instead it would mean to continue research rather than a dead-end.
I also add that for the Many people who do not have the subscriptions to these records – ALL the will see is the Index and NOT the films/images – they will not be able to pursue it more. If we say death and not transportation, etc. then they will say death. And believe the Indexer had nothing more. Not everyone has the finances to maintain the subscriptions to view the records. Just my view.

Quoting from the National Archives researh guide “Transportation to Australia 1787-1868” (
“Transportation was not formally abolished until 1868, but in practice it was effectively stopped in 1857, and had become increasingly unusual well before that date.” Thus the sentence of Penal Servitude should not be taken to mean Transportation.

Also,the same source states: “Death sentences, other than those for murder, were commonly commuted to transportation. Petitions on behalf of prisoners for this to be done are in HO 17 (1819-39) and HO 18 (1839-54) , with registers of petitions, dating back to 1797, in HO 19 . There are further petitions in HO 48 , HO 49 , HO 54 and HO 56 . The circuit letters in HO 6 (1816-40) contain regular returns from the justices, including material about commutation; and the Judges’ reports (HO 47 (1784-1829)) give details and supporting evidence for commutation or for the grant of a free pardon in some cases. Home Office warrants for pardons and reprieves are in HO 13 (1782-1849), and HO 15 (1850-71). See also HO 42 , HO 45 , and HO 144 .” There is no guarantee that a commutation will have been recorded in the Criminal Registers as there appears be no consistant policy on this. For this reason it is better to record the orignal Death sentence rather than assume that in the cases where no commutation appears the execution was carried out.

Further to the above. The 1854 register pages that I’ve just finished have separate columns for Transportation and for Penal Servitude.

I apologize for all of the confusion regarding the England and Wales, Criminal Registers project. We are working on a solution that should make things less confusing to key.

Living in New England all my life, I do find it difficult to leave a state blank when only the city is mentioned and the state in which it is located is obvious. However, as for history, it is not up to me to fill in what is or appears to be logical. It is correct to enter what is actually in the document. The rest would be speculation, albeit accurate speculation, and should be left blank. Better that the person searching their family speculate on the blank field. Of course, that is just my opinion.

I’m having trouble finding a solution to entries that have been add in as an extra i.e in row one you will have one person and his criminal bits and sentencing etc and in row 2 you have a different person, on occastions i have had someone added inbetween these to other people what do you do with them? do you add them in so all the numbering is wrong or do you add them in at the end of the list…
Im glad i have read other comments also on sentencing makes it alot clear and also show that i’m not the only one that has listed some wrongly….

I have just come across a word under the imprisonment column which said “6 calmos” “9 Calmos” at leaset that is what it looked like. I marked it as other, does anyone know any different?
Many thanks

I have just realized what Calmos means! It took me a while. I think it means Calender months. If there was a full stop after Cal. I might have got it straight away! Hope this helps others.

hello, i often translate for ancestry, and i was under the impression that if you did, ancestry was for free. i have been a paying member for a year but now i cant afford it. i have searched ancestry after a break of about 4 weeks and i am now unable to access info but i am able to transcribe for ancestry. can someone give me the reason why please ?

and is it correct that if you transcribe info is free ?


Ancestry isnt free if your a transcriber as far as I’m aware if you transcribe more than 900 bits of info a quater then you can search world vital records data base but you recieve a discount on membership, How much discount I’m not sure of……I could be wrong but this was my understanding of it……..

I am really wondering if I am keying the criminal records right. I have been keying penal servitude as other, and whipped fined etc as other. I don’t want to be doing this wrong so could someone please set me straight? Thank you

Penal Servitude goes under imprisonment, It means Imprisonment with hard labour…
If whipped or a fine has been entered under imprisonment then your just put imprisonment but if it comes under the heading of whipped fined etc then it is listed as other….This is my understanding of it…

Question about how to put in the country New England Naturalization index sometimes i see New Brunswick , so do i put that or New brunswick Canada, and for Ireland do i put the county if listed

My question is a repeat as Post #35 by Cynthia. I have been keying the New England Naturalization index. In the Country of Birth or Allegiance there are some cards that have only a province listed (i.e. Canadian provinces). The Province in not provided in the drop down list. I know the province is in Canada so should I be entering the province or the country it is in.

There are also instances in the Country of Birth or Allegiance where 2 countries are listed. Which county should be entered?