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Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors (Paperback)

A Guide for Family Historians

Family History P&S History > True Crime World History

By Stephen Wade
Imprint: Pen & Sword Family History
Series: Tracing Your Ancestors
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 40
ISBN: 9781848840577
Published: 15th October 2009
Last Released: 15th November 2017


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Author Interview

Interview by A True Crime History Podcast 

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Did you have a criminal in the family, an ancestor who was caught on the wrong side of the law? If you have ever had any suspicions about the illicit activities of your relatives, or are fascinated by the history of crime and punishment, this is the book for you.

Stephen Wade’s useful introduction to this fascinating subject will help you discover and investigate the life stories of individuals who had a criminal past. The crimes they committed, the conditions in which they lived, the policing and justice system that dealt with them – all these aspects of criminal history are covered as are the many types of crime they were guilty of – murder, robbery, fraud, sexual offences, poaching, protest and public disorder.

Graphic case studies featuring each type of crime are included, dating from the Georgian period up until the present day. All of these cases are reconstructed using information gleaned from the many sources available to researchers – libraries, archives, books and the internet among them.

Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors is essential reading for anyone who wishes to explore the criminal past and seeks to trace an ancestor who had a criminal record.

Click here to listen to author interview

A True Crime History Podcast

Author article 'Murder in the family' as featured by

WDYTYA? Magazine, March 2020

What is valuable is that each chapter ends with sections addressing the research process followed by good case studies of what can be found.

There is a short but helpful legal glossary, which is especially valuable for latin phrases found in assize records

Paul Milner, FGS Forum, Spring 2011

My first thoughts on reading through Criminal Ancestors was that it would probably be a title ignored by many family historians and that is a great shame. Completely by accident I discovered more about one branch of my family tree thanks to a casual conversation with Hull Archivist Carol Tanner. Had this book been around a few years earlier, and had I the sense to invest in a copy, I would have saved hundreds of hours searching for the 'monkeys' that inhabit that particular branch. Do not fool yourself into thinking that your ancestors were not of the criminal classes; you will one day find yourself very much surprised.

This is a fascinating book which provides the reader with an amazing array of potential resources, advice on how to find, access and use them and some very interesting case histories to boot. Crimewatch could learn a lot from this bunch of villians.

East Yorkshire Family History Society

'Wade's book - offering a social background, some interesting case studies and a handy resource guide - will come as a much needed aid for anyone who suspects their ancestor might have ended up on the wrong side of the law.'

Ross Gilfillan, Ancestors London Special 2010

This is a fascinating book which provides the reader with an amazing array of potential resources, advice on how to find, access and use them and some very interesting case histories to boot. Crimewatch could learn a lot from this bunch of villains!

The Banyan Tree

The book is a helpful guide and introduction, which is the aim of this useful, expanding series.

Clive Emsley, Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

All in all, if your ancestors were criminals, debtors, or drunks, or otherwise involved in a court case in England or Wales, then I strongly recommend this book.

Borders Family History Society

In all the book is a mine of information and even gives details of various websites and internet resources for those researching online. All through the book are true-life examples of records used in order to help the reader build up a picture of how the structure and justice system of the day worked, by quoting specific examples.

...fascinating reading...

The North Cheshire Family Historian
 Stephen Wade

About Stephen Wade

Stephen Wade is a freelance writer specializing in the history of crime and the law in Britain and Ireland. He has written fourteen true crime and crime history books, including Tracing Your Police Ancestors and Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors. His history of detectives, Plain Clothes and Sleuths, was published in 2007 and he is currently completing a history of the City of London Police. He also teaches crime history at the University of Hull and, as a visiting lecturer, at Oxford. He has contributed to Family Tree Magazine, Ancestors and other periodicals.

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