Researching prisoners not convicts

This week the #ANZAncestryTime chat looked at prisoners and their crimes. It was decided to leave out convicts as we have already had that chat.

Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay

What sort of crimes or misdemeanours were your ancestors sentenced for? Was it overseas or in Australia?

How could I forget??!! The story of my great-grandfather’s imprisonment for refusing to vaccinate his children. I received help from @Historylady2013 with this.

Here’s a video of one of my criminal ancestors. He escaped from gaol.…

(My great uncle) Cecil Drew, aged 11 charged with having stolen forty-five packets of cigarettes from Wylie’s store, Nundah, was convicted, but not punished. Mr. Ranking advised the boy’s mother to give him a whipping. ‘Police Courts’, 24 August 1905

Interesting – I wonder who the packets really were for. Even with the small packet sizes it seems too much for an 11 year old when thy could of take sweets and other treats.

I was wondering if he was getting money for the stolen packets Fran #ANZAncestryTime unfortunately his life of crime didn’t end there!

Yes a possible option though I like to think that the child is influenced by an adult at some stage and not born bad.

I really feel his family were living on the breadline Fran so poverty was all he would have known as a child

A great article.. your ggg described as a hard-working man with a large family, any sentence would have been tough on them, so pleased he got a reduced sentence Sue

I have found a case about a murder in my family however I am still to find out the final outcome for the court case. Also a case of some stolen shoes and the good news is my great grand mother was acquitted.

Ooo that sounds intriguing, Fran! Whereabouts did the murder take place?

At a place called Boulder Bank in the Wairau in 1857, which is near Cloudy Bay in the north of the South Island.

Apparently a different boulder bank to the one that is a scenic reserve near nelson but I need to research more.

My g aunt Mary was the victim of a bigamist who we believed had 3 wives at the same time, one in England and two in Victoria. He was convicted & went to jail in Melbourne. A cousin by marriage in NZ was also convicted of bigamy before he married my cousin.

Their stories have both been added to WikiTree by me. Plenty of information from the newspapers.

I haven’t come across a criminal in my family as yet. We have a few victims of crime but no perpetrators

Also some for having neglected children and then the children entered as wards of state which have lots of records available.

My Aussie ones were for larceny mainly and in Tasmania where we have great records for prisoners and courts.

Our Tassie prison records portal…

Tasmania always seems to do well with keeping records and making them available

Larceny, assault, and more assault. England, and NZ. I need to do some following up on the larceny, see if I can find out more.

I haven’t found any so far for my direct ancestors only for some of their siblings. We have a suspicion for my ggfather’s brother in Scotland. There is another one in the Highlands.

My Melvin ancestor is the one who was sentenced for the serious crime of perjury. The preceding case was a civil one and the judge deemed that five men had committed perjury. He was sent to jail at St a Helena prison. More later.

Unfortunately I don’t have all my records with me, but my Callaghan ancestors in Courtown had a few skirmishes with Drunk and disorderly and were fined, sometimes with a short sentence. There were also occasional punch-ups between kin

Avalon_Art / Pixabay

What sort of sentences did they get for the crime, were they imprisoned and, if so, where? Gaols, Children’s homes etc.

Poverty and large families often causes for crime.

I agree Sue. Why my relative ended up in the reformatory I think, plus his father died.

Both the bigamists went to jail as did the two criminals in Scotland. And the Victoria bigamist’s children were sent to industrial schools. The daughter came to NZ to be with her aunt, my gmother, and married here. As a child I met her spinster daughters.

I should say that my g aunt was born in 1839, her daughter in 1864, my gmother in 1859. It took a lot of research to find what happened to g aunt after she emigrated to Victoria. She died in an asylum, such a sad life.

I just found something I had already and never realised. GG Grandfather only got three years after the verdict returned was assault only, not murder. See 2nd case. Earlier court proceedings interesting too.

18 months later.. my great uncle was charged, having stolen on 27th February, 1907, at Clayfield, two razors, a razor strop, a cigarette case, a shaving brush, and other articles, valued in all at 15s., he was given five years at Westbrook Reformatory

My gg grandmother’s first husband was found guilty of a stealing a bushel of coal (a felony) in 1823 and was sentenced to 6 months hard labour in Maidstone County Gaol…

Over the weekend I was researching a possible DNA connection. Found three married sisters sent to New Norfolk asylum as their behaviour towards their children and neighbours was not acceptable, They were only in their twenties.

Again can read all their records for their time in the asylum and why they were put there…

Stephen Melvin was sentenced to jail and while his crime was not commuted, the sentence was shortened due to the outcome of the trial of three of the men. He is shown on the Brisbane Gaol records but news stories say the men were brought up from St Helena.

My great grandfather Melvin’s brother was taken into a reformatory school but so far I’ve been unable to find the reason.

ElisaRiva / Pixabay

Did they serve the full sentence? Did they turn their lives around or return to a life of crime?

My cousin 3 times removed was murdered by her husband in 1877. Due to insanity he spent the rest of his life at Ararat Asylum

Sadly, the coal stealer levelled up to sheepstealing 15 years later and ended up transported. His son helped dob him in! Following his story helped me discount him as the father of my gg grandfather – he was on a prison hulk at the time of conception.

One of the few time being in prison had a positive outcome seeing it helped sort out parentage for you.

Exactly! Though I’d like to confirm right parentage with DNA, as my ancestor reverted to using the convict’s surname later in life rather than his dad/step-dad’s.

Have a baptism record where he’s illegitimate with his mother’s surname, a birth cert and census record with his dad/step-dad’s surname, then as an adult used the first husband’s surname. Very curious.

My ancestor did seem to turn his life around.. by 1915 he had enlisted with the A.I.F. and served in Egypt and France, so I feel very proud of him.

I don’t know about the two Scottish ones or the bigamist in Victoria, but the NZ one did behave himself and later married my cousin.

I have not found any further information that shows Francis McDonald entered into a life of crime after the assault verdict. Though reading the court proceedings in @PapersPastNZ details more about the crime. Though does not look like the full story.

Served full sentences. Some turned their lives around, some didn’t. One ended up joining the army which seemed to help.

Stephen Melvin’s sentence was commuted and there were changes to the law relating to perjury after the case. He had not been in trouble with the law before or after.

Pexels / Pixabay

Where did you search for detailed information on the offence? Newspapers, archives etc?

I used newspapers, archival court documents at Qld State Archives as well as the judge’s notebooks and prison records. No bias, but there must have been something that decided the judge to charge them with perjury. The docs seemed a bit “he said” “she said”.

Newspapers often give a word by word of what was said or done, Can also see witnesses in case they are family members etc or neighbours.

Generally speaking court reporters write an accurate record of what happened though the more scandal-driven papers can be dodgy. Still worth checking archive docs if possible.

Newspapers, but Quarter Session records in local archives have been the best resource.

Newspapers & @nswarchives with court proceedings, jury notes, gaol records etc

If admitted to care home or asylum etc, check those records as some are more than 50 pages long giving lots of family info.

The childrens’ asylum where my relative was as a teenager was in Scotland. haven’t been able to see records yet.

Lots of court records for Tassie are online or you can visit the Archives to find those not digitized yet…

I found detailed newspaper reports on Trove #LoveTrove and I was able to locate his index card from Westbrook Reformatory #QldArchives most of his sentence was served as a farm labourer for a local farming family

I found my 3xgreat grandfather having a very short sojourn in the Inveraray Gaol which has indexes online.

One of my best discoveries was my 2xgreat grandfather as a witness to an equity case. Confirmed relationships and that he was on the Tooloom goldfields while family was in Ipswich

Don’t forget to check the UK newspapers via FindMyPast or with your NLA library card. Some of the crimes are reported there, not necessarily major offences.

Petty Sessions records either in Irish Newspapers or in the FindMyPast indexes can be very helpful.

If your relatives were in Argyll you can search the Inveraray Jail indexes at this page.

I always search newspapers for any interesting things when I write my biographies, but often the siblings who have records.


Blog posts about prisoners or criminals in our families

Pauleen: Vaccinations, Petty Session records, Shooting case,

Andrew: Colonial conviction, 


Day 2 RootsTech 2022

A relaxing day yesterday, just watching a few sessions as I know I will be able to view most of them over the next year. So now to start day 2 at 10am my time in Tasmania.

Went to the Main Stage but all sessions had finished already. Then looked at the live sessions for today and have already missed 9 out of the 10 I wanted to see. Glad these will be recorded so I can watch later on.

So looks like my plan for today is to look at some series and other sessions I have ticked and added to my playlist. I have also been watching twitter to see what other sessions are being recommended by other genealogists I follow.

Bessi / Pixabay

Is Everyone Here by Jana Greenalgh 

Loved the introduction to this series. Common saying by mums of large families “Is everyone here?” Jana suggests ways to fill in those gaps in your family tree where you might have found some children but maybe not all of them. This is mainly for English families.

  • An individual’s story includes all their relationships.
  • Search broad family including step families.
  • Check out signatures on records.
  • Prior to 1900 families were generally big. Demographic statistics for population and infant mortality found here.
  • Before 1900 most married women had children every 1-3 years so check your tree for gaps that might show children missing
  • Ask questions about why there might be a gap – change church, dad in gaol, dad a mariner, stillbirth etc

Find your family in every census

  • Keep a spreadsheet or chart from 1841-1921 and mark off relevant censuses you find each member of the family in
  • Remember children grow and leave home or are apprentices or servants in other homes of get married
  • If not in a census, maybe emigration
  • Also use 1939 register
  • In 1911 census , you find how many children a woman had – how many alive and how many dead

Use civil registration records to help fill gaps

  • Use indexes on GRO website gives more info than other indexes on Ancestry etc – register for free and order certificates from here as well
  • Use birth and death indexes – good for those children who died young

Church records mainly Church of England prior to 1837 when civil registration began

  • From mid 1500s, two copies of christenings, marriages and burials are found in parish registers or Bishops transcripts
  • Inscriptions on gravestones, where they are buried, maybe other members buried nearby
  • If you can find the images, it can be better than indexes – they often have extra information in margins
  • Also look in neighbouring parishes and towns
  • In small towns, create lists with same surname – often they are related

Probate records

  • Wills, admons (didn’t leave a will), estate duty
  • From 1858, check at or in Ancestry
  • Before 1858, you need to check county probate records which can be found on family search wiki – findmypast and the genealogist also have the images
  • In small town keep record of all with same surname


ElasticComputeFarm / Pixabay

Escaping the Famine – Irish settlement in Canada by Melanie McComb @ShamrockGen

This session really interested me as those readers who follow my blog, know of my frustrations with my Irish Jackson family. After three members of the family, William senior, William Junior and Rebecca as well as another relative Jane Steel, were sentenced to transportation, another member of the family Anne Jackson, who had dobbed them in for stealing, asked for help to get away from Ireland.

While I was travelling in Ireland I did some research on Anne and found her with two other children Mary Ann and Robert going to Canada on the recommendation of the magistrate who had sentenced the Jacksons.

Melanie’s session included the history of Irish Immigration to Canada and many of the reasons why this happened. She also discusses the voyages across the Atlantic from Ireland to Canada. Once in Canadian waters, there was quarantine to go through at various points along the coast.

Before 1865, no formal passenger lists but some shipping companies kept lists. This is where I found Ann and her children on the J.J.Cooke list arriving on the ship Superior in 1847. These records are now on Ancestry.

Melanie also mentions a collection of records coming into New England through the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick for the years 1841-1849. It includes more than just immigration records.

Grosse Ile quarantine station has a database that can be checked through the Libraries and Archives of Canada. Another database they have is for any immigrants prior to 1865.

Melanie then went into other ways to build your Irish family in Canada:

  • Using census to looking for parent(s) born in Ireland but children born in Canada. Different information found in each census will help you work out when someone came to Canada and maybe where they came from in Ireland.
  • Church records – some found online, others still on microfilm and found in registers at particular churches.
  • Land records also might help build your family tree in Canada – province level first then county level
  • Newspapers also give lots of information including goods belonging to dead people and how to claim them. Also check out obituaries and articles in area near where your Irish family settled.
  • Gravestones might also have town and parish in Ireland mentioned on them.

Readers: What was your takeaway from day 2 at RootsTech 2022?

Researching in Tasmania

Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay

My family have been in Tasmania since the 1830’s when my ancestors arrived as either free settlers or convicts. This means I have used a lot of  family history resources from this state of Australia. This post is going to be about the sites I have used the most to help tell the stories of my ancestors in Tasmania.

Libraries Tasmania

This is my number one site. It includes the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) resources as well as the Tasmanian Names Index. There is also a guide to all records found on both TAHO and the family history page. You can also use the how to search page for the Tasmanian Archive records. The library has a blog showing the newly digitized items and it has a great list of categories to help filter the records.

There are also some digitized indexes found online that are not part of TAHO records or TNI. Libraries Tasmania also has their own YouTube channel with some videos on particular topics relating to history.

But if researching a person and their family then the Tasmanian Names Index (TNI) is the best place to start. There have been some recent improvements on this site so a librarian has written a blog post explaining ten ways to boost your searching of the TNI.

Convicts in Van Diemens Land

Again first place is the convict records as part of the TNI at Libraries Tasmania, where you search by the convict’s name or the ship they arrived in. Their convict portal page also includes links to other websites within Australia and the rest of the world.

Female convicts in VDL also have another database which has recently been updated. But there is also lots of information about the convict institutions, ships used as well as freedoms etc in the other tabs on the website.

If convicts brought children with them on the ships, many would be put in the orphan schools. Search by child’s name or mother’s name.

Pexels / Pixabay

Trove newspapers

Once I have found the basics of birth, marriage, death and family I try to begin adding to their stories. This is where Trove newspapers website comes in very handy. Tasmanian newspapers on Trove are available from about 1803 through to mid 1950s at the moment. There are many newspapers specific to certain areas of Tasmania but they might cover only certain years. Make sure you check out their help page as there is more than just newspapers on Trove.

The List

If looking for information on land grants and properties, the go to place is the List and the tab LISTMap. This is run by the Tasmanian Government and allows you to overlap maps to look at where land grants might be at present time. There are many other things on the database so check out all the tabs.

Online newspapers not Trove

The library have also digitized some newspapers for Tasmania that are not available on Trove. Takes more to search these as they are not indexed. TO find them go to main page for Libraries Tasmania, and in search area put Tasmanian newspapers, then when they appear, filter on left to online.

BDMs in Tasmania

First step is the Tasmanian Names Index where these are available free of charge up to about 1900. Family search has more up to about 1912. The Tasmanian Federation Index found at the main library in Hobart has records up to about 1930. To check the index, go to Libraries Tasmania website, then family history portal and on right hand side is “Need help, ask us” where you can ask for help with specific requests for information from the Tasmanian Federation CDROM.

If you want to order a more recent certificate then you do this through the Justice Department website and here are the fees charged.

Skitterphoto / Pixabay


My first place to go for cemetery information is Millingtons which covers many of the large cemeteries in the Hobart area. If looking for cemeteries from other places around Tasmania, I then check out the Libraries Tasmania cemetery page to check which records are online. Many Tasmanian councils have records for their local cemeteries.

Readers: What are other important websites you use to gather information when researching Tasmanian ancestors?

Please read the comments as other family historians have added more websites to use.