Sunday, January 24, 2010
Book Review - Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors - A Guide for Family Historians
Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors - A Guide for Family Historians
by Stephen Wade
176 pp. Glossy card covers. Illustrations. ISBN 978 1 84884 057 7 : Pen & Sword Books : £12.99
Available from Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 47 Church St, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, S20 2AS
If you had criminal ancestors in England, Wales, or Ireland, or people that were involved in court cases (as witnesses or victims) and want to find more about them, then this is the book for you.
The conditions in which they lived, crimes they committed, and the criminal justice system are all described in this very readable book, and there are a number of interesting illustrations.
The author begins with a look at the sources, different types of document, the different courts, with suggestions of the research process that should be followed.
Subsequent chapters deal in detail with the different types of offences: homicide, other crimes against the person, social protest, theft and robbery, rural crime, fraud and deception, sexual offences, and treason.
Each chapter describes the offences in detail, gives examples of punishments, suggests where you should look for records and sometimes provides references to records. As well as this research process there is a detailed review of one or more cases in the Case Studies section at the end of each chapter. Some of the cases are rather gruesome.
Chapter 9 deals with the destinations of the convicted criminal; prisons, asylums, hulks and transportation.
The last chapter is a survey of the relevant sources; however there is also a bibliography, a list of websites, a short glossary, and an index.
Very oddly, the author almost totally ignores Scotland, and does not make it clear whether his text includes conditions, offences, courts, processes, or records in Scotland. Apart from a few references to Glasgow, it's only on page 156 that he mentions the Scottish Legal System, and that it has different terms, functions, and processes to that of England.
This seems a strange omission in an otherwise comprehensive and easy to read book.
The only other gripe I have is that there are a number of typos in the text, as if it hadn't been properly proof-read.
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.
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