Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Criminal Ancestors

Last Sunday's programme, the fourth episode of the new 'Digging up Your Roots', which is broadcast on 92-95 FM every Sunday at midday until 21 February was about criminal ancestors.

If you have a question to ask, write to: Digging Up Your Roots, BBC Radio Scotland, Beechgrove Terrace, Aberdeen, AB15 5ZT or email them at diggingupyourroots@bbc.co.uk .

If you missed this, it is available as a podcast.

In 1827 and 1828, the notorious William Burke and William Hare carried out a series of murders and sold the bodies to a medical school. Helen MacDougal, Burke's bidie-in, claimed she knew nothing about the murders. When the case came to court on Christmas eve 1828, Burke was convicted, but Helen's verdict was Not Proven.
Later on, Helen was possibly killed by millworkers at Deanston, after she was unmasked as Burke's accomplice.
Lots more detail about them which you can hear in the podcast.

Jane Stark was a one woman crimewave in the late 19th century, housebreaking, affairs, drunkenness. She died in 1899. The information from NHS records was that she was a hawker and had been run over by a lorry and died an hour and a half after admission. The local press reported that she had been run over by a North British railway truck after stepping out in front of it while she was drunk. Poor Relief records came into play when Jane went to prison and her children went first to a shelter and later to an industrial school.

The National Archives of Scotland has prison records from 1657. Most useful are the admission registers which show name, age, height (in feet and inches for men; low, middle, or tall for women), birthplace, residence, marital status, occupation, crime, the court, sentence, dates admitted and released, and photos (mostly of criminal lunatics) from the 1880s. There are also records of prison staff, and governors' journals.
Apparently any child born in North prison, Glasgow was entitled to a farthing (a quarter of an old penny) for life from Glasgow Council. A year's farthings (365) would be 7 shillings and 7 pence farthing (£0.38).
They also mentioned a book by William Seivwright, a preacher reader in Perth prison, which details prison life.
Also see Black Sheep Ancestors, which has details of insane asylums, executions, and prisons in Britain, Canada, and the USA.
British Library Online can be used to view newspapers. It is a subscription site, but many universities provide free access to staff and students.


One listener wanted to know more about a her great uncle in Canada, who she thought had killed his wife's lover, and they found some information in Library and Archives Canada.

Another listener wanted to know about Huguenot ancestors - there are records at the Huguenot Library in London.

There was a quite a lot on Kirk Session records too.

Next Sunday's programme will be about military matters, including a prisoner of war, a daring Battle of Britain pilot, and a unique tribute to a Black Watch soldier.

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