Select Page

Your voice is needed!

The Legal Genealogist has a second great grandfather whose first appearance in the public records that we can locate anywhere is in the marriage books of Colorado County, Republic of Texas.

His second appearance is when the Republic of Texas indicted him.

For bigamy.1

I love this ancestor — he’s by far my favorite ancestor — but you have to wonder sometimes how people react, and why they react the way they do, when they discover an ancestor whose past is — shall we say — less than savory.

Well, now there’s an organized effort to figure that out, in the context of Ph.D. research at the University of Sheffield, England — and the research is being done by one of our own.


Aoife O Connor is not just a student — she’s an accomplished historian (her master’s thesis was about children in Ireland’s prisons), and she works at Findmypast.

Her Ph.D. study is looking at — and I quote — “The Impact of Digital Resources in the History of Crime.”2

In other words, she explains, on her website A Criminal Record:

My PhD will explore the impact of digitisation on the study of the history of crime, drawing on the experiences of genealogists, historians, students, writers and teachers.

I am particularly hoping to reach out to family historians. Family historians have appreciated the value of ‘crime records’ since before the advent of the internet to say nothing of the digitisation of crime records. However it is probably true to say that most would have sought out a criminal ancestor based on family lore. With the advent of digitisation criminal ancestors can be stumbled upon. A previously unknown episode in the history of the family can be revealed.

From my initial conversations I have found that when confronted with a previously unknown criminal ancestor or an ancestor whose criminal activity was unknown descendant’s react in many different ways: from amusement to horror. I have witnessed descendants shrug off, laugh, be embarrassed by, and take pride in their criminal forbearers. My research will explore how researchers integrate an ancestor from a criminal record into their family story.3

So Aoife wants to hear from us: fellow genealogists and family historians with those not-so-savory characters in our families. She has surveys on the website for folks to answer to contribute to this research:

‘Criminal’ Ancestor: if your ancestor appeared in court (including petty sessions), was imprisoned, in a reformatory or transported.

Witness, Police, Victim, Judge Ancestor: if your ancestor appears in criminal records as a witness, victim, or member of the judicial system.

Genealogy Researcher: if you undertake research for others (paid or unpaid), and have had to tell a client about their criminal ancestor.

Author/Writer: if (you) have written about historic crime in any genre: fact or fiction, magazines, blogging, academic text books etc.

Independent/Academic Researcher: if (you) have researched historic crime as an independent researcher/local historian or part of your studies/academic work (school-university).

Got some less-than-savory types in your family tree? Help out a fellow genealogist, and advance this research. Fill out one (or more) of these surveys, willya?

I’m dying to see what Aiofe ends up with…


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Darn it all, George!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 May 2012 ( : accessed 24 July 2015), and ibid., “Oh George… you stinker!,” posted 9 Jun 2012.)
  2. See Aoife O Connor, The Digital Panopticon ( : accessed 24 July 2015).
  3. Aoife O Connor, “About,” A Criminal Record ( : accessed 24 July 2015).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email