This sounds like a pretty gripping collection, whether you’ve got British roots or not. It contains records like mug shots, court documents, appeals letters and registers from prison ships (which were used when mainland prisons were crowded). According to Findmypast.com, the records “provide a wide variety of color, detail and fascinating social history, chronicling the fate of criminals ranging from fraudsters, counterfeiters, thieves and murderers and their victims.” The 500,000 records you can search now are only a fifth of the full collection of 2.5 million that will be online soon.
The company calls this the largest collection of historical criminal records from England and Wales to be published online and is done in association with the National Archives (UK). Findmypast.com members can click here to access the criminal collection directly (make sure the box for “Institutes and Organizations” is checked).
Here’s a little more background on connections between British convicts and the U.S. and Australia….
During colonial times, Britain often punished criminals by forcing them to emigrate. The most famous destination was Australia: the first British settlement on that continent in 1787 was actually a penal colony. Australia celebrates that fact about its heritage today: learn more about the “First Fleet’s” arrival here.
Up to about 50,000 British convicts were also forced to emigrate to the American colonies during the 1700s. These included prisoners of war from Ireland and Scotland. Read more about this in Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775 (Clarendon Paperbacks) by A. Roger Ekirch. Findmypast.com isn’t able to tell us yet how many records in the criminal collection relate to forced emigrations, but anyone with roots in the U.K. should check out this collection for sure.