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From: Stephen Hayes
To: All
Date: 2004-05-09 17:08:06
Subject: Re: New Court Records

* Forwarded (from: GEN_BRITAIN) by Stephen Hayes using timEd/2 1.10.y2k.
* Originally from Geoff Pearson (8:8/2002) to All.
* Original dated: Sat May 08, 07:27

From: "Geoff Pearson" <gspearson1647{at}>

"Geoff Pearson" <gspearson1647{at}> wrote in message
> The Times today carries a report of new archives - transcribed by
> volunteers - of 18C and early 19C court records.  Anyone looked at
> (or even found them)?

Sorry - I should have posted the article:

            May 08, 2004

            Net will drag out family skeletons from cupboard
            By Simon de Bruxelles

            SECRET family histories, long since hushed up by humiliated
relatives, are about to be exposed to the neighbours.

            Records from almost all important criminal cases from the
late 18th and early 19th centuries are being made readily accessible for
the first time.

            The move by the National Archives, formerly the Public
Record Office, is designed to allow the public the chance to discover
the skeleton in their family cupboard - or anybody else's. Horse
stealers, cut-purses, highwayman and house-breakers can all now return
to haunt their living descendants and amateur genealogists are

            Until now it has been virtually impossible for family
historians to find details of crimes committed by relatives because the
records had never been indexed and were filed only in rough
chronological order. Now court archives from 1783 to 1830 are being
placed online after nearly three years' work by a team of amateur
historians transcribing judges' notes sent to the Home Secretary at the
end of each assizes session.

            The archives holds 75 volumes each up to six inches thick of
which the contents of the first 12 have so far been placed online. They
include names, offences and punishments of tens of thousands of

            The records provide a fascinating glimpse into an era when
more than 200 offences were punishable by death and stealing a loaf of
bread could lead to transportation for life.

            Many of the petty criminals, thieves and murderers recorded
in the archives left no other trace apart from sparse details in parish
registers recording births, marriages and deaths.

            In many cases families simply disowned felonous relatives
and never spoke of them again so their descendants will have no idea of
their criminal forebears. A recent survey revealed that one in four
people had researched or intended to research their family history in
the next year.

            Elaine Collins, editor of Ancestors magazine, said the
criminal records were perhaps the best chance many people had of finding
out something about the lives of their ancestors. "Be grateful if you
have a black sheep in the family because most ordinary people left very
little trace," she said. "The internet and access to records like this
is what has turned genealogy from the preserve of nobility into family

            "Even if it was possible to track down information like this
before, it needed a lot of dedicated foot-slogging but now people are
discovering their family history from the comfort of their own homes."

            The archive, at, is also a valuable source
for social historians. One case yet to be placed online records the
death sentence on one James Patten, a labourer, for the rape of a
19-year-old Birmingham pearl worker called Ann Atkins in August 1825.

            Local dignitaries appealed for mercy on Patten's behalf on
the grounds that he had merely been following a local Warwickshire
custom called "socket-shilling".

            Paul Carter, the National Archives economic and social
history specialist, said: "If someone witnessed a man and a woman having
sex he could claim a shilling from the man and sex from the woman."
Unfortunately for Patten, the argument failed to sway the then Home

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