Do you have a Jesse James in your family? What about a Wyatt Earp?
Sifting through criminal case files to find your ancestors in criminal court records is illuminating—whichever side of the law your ancestors are on.
The records created by the criminal justice system are “wonderful additions to any family history,” says Using Criminal Court Records Webinar presenter Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, (For a video sneak peek of this Tuesday, Dec. 11 live webinar [7 p.m. ET], click here.)
Russell sums up those who are in the criminal justice system this way: “They came in all sizes, shapes, colors. They were men, women and even children. They acted out of greed or foolishness or just desperation—or were wrongly accused. And they became the criminals.
“They’re among the most colorful characters in our family trees. They didn’t toe the line, they went their own ways, and they did one thing that can’t help but warm a genealogist’s heart: They left records. Arrest records. Conviction records. Prison records.”
“But they weren’t all bad guys (or gals),” she adds. “Your ancestor might have played a different role: police officer, constable, judge, juror or witness.”
Next week, “we’ll take a look at a whole range of records created after a crime was committed, from police reports all the way to prison records,” says Russell. “We’ll look at cases prosecuted in local courts, state courts and federal courts. We’ll look at some records from other countries. And we’ll look at ways to find the records that relate to our ancestors in the many roles they played in the criminal justice system … and what those records tell us about the times in which our ancestors lived.”