Friday, January 15, 2010

"Some of it's not too proud to be told."

An article on, "Skeletons in your closet: Exploring the dark side of genealogy," revisits one of the more intriguing subjects of family history, the secrets. The article makes the point that "In our ancestors' times it was a lot easier for people to disappear if they ran into problems, and it was easier to cover up most scandals. . . . We are now more tolerant and forgiving of scandalous behaviour and more interested than ever in the details." As my grandmother liked to say of our own family history, "Some of it's not too proud to be told."

Of course, some family secrets are darker than others.

Along those lines, a couple of websites that might be of interest include, Black Sheep Ancestors and the International Black Sheep Society. This Society was featured back in 2007  in Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, with link to an article entitled "Black sheep, good sheep," by Patrick White. You might also want to check out Genealogy Today's "Ancestral Criminal Records," which offers not only a collection of criminal mug shots and wanted posters, but links to other resources that might be of interest.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Genealogy of Communities: Prisons

We might not like to think about the possibility of finding an ancestor in prison, but in her article, "Genealogy of Communities: Prisons," Judy Rosella Edwards makes the point that in earlier times, one did not have to be a hardened criminal to end up in some type of jail or prison. Of course, for some, the black sheep of the family are often the most interesting. And yes, census enumerators counted noses, even in prison. One of the more interesting points made in the article is that inmates' occupations, prior to imprisonment, are often listed, even those who were career thieves. The article also provides suggestions for researching those aboard prison ships and reminds us that the prison "community" was comprised of many people who were not prisoners, sometimes complete families resided on the grounds.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Records of transported convicts published online

According to an article published on, entitled, "Records of transported convicts published online," the records of around 160,000 deportees sent to Australia have been placed on the web site. The transportation records date from 1788 to 1868 and include all but a few thousand of the 163,021 convicts who were sent to Australia. Information contained in the records includes name, date and place of conviction, length of sentence, name of ship, departure date and the colony to which they were sent. Additional information in some cases includes occupation, marital status, religion and the date on which freedom was finally granted. Josh Hanna, a spokesman for, estimated that more than two million Britons are directly descended from the deportees, meaning that there is a one in 30 chance of Britons having a convict ancestor listed among the records.

A related article in Scotsman, "No mercy shown in the prison ships era," provides insight into the those who became prisoners, often as mere children, "poverty struck young servants who dared to steal a trinket from their wealthy masters' family silver, desperate men who snared livestock to feed their families, young husbands banished for years and leaving behind penniless wives, middle-aged women torn from their children and those who would today be classed as pensioners. All were condemned to a journey in conditions so harsh it would claim many lives." Many such prisoners were shipped to the U.S., as well.

The article adds: Criminal records - dating from 1800 to 1994 and including those of people transported to the penal colonies - are held at the National Archives of Scotland, West Register House, Charlotte Square. Online searches at, or go to

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