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Old Bailey Criminal Court in England

Coming across old records of family members is exciting, they help you better understand the life of your ancestor. One type of document which can be quite fascinating are court papers. The most intriguing of court papers are the criminal court documents. These are the trials of real people, some for some horrible crimes, some for crimes not thought today as that bad as society’s ideas change.

For the city of London in England, now online are the Old Bailey Proceedings which cover from 1674 to 1913, and of the Ordinary of Newgate’s Accounts between 1676 and 1772. These digital documents cover about 197,000 trials and biographical details of approximately 2,500 men and women who were eventually executed at Tyburn. The Old Bailey Proceeding comprise 190,000 pages and the Newgate accounts represent 4,000 pages.

However, these papers are not just for those who may have had a criminal ‘black sheep’ in the family, but there would have been judges, attorneys for the defendant, witnesses, victims, police officer, jury members and others that would be part of each trial. Your ancestor could have been anyone of them.

The documents provide full details about the crime, statements from witnesses, the eventual outcome and sentencing of the defendant. The search allows you place a surname, a given name and date, time period, type of crime, or a general keyword.

Placing the surname of ‘Kershaw’ produced 99 results spanning the full time range of 1676 to 1913, with ten entries at a time. You just click on one of interest based on the time frame and short summary provided. A reminder, a name may be in reference to a victim, the defendant, a juror or witness.

Once you click on the full details the information on each case is provided – transcribed. However, next to it is a thumbnail of the scanned original image (which could be hand written or in print). Each will be exciting to read and just never know what you might uncover.

Photo: A December 1890 sketch of 24-year old Mary Eleanor Wheeler Pearcey who was hanged at Newgate Prison for killing the wife and newborn child of her male lover. Her final, words: “The sentence is just, but the evidence false.”

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