The National Archives and Find My Past have now put online half a million criminal records from between 1770 and 1934. Although a fee is charge, people all over the world can now access this important social and historical record.
Whereas the media have been focussing on the fact that you can now look into your past and find if there is a dark family secret lurking in the closest of your family’s past, this new online resource provides us with an opportunity to look back at crime and criminals of bygone times.
Available documents include court papers, verdicts, sentences and mugshots.
The photographs themselves are quite interesting in that many of them show the suspects holding their hands up against their chests, so that any distinguishing feature, such as a missing finger or scar, would be clearly visible in order to identify them should they be accused of future crimes.
The job is a painstaking one, and anyone who has ever tried to scan photos onto their laptop will, no doubt, feel instant sympathy for the poor staff at The National Archives At Kew who are in the process painstakingly scanning two million items to be used in the resource.
But when it is complete it will provide us with an unrivalled opportunity to not only look back at court cases from 1888, but to also look at the faces of some of the criminals who were active in the East End of London at the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders.
In so doing we might even be able to get a glimpse of some of the Jack the Ripper suspects.
It’s also possible that you might, inadvertently, get a glimpse of Jack the Ripper himself since, in the opinion of several experts, the reason the murders ceased was because Jack the Ripper was arrested for another crime and the authorities didn’t realise they had in custody the man who had brought terror to the East End of London in the autumn of 1888.
Anyway, if you’re interested in taking a peek into your family’s possible criminal past, or you want to examine this fascinating historical and social record, you can sign up for a free fourteen day trial from findmypast.co.uk.
If you do happen to spot any similarity between our witness descriptions of Jack the Ripper and one of the faces on the archive then please be sure to let us know!