Photograph of prisoner George Davey, aged 10, 1873 (Catalogue reference: PCOM 2/290)

Many records of prisoners survive and are held by The National Archives, prisons and local archives. Prison registersa register of incarcerated inmates created after 1878 are more likely to be found in a local archive than at The National Archives.

Work on indexing The National Archives' records of prisoners by name, crime, court and locality is ongoing.

Records of prison staff are more likely to be found in local archives than The National Archives.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the name of the prisoner, including variant spellings
      • when and where they were imprisoned
  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Books

      Read Criminal Ancestors by David T Hawkings (Stroud, 1996).

Did you know?

The records of both prisons and individual prisoners might be held in a number of different places. Prison records were not created nationally, so it is often best to start looking in local archives.

Prisoners were often moved between prisons where there was space, rather than being imprisoned near their home or where the offence was committed.

Prison hulks were ships moored near naval bases to house prisoners - often those awaiting transportation.

Prison licences, popularly known as 'tickets of leave', allowed convicts of good behaviour to be released before the completion of their sentences.