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  1. ITV Report

Track down the Victorian villains in your family tree

Over 2 million criminal records which date all the way back to 1770 are being published online for the first time. They include details of Victorian serial killers and habitual drunks banned from pubs. It means people will get the chance to trace any villains they may have in their family tree.

Elizabeth Smith was convicted of being a habitual drunkard in 1903 and sentenced to one month of hard labour Credit: findmypast.co.uk/National Archive

Family website findmypast.co.uk [registration required] holds records from 1770 to 1934 and includes mugshots, court documents, appeal letters and prison ship registers.

Killers included in the collection include Amelia Dyer who is believed to have murdered 400 babies between 1880 and 1896.

We have been eagerly anticipating the launch of these records that provide an amazing opportunity to trace any villains and victims in your own family.

We have painstakingly published online entire registers containing mugshots of habitual drunks that feature incredible descriptions of criminals' appearances, demeanour and identifying marks.

– Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk
A register of convicts Credit: findmypast.co.uk/National Archive

These records span several government series and show the evolution of the criminal justice system in the nineteenth century as the country dealt with the impact of industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth.

They record the intimate details of hundreds of thousands of people, beginning with judges' recommendations for or against pardons, to petitions through which criminals and their families could offer mitigating circumstances and grounds for mercy, and later, licences containing everything from previous convictions to the state of a prisoner's health.

As well as the Georgian highway robber, the Victorian murderer and the Edwardian thief, the courts often dealt with the rural poacher, the unemployed petty food thief or the early trade unionist or Chartist. The records are a fascinating source for family, local and social historians.

– Paul Carter, records specialist at The National Archives