Online Prison Index Search - Help Page
Why can’t I find my ancestor?/Help with searching
A possible reason is that they are not in the index. It could be that we have not yet indexed the relevant prison or year. Click here to see the current coverage of our online indexes.
It might be, however, that we do have what you are looking for. We have given a number of search boxes but you don’t have to fill them all in. Less is more. If there are no results try reducing the amount of information you give. You could try solely the surname or even just the first name.
Use wildcards: The wildcard * can represent any series of characters, and the wildcard ? can represent any single character.
Both can be used in any field. Let’s say your ancestor’s surname was Blyth. In Victorian records spellings were very inconsistent, and the surname may have appeared with our without a final ‘e’. To get around this, try a search of Blyth* and this will bring up all Blyths, with or without the final ‘e’.
Perhaps a first name is causing some difficulty, for the same reason. Helen, for example might be ‘Hellen’, ‘Helen’, ‘Ellen’, ‘Elen’, ‘Elinor’ or ‘Eleanor’. Searching for *el*n* will bring almost all variations of the name up.
What prisons and years have been indexed?
Click here to see the current coverage of our online indexes.
What’s in the index?
Our free online index gives the following information:
Name, Occupation, Residence, Age, Birthplace, Prison and Year of Imprisonment
Our index books give the offence as well as all the information in the online index. This means that for a one-off search it is better to use the free online search and order full transcriptions as needed, but if you run a library or are researching a parish, town, or surname, you may find it is advantageous to purchasing one of our indexes in book form. If you run a library or archive, or are otherwise interested in the material in book format please contact us about our PDF or paper books via email.
What information is in the full transcriptions?
This varies slightly depending on how well the register was filled out and when your ancestor was in prison but click here to see a typical example.
As you can see the full record gives interesting details such as height and eye colour, the sort of information you are unlikely to get anywhere else. It also gives details of where and when the trial was heard, which can be a key to locating further documents about your ancestor’s criminal past.
How can I order a full transcription?
You can either email us, giving the details, or search our online prison index, find the relevant entry, click to view the full record, then click “Add to cart”. You can continue searching on our website until you have added all the items you wish to order, then go back to your PayPal cart and check out.
Can I find out more about the case?
Often it is possible to find out more. When somebody commited a crime quite a number of records were made, much in the same way they are today. Prison registers are useful because they record everyone who passed through the prison, even for one night, and tell you where a trial, if there was one, was held. Often it would have been held at the local Sheriff Court but sometimes, for more serious crimes, it would have been the High Court. For lesser crimes the Justice of the Peace Court or Burgh Court may have tried the case.
Sometimes a prisoner would be transferred to another prison so they could stand trial in another location, which is also noted in the prison register.
All in all, there is usually more information. Please email us and we can give you no- obligation assistance to guide you towards the records you need.
Why is there more than one entry for what seems to be the same crime?
In some instances, you may see two almost identical records, the only difference being the prison. For example, on one entry the prison may be a county jail, such as Jedburgh, and the other a smaller local prison, such as Kelso or Hawick. This would likely indicate that the person has been transferred from the smaller prison to the larger prison. There are various reasons for this, the most common being they would have been have taken to stand trial at the county town where the Sheriff Court sat, as in the case of Jedburgh. Also, when a person was sentenced to a longer prison term they would usually have been transferred to the larger prison.
Who holds the original records?
The original documents are held by the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Can you give me more help?
If you have an obstacle in your family tree and you need some help, contact us directly, explain your problem and we will try to assist. Often with our experience and the resources we have to hand, it is possible to solve your problem in an hour or two. We will look at your problem for about half an hour with no obligation. We will then then tell you if we can solve the problem and how much it will cost you, and it will be up to you to decide if you would like to proceed.