Criminal ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2012

Like Gary Lineker, there might be a felon in your family tree. Whether they committed high treason or were caught poaching, this guide by Who Do You Think You Are? lead genealogist Sara Khan tells you how to uncover their lives.

England football legend Gary Lineker delved into the life of his 3x great grandfather James Pratt in his episode. James fell foul of the law in the mid-19th century and was imprisoned on more than one occasion for poaching. He spent the 1840s in and out of Leicester prison due to his criminal behaviour.

However, once Gary learned the reasons for James’s behaviour, he felt great sympathy for his actions. The reason why James was a repeat offender was due to his need to feed his hungry children.

James had eight small children and resorted to any means he could to keep them from starving. Gary was saddened to learn that two of James’s children died before they turned one year old.

We were able to build up the life of James Pratt using extant criminal records held in a variety of places, either online, in The National Archives (TNA) or local record offices.

Websites such as and are placing an increasing amount of criminal records online, although you may still have to visit an archive to obtain some records. Records will be held locally or nationally depending on which court your ancestor was tried in.

Photo: Getty Images

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