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The Old Bailey Proceedings

Finding actual accounts of your ancestor's trial, if he came from London or Middlesex can now be a lot easier thanks to computers!

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Susan Bogan
Word Count: 491 (approx.)
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On finding that you have ancestors with criminal histories, whether be a convict who was transported across the seas to The British Colonies or sent for trial for other less serious crimes, the first thing you will be wanting to do is find their trial records. That actually can be rather more difficult than it seems. Some trial records just don't exist anymore. If they were convicted out of London, then the best place to look is in the county archives. However if your ancestor came from London or Middlesex, the Old Bailey Proceedings can be more informative than the trial records themselves.

So what are The Old Bailey Proceedings? The Proceedings are actual journalistic accounts of what happened in the court case, they were aimed as a media source. Journalists made detailed reports of the trials purely for publication. They have been deemed to be quite accurate, as they had to be , for the main reason that the Old Bailey was a courthouse open to the public spectator, and the fact that they were so reliable added to their popularity and their marketing point.

The unique newspaper-like reportings for the Old Bailey Courthouse in London are now online, free. Searchable by ancestors name, it gives interesting details of trial accounts, worth of a peruse, whether you have forebearers with a colourful past or not. Plus almost a complete set of the published Proceedings, are held at the Guildhall Library in London.

The published "Proceedings" are more or less uncumbered by legal jargon, which can be lengthy and dull, as the publishers obviously sought to make the accounts of the trials entertaining, amusing, and easily readable.

It wasn't possible to cover every trial, and each trial varies in how much is reported. It goes on to follow that the more gripping a trial, e.g murder, the more likely it is to be a larger report. Equally, the smaller, less run-of-the-mill type crimes, being less interesting, are covered sometimes by just a few lines.

The trials consisted of Prosecution, with the charges stated; this is normally reported in a shorter version than in the trial to save space in the publication. The Defence, is equally summarised quite often, unless it was a high profile case. However the Witness statements giving evidence, seem to be this publication's forte, making the contents of the trial come alive. It is the generally most reported part of the trial.

Some trials are rich in detail and can contain not only the three mentioned above but also legal arguments, the judges summing up, sentencing and the punishment. The searchable website, "The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1834" can be accessed at www.oldbaileyonline.org.

The site is very simple to use and as all the words in the whole Proceedings have been separately indexed; keyword searching is specifics you can search by crime location, where defendant lived, etc., so gives a wide range of searches. Use of wild cards can expand the search.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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