Trace your criminal ancestors: Scottish prison register entries reach 500,000 mark

28 November 2023
Scottish Indexes have announced the release of 180,000 new records, a major milestone in their prison register indexing project, as the collection reaches half a million records from 38 Scottish prisons.

These records are vital to exploring the stories behind our family history as well as overcoming brick walls to our research. Emma Maxwell, genealogist at Scottish Indexes, says “The census is a snapshot in time, but what happened to our ancestors on all the other days? Prison records can be a key to discovering more. For example, we may find a description of our ancestor’s tattoos or scars.” 

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What information do the records contain?

Genealogist Graham Maxwell says “The key information given in a prison register to identify the inmate is now very useful for our research projects. While the census may give a place of birthplace of ‘Ireland’ or ‘ England’ a prison register may give us the specific county or parish. If our ancestor died before 1851 the birthplace and age could be the vital clues we need.” 

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Aliases and alternative surnames are given in the prison register. It could be that someone used a name to try to avoid the law but we also see multiple surnames recorded for other people. Married women usually have their maiden and married surnames included. Inmates who were illegitimate may be recorded under their biological father's name as well as their mother’s surname. 

Explore the records at Scottish Indexes.