This is Week 26 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is police and other gazettes. This is the last topic in the law and order section of the Beyond the Internet series. Please do join in and write comments or posts on your experience with these records.
This topic may well have more relevance to Australian readers as I don’t know whether this type of record is available to other researchers. Once upon a time these gazettes were only available in the original hard-copy form but some at least have now been indexed. If you are fortunate enough to live in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia or Victoria you can search these online now through Findmypast Australia, the subscription site which is available to search at many family history societies. Some are also available to those with a World Vital Records subscription. Western Australia’s indexes are available through the State Library of Western Australia.
If you’re visiting the relevant archive you may also find it interesting to browse through the originals. It’s also worth checking whether a wider date range is available than is online as is the case with the original Victorian police gazettes.
Why would you want to look at Police Gazettes? This is a good source for all sorts of information as it can include reference to offenders from other states, not just that particular state. This can include not just major crimes but also women/men who’ve deserted their babies and families, men who have not paid their children’s maintenance, victims of crime, and details of thefts from people. Of course if your ancestor or a relative was a police officer you may also find some reference to them in here. However you should be aware that not every criminal event makes an appearance in the gazettes so as always you will need to look at other sources as well. Before the records were indexed I had hoped this might be where I would locate my missing James McSharry and had searched the books around the anticipated years to no avail. The indexes confirmed he did not appear as hoped. Similarly I searched for my husband’s McKenna ancestor in the original hoping to find some reference to her vagrancy but again no joy. With my Kunkel family I find more references not just to those who were police officers making an arrest, but also items like this one:
MURPHY’S CREEK: Stolen from the dwelling of James Kunkel at Fifteen Mile Creek between the 2nd and 5th instant, 1 pair white double blankets, 1 pair single blankets and 1 bluish-coloured counterpane. Value £1 5s. Identifiable O 1536. 20th June 1892.[i]
Or this little snippet which would have rounded out what I knew about my great-great grandparents’ second youngest son who seemed to be going well when he joined the Police but later went off the rails (perhaps because the woman he wanted to marry ended up marrying his brother?) and was dismissed from the Police only a few years before this event. I’ve not seen this entry previously but what a good description it gives of him after he’d been tried for obscene language. How shocked his parents would have been by their black sheep son and his offence, and possibly even the minutiae of his physical appearance as it’s detailed enough to be known only to his nearest and dearest. His Police staff file had provided a general description but without the identifying features.
Thomas Kunkel: wart right thigh, large scar top left shoulder, boil mark and several small scratches small of back; medium build, fresh to sandy sallow complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. Typical of many in the Kunkel family he was a tall man at 6 foot 3.5 inches.[ii]
As you can see, there’s all sort of detail contained in the police gazettes that has the potential to make your family history richer. Of course if you find something in here of relevance you would then search the archive catalogues for what other sources might available within the Police Department files, gaol records, or court documents (petty sessions, civil or criminal courts).
Most people would be aware of the availability of the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes which are available online. These are very useful to find your bankrupt ancestors in the UK which can then lead you onto other records. Those who attended Audrey Collins’ talk last week at the Unlock the Past Expo will have learned what other treats these gazettes have inside their covers.
In Australia I often find any bankrupt ancestors through Trove or by following a trail from other documents. If possible do follow these up because you may be astonished, as I was, by your ancestor’s list of assets to be sold, or learn more about the extent of their poverty.
Over the coming weeks my focus will be on archives of various types. I’m sure you’re thinking that I’ve done nothing but rattle on about archives throughout this series but wait, there’s more to come.
Disclaimer: I received no benefit from Findmypast or World Vital Records in relation to this story.