Criminal Records

Instructor: Michelle Bates
Dates offered: 19 April, 26 April, 3 May, and 10 May (Wednesdays)
Time: 3:00-6:00 pm PT, 6:00-9:00 pm ET
Cost: $300
Registration: 18-24 January 2023

Watch Michelle talk about her class!

This hands-on course will cover the methodology of criminal records, exploring at the federal,
state, county, and local levels. Students will learn how to use these records to fill gaps and find
answers about ancestors who found themselves in trouble with the law. During the course,
students will navigate through the process from searching newspapers, finding arrest records,
court proceedings, and prison records. Students will have the opportunity in class to apply new
skills and homework to complete a criminal ancestor profile which students will present at the
end of the course.
By the end of the course, students will know how to identify whether a crime was at the local,
state, or federal level, search digital newspapers for clues, navigate to the appropriate record
set(s) for research, who to contact if records are not available online, and how to determine if
records still exist (or ever existed).


  • Intermediate research skills

Required subscriptions/reading

  • Ancestry paid subscription: All Access with access (Extras for Newspapers preferred)
  • FamilySearch Account (free)
  • Access to a PC/Mac to perform research and work on presentations
  • Zoom app (free) to access the course

Class Objectives

  1. Provide students the fundamentals of researching criminal records.
  2. Provide students an understanding of criminal jurisdictions and how to determine what
    level a criminal case was handled under by authorities.
  3. Provide students with knowledge and hands-on experience finding criminal records,
    including but not limited to prison and court records, and how to request records not
    available online.
  4. Provide students with knowledge and hands-on experience finding newspapers,
    researching newspapers, and dissecting the clipping for pertinent information.
  5. Provide students with knowledge of legal jargon and statute/law changes for the
    different time periods.
  6. Provide students with the tools to put research results into a tellable story of their
    criminal ancestor.

Session 1:

  • Criminal Records & Resources
  • Newspapers: Searching for Details

Session 2:

  • Prison Records
  • Court Record Research: Finding the Records

Session 3:

  • Understanding Legal Jargon and the Law
  • Other Records for Finding & Validating Criminals

Session 4:

  • What’s Next?
  • Student Presentations
  • Final Discussion