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The prison records for Scotland are available in the National Archives of Scotland. Are there alternative online sources for some of these? (I'm in Australia, so tripping to Edinburgh isn't an option any time soon.) I'm specifically interested in the Prison of Stranraer around 1850.

The context is that my great-great-granduncle, James McIntyre, was listed as a prisoner there in the 1851 Scotland Census, aged 22. It's definitely him: there were no other James McIntyres born in Kirkcolm around the same time as he was. The juicy element of this is that he grew up to be a highly successful sea captain in Australia, and with his brother Andrew, owned several ships. Neither he nor Andrew ever married, and their wealth passed to their nieces, including my great-grandmother. As a result, the family was quite well-off in that generation.

So I'm dying to know what he was in prison for, and how he turned his life around after that. It might explain why they came to Australia in the first place.

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3 Answers

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Prisoners generally appeared in court before being held on remand (i.e. until their trial), for trial procedings and potentially for appeal procedings. In order of ascending authority the Scottish criminal courts were: District Court, Sheriff Court, High Court of Justiciary. The court records will indicate the offence, outcome of trial and sentence if convicted which are details that might not be in the prison records.

The Stranraer Sheriff Court Records (SC18) and High Court of Justiciary records are at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS). The high court records are partly catalogued, available online. Search results for James McIntyre include the 1842 precognition (AD14/42/184) and trial papers (JC26/1842/445). Although this is too early to be your James, it is an example of the type of records created by the courts.

As NAS holds the records most pertinent to your question, have you considered hiring an Edinburgh based researcher?

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An alternative to prison records might be newspaper reports -- these can often be more informative in their way than the official court or prison records. The British Newspaper Archives are online and increasing coverage regularly.

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Thanks, that's a great suggestion! The Wigtown Free Press is the local paper. I'll see if court reports are in that archive. –  Verbeia Jan 15 '13 at 10:33
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It looks as though you may be out of luck. GenUKI (Genealogy UK and Ireland) is an excellent starting point when searching for what information records might be available about a location.

The list of prison records for Stranraer Parish indicates that some records are held at the Stranraer Museum but their holdings look to have a gap from 1840-52 which reduces its value for your McIntyre search.

Of course, if he was serving a long sentence, the post-1853 records may be useful. Otherwise, you may need to rely on other sources such as newspapers. You can get access to The British Newspaper Archives through some Australian libraries (check http://www.nla.gov.au/app/eresources/item/4310)

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