I am not familiar with reading prison records. This actual document is typed so it is clear. The date is 14 April 1888 in Dorset.

It seems to me that John Coke ( a son of my ancestor ) was involved in several offences. In 1850 he stole a loaf of bread but here, in 1888 things seem much worse:

Full record

His entry seems linked with one for John Watson. Here is a cropped area for John Coke:

Cropped record

There are three entries there:

  1. 6 Years Penal Servitude, 4th Jan., 1864 (felony), Central Criminal Court, as George Walters.
  2. 10 Years Penal Servitude, 16th Oct., 1871 (felony), Lewes Assizes, as Thomas Nash.
  3. 2 Calendar months, 26th Feb., 1883 (attempt to steal), Central Criminal Ct., as Alfred Steadman.

Is this information telling me that he has served some 16 years already and was using false names? It all sounds very serious to me.

The source:

Surrey, England, Calendar of Prisoners, 1848-1902

enter image description here

  • The column headings at the top of the page should tell you what the entries mean, but I suspect they are indeed prior convictions. The first snippet seems to show that they were being held while the judges considered sentencing, reserving judgement until some subsequent day. Aug 25, 2019 at 20:00
  • @sempaiscuba the column with the convictions had a heading of NAME. Aug 25, 2019 at 22:08
  • In that case, the listed offences are also there to show the aliases used by the accused. Aug 25, 2019 at 22:12
  • Please cite your sources so we can tell which record set(s) your images came from. You are asking people to explain what is going on in the record after you have taken them out of context.
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 26, 2019 at 5:08
  • @JanMurphy I added source Aug 26, 2019 at 5:51

1 Answer 1


A great many records can be generated as a result of a person being accused and tried for a crime. To evaluate these records properly, it helps to find all the records you can that pertain to the crime(s) and study them as a group.

Some guides to help you get started:

When viewing guides at TNA, look on the right-hand side of the page for related guides.

Note particularly that the guide for Criminals and Courts says:

Defendants often gave aliases, so trial records may be held under a different name

TNA will generally have advice about where you can find records online, but be aware that the information is not always up to date. That is, if they cite one online source for a record, it may not be the only site where you can find records online, and a guide may say that records have not been digitized yet when they are already online.

Also note this caution from the Convicts and Criminals guide:

[Y]ou can find much information out about the records from the descriptions in our catalogue. Therefore you may prefer to start with a search of our catalogue.

in my experience many online sites don't give sufficient information to help you in evaluating records. Always check the original repository where the records are held to see if there are finding aids, research guides, and other material that will help you understand the nature of the records. it's important to remember that most of the records we use for genealogy were created for other purposes. Knowing who created the records and the purpose they were created for will help greatly in understanding them.

  • 1
    I checked in oldbaileyonline.org/forms/formMain.jsp and the two Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) trials for "George Walters" and "Alfred Steadman" are there - a little bit more detail, though not much since he appears to have pleaded guilty on those two. TNA Catalogue entry for HO 140, the Home Office Calendar of Prisoners confirms that their calendar includes previous convictions. To what extent Home Office and county Calendars differ, if at all, I don't know.
    – AdrianB38
    Aug 26, 2019 at 16:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.