Tracing your smuggling ancestors
Descendants of smugglers and customs officers frequently contact me for
advice about tracing their ancestors. I cannot provide any specific information,
but the following guide is a useful starting point for research.
The National Archives
Based at Kew in West London, Britain's national archives
has 9.5 million accessible documents, including the conviction and sentencing
records of many transported smugglers. Most are held in paper or microfilm
form, and access is time-consuming: you can order only three documents
at a time, and may have to wait 40 minutes for them to be delivered.
This web page introduces the topic of transportation, and provides useful pointers to tracing convicts through the National Archives.
You'll also find here details of published sources on transported
This web page describes sources containing information about customs and excise officers. Many thanks to Christine Douglas for bringing this to my attention.
The following pages are specific to convicts transported
from the British mainland.
This comprehensive "guide to researching your convict
ancestors" is probably the best place to start. It has a useful list
of online resources.
This site from Britain's central and historic criminal court
has a brief introduction to transportation:
Focusing on convict life and the penal colonies, this site from the Australian government's culture and recreation portal also has a list of useful links.
This searchable database from Ancestry.com lists 48,000 names
– nearly a third of all those transported. Registration required,
though searching is free.
Convicts who behaved themselves qualified for a "ticket
of leave" which enabled them to buy land and to work freely before
their sentence had expired.
The Society of Australian Genealogists provides free searches of ticket of leave butts from 1810-1875. There is a charge for a copy of the original butt, which in addition to a prisoner's name, trade, date and place of birth, sometimes also lists trial and conviction details, transport ship and date of arrival, and physical features. (Temporarily unavailable at February 2012)
The Archives office of Tasmania maintains indexes of all
convicts transported to Van Diemen's Land, and their applications to marry.
Indexes from the NSW Archives and Records Management Authority
list Certificates of Freedom; convicts' bank accounts; pardons; exemptions
from labours and other documents.
Cora Num's list of web sites for Australian genealogists is comprehensive.
A long list of lists from Rootsweb.com.
Search for "convicts"