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A ticket-of-leave from the Society of Australian Genealogist's index


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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 convicts.

This web page describes sources containing information about customs and excise officers. Many thanks to Christine Douglas for bringing this to my attention.

Internet resources

The following pages are specific to convicts transported from the British mainland.

Convicts to Australia

This comprehensive "guide to researching your convict ancestors" is probably the best place to start. It has a useful list of online resources.

The Old Bailey

This site from Britain's central and historic criminal court has a brief introduction to transportation:
Of more interest to those seeking their smuggling ancestors is a searchable database of 100,000 criminal trials
Smuggling is not listed as a specific offence (it instead appears under "tax offences") but a keyword search details 225 trials in which smuggling is mentioned.

Convicts and British colonies in Australia

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.

Australian Convict Index 1788-1868

This searchable database from lists 48,000 names – nearly a third of all those transported. Registration required, though searching is free.

Ticket of Leave index

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)

Tasmanian Name Indexes

The Archives office of Tasmania maintains indexes of all convicts transported to Van Diemen's Land, and their applications to marry.

New South Wales Convicts

Indexes from the NSW Archives and Records Management Authority list Certificates of Freedom; convicts' bank accounts; pardons; exemptions from labours and other documents.

Australian links

Cora Num's list of web sites for Australian genealogists is comprehensive.

Australian mailing lists

A long list of lists from Search for "convicts"