Police ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

Whether your ancestor was an Inspector or a Constable, there are lots of ways to get started with some detective work of your own, says Jenny Thomas.

As Jeremy Irons discovered through the experiences of his great great grandfather, Thomas Irons, the police force in days gone by was not necessarily the disciplined, law-abiding, respectable body that we take for granted today. The study of its history can be fascinating, and for those of us lucky enough to find an ancestor in the police, we have a gateway into an important area of our social, political and legal history.

In genealogical terms, the police force is a relatively recent phenomenon: Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police force in 1829 (hence the popular early names for policemen – Bobbies and Peelers), and local police forces gradually sprung up around the country.

In the early days of the Metropolitan Police force, policemen were expected to wear their uniforms at all times, even when they were off duty, and were equipped with reinforced helmets so that they could stand on them to spy over walls.

Their beat was almost always their home neighbourhood, which contributed to their substantial unpopularity: some even wore anti-garrotting collars! It was a hard life physically and emotionally, but an interesting one for you to research. Here are some ideas as to how you might find out more about your own ancestors in the police.

Photo © Getty Images

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