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September 18, 2017

Was Your Ancestor in Debtor's Prison?

Here is another database I stumbled on for Yorkshire England. It is the website for York Castle which housed a debtor's prison. There is a brief history of the prison, the environment of the prison, a few prisoner biographies, and a few turnkey (guard) biographies.

By going to York Castle Family History Section you can search for an ancestor who was in the prison, either for debt or for criminal actions. Not all prisoners are listed as the database currently has prisoners from the 18th Century. I'm looking for William Elgie who I know was there in 1818 so am out of luck this time but it's a fascinating database with over 5000 names!

There is a very nice factsheet for tips on how to track down any missing prisoners and I am planning to use it find more on William if possible. I was able to find that York Castle Museum holds miscellaneous records from York Castle prison, including "Notebook with notes on various prisoners in York Castle, extracted from 1803-1868".  Next step is to write to them and ask how/if I can access these records.


Kae Elgie said...

I'm curious to know more about this, and especially more about my ancestor William Elgie's bankruptcy and time in debtor's prison. Can you share your information sources with me? My email is kaeelgie [at]
I learned of your blog from Mary Anne Connell. I am writing a book about the Elgies' Fairview Farm (at Dawn Mills, near Chatham Ontario). Debtor William Elgie's son George was the first Elgie to own that farm.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Hi Kae

If you go to my article at you will find the source citations and a link to the online index to the debtor prison records I found for William

Kae Elgie said...

Thanks so much, very helpful. Now I am wondering why he (and the other William Elgie I read about in the comments on that blogpost) were in debtors' prison. What was going on, economically? Time to do some background research....