Saturday, July 14, 2018

Off the Shelf:
Tracing Villains and their Victims

Sometimes, when I pull a book down off a shelf at my home, it's a volume which has been gathering dust for a long, long time. Other times, like today, it's a recent addition to my book-hoarding collection.

I'm not sure exactly how I stumbled upon this book by the prolific Dr. Jonathan Oates, but I suspect I first saw it at the book seller's exhibit during break time at SLIG one year. Or perhaps a fellow blogger mentioned it online. In either case, I put it on my wish list at Amazon, and a certain thoughtful someone in my family decided to make it a Christmas gift.

Fast forward to July, when I began wondering just howand whenI could write up the outrageous story of the international crime spree of my distant cousin, John Syme Hogue, the "yeggman." That's when I remembered the reason that certain book seemed like such a good idea to read.

The book, Tracing Villains and Their Victims, provides a guide to researching one's black sheep ancestors, which is exactly what I intend to pursue in more detail than when I first posted the story of my distant cousin. There is, however, a caveat to the usefulness of this booksomething I hadn't, at first, noticed. Jonathan Oates, the Ealing Borough Archivist and Local History Librarian, happens to specialize in a region far removed from that of the black sheep in my family: London, England.

Despite that drawback, the book still provides many useful resources, not only for England, but in guiding the reader through any legal system related to the British heritage. Thus, my criminal cousin, caught for his deeds in Canada, faced a judicial system, a hundred years ago, much like that of its parent nation, the primary focus of Oates' book.

Not only that, but in other research projectsfor instance, reading the petty court reports for my husband's ancestors in County Kerry, Ireland, or the sentence of "transportation" for another Irish relativeI find the guidance offered in the Oates book to be helpful. The impact of the British legal system reached across the globe. Those now in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as well as the United States can better understand our ancestors' plight at the hands of the British judicial system of the past centuries through the reading of this guide.

The key is understanding the history of the development of that judicial system. That helps us understand what our ancestorsboth law abiding and law-evadingexperienced. As with understanding any type of history, learning the specific details of one given time and place will paint a clearer picture of what our own ancestors expected as day-to-day risks and protections.

Of course, for those notorious ancestors that sometimes pop up in our research, a book such as Oates' can help illuminate the process by guiding us to the documents we seem to crave in our quest to fill in the blanks on these people's lives. In John Syme Hogue's case, once I'm ready to delve into the court proceedings in both Manitoba and Ontario, I'm sure I'll need a handy guide through this internationalto mesystem of law and order.



  1. Now you tell me about the book. wink,wink.
    Just yesterday I posted on our family FB Group the story of our 'skeleton in the closet'. But with 736 newspaper clippings around the country from just the day he was arrested personally by J. Edgar Hoover, I guess he wasn't hard to research. But the funny thing is nobody in my family knew about him until now. (or at lest they weren't saying ;)

    Harry 'Limpy' Campbell - my 2nd cousin 2x removed.

    1. Now, there's a story to pursue, Gayle! You sure have ample resources from the news reporter's angle. And yet, how is it that people in the family don't know? That amazes me, too, with my own story.

      Glad you got the chance to write it up for your family group. You got me curious, too...gonna have to look that one up!

  2. I bet there are many criminals in everyones past, lots of skeletons in the closet we will never know about. My Maternal Grandfather was a Moonshiner:)

    1. Now, that kind of "criminal" is more likely the skeleton many people have in their closet, Far Side. But it's likely some of those stories will come out now, with all the research tools we have at our disposal.


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