If there is a record of your early 20th century relatives serving in the police, don’t miss the accounts from 1902-1909 of Frederick Wensley [below]. A British police officer from 1888-1929, he was head of ‘H’ Division in the East End of London before becoming chief constable at Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Department. If you want to know what the job of a detective in Edwardian London was like, read Fred Wensley’s notebooks. When he retired in 1929, Wensley told his story including serialisations of his major cases in the Sunday Express in 1930. He also wrote his own memoir in 1931, Detective Days, retitled 40 Years of Scotland Yard [below] for publication in New York. While serving in Whitechapel, Wensley was involved in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders, a still unidentified serial killer in East London in 1888. The Ripper’s victims were women, female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End [see the map below]. Their throats were cut and their bodies mutilated. The Ripper case aside, Wensley’s notebooks are probably most valuable for the glimpse they give of life before the Great War. Crimes mentioned include murder, housebreaking, theft, running an illegal gaming house, stealing alcohol, street-betting and safe-breaking and the arrests of notorious East End gangsters.
Find Fred Wensley’s notebooks in The Wensley Family Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute. It contains two scrapbooks of cuttings and photos from Wensley’s career detailing all the cases he was involved in, plus diaries, certificates and photographs. In addition there are substantial records about his family, including correspondence and memorabilia. The library and archive at the Bishopsgate Institute [below] holds 100,000 books and pamphlets, maps, trade directories, oral histories and guidebooks about London. There is also a substantial archive about protest and campaigning, socialism, the co-operative movement and LGBTQ history.
If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.
This post is inspired by an article in the February 2018 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here.
Don’t know where to start investigating your own family history? Try this:-
‘Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook’ by Dan Waddell [UK: BBC Books]