Place in focus, Yorkshire

Place in focus, Yorkshire

From fishing and farming to the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, Yorkshire offers a rich history to discover, as Rachel Bellerby explains

Place in Focus, Discover Your Ancestors

Place in Focus

Discover Your Ancestors

Working the land
Most of us have at least one or two ancestors who worked the land

If you have Yorkshire ancestors you can look forward to finding out more about what life was like in one of the UK’s most diverse counties. Yorkshire has a spectacular range of scenery, from tiny mill villages to windswept moorland. Whether your ancestors worked the land, played their part in the textile trade or made a living from the North Sea, it’ll be possible for you to find out what their lives were like, either by visiting some of the places they would have known, or by bringing the past to life through some of the hundreds of exciting archives, libraries and websites which cover the history of the county and its inhabitants.

Over the centuries, Yorkshire has produced some illustrious men and women, including the Brontë sisters, Captain Cook and Thomas Chippendale. While most of us can’t claim such famous forebears, the lives of our own ancestors are often equally as fascinating. Through Yorkshire’s historic visitor destinations such as the Saltaire Mill Village or the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, it’s possible to learn about the home and work lives of our ancestors and about the people, places and events which would have influenced them. Often, national events affected our ancestors directly – for example, the 1847 Factory Act meant that the working lives of women and children were cut and people who had worked for sixteen hours at a stretch found their maximum working day reduced to ten hours.

Lister’s Mill in Bradford
Local legend has it that the top of the chimney of Lister’s Mill in Bradford, built in 1873, is so wide that a horse and carriage could be ridden around it
York is home to some of the region’s finest museums and archives

To immerse yourself fully into the world of your ancestors, nothing could be more engrossing than finding out about the history of the area in which they lived. Yorkshire has a strong cultural identity and finding out about the customs and traditions of an area will help you to understand what life was like in that community. Each region of the county has its own unique identity. South Yorkshire folk were proud of their carol singing traditions. West Yorkshire had its mill legends, such as the old folk tale of Victorian entrepreneur Samuel Lister toasting the completion of Lister’s Mill with a glass of champagne atop his mill chimney, surveying the rooftops and chimneys of Bradford. The fishing communities of East Yorkshire often clung to superstitions which supposedly kept their men safe at sea; while North Yorkshire’s traditions include the ancient Long Sword Dance, performed on Plough Monday.

The Jowett cars
The Jowett cars 'Wait’ and 'See’ outside Jowett’s car factory, Idle, in the early 1920s. Jowetts were one of the country’s main car makers and a big employer in Yorkshire
oung factory workers
Young factory workers benefited from the provisions of the 1847 Factory Act

Yorkshire has been home to many industries over the years and a wide range of goods were produced in Yorkshire factories, from Sheffield’s furnace-hot steelworks, to Bradford’s textile mills. Many were exported across the globe and, in turn, thousands of people from across England and further afield were drawn to Yorkshire in search of work.

Among the hundreds of different industries which have employed our ancestors, there are a number which have been particularly popular in Yorkshire. Jobs were sought in textiles, farming, metalworking and fishing especially. All of these trades have left a range of documents which you can use to trace your own ancestors through the county’s libraries and archives. One of the best places to start finding out about your ancestors’ lives is the local studies library of the town or village closest to where they lived. A local studies library is a great place to start your family history research, as you’re welcome to browse, and don’t need to know exactly what you’re looking for. Most libraries hold old maps, (so you can see how your ancestor’s home town changed over time), trade directories (to plot an ancestor’s career over time or see what businesses existed in an area), and often a card index of local newspaper articles (great for seeing if an ancestor’s marriage, military service or obituary is listed).

textile workers
Yorkshire attracted textile workers from across England

The Registry of Deeds, which holds millions of property records, and the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research are two specialist archives where you carry out more detailed research once you’ve gathered your initial findings from birth, marriage and death certificates, and censuses.

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The beauty of family history research is that your early research may evolve into a lifelong interest in Yorkshire people and places. Wherever your search takes you, enjoy the experience of living the past – tracing our forebears is so much more than simply drawing up a family tree. Our ancestors lived intriguing lives in a world so different to our own and it’s always a pleasure to delve into their past.

Undercliffe Cemetery
Evidence of the lives of your ancestors can be found in cemeteries across the county, such as the stunning Undercliffe Cemetery, built on a hill overlooking Bradford

Timeline: Yorkshire

Yorkshire-born Guy Fawkes is executed after the failed Gunpowder Plot.
The English Civil War ends after a decade of battles across England.
Crucible steel is invented, creating a new industry in Sheffield.
Yorkshire’s first railway station opens at Selby.
The Factory Act reduces women and children’s working hours to ten per day.
Titus Salt establishes his Victorian model village for textile workers.
The Education Act introduces compulsory schooling for children.

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