Today sees the launch of the new West Yorkshire parish collection at Ancestry.co.uk. Parish records are a key resource for anyone wishing to trace their ancestors prior to the introduction of civil registration in 1837 and can help bridge important gaps in our ancestry. They are a mine of information for the family historian and often provide information to whet the appetite for further research.
The West Yorkshire parish registers provide over 500 years of history and not only provide information about your ancestors but also contain a wealth of information about the people of West Yorkshire from artists to engineers, soldiers to politicians, and novelists to brewers!
For example you can find records relating to Percy Shaw, the creator of the cat’s eye; Barbara Hepworth whose work is on display in Wakefield’s new art gallery; Sir Thomas Fairfax, a native of Otley and parliamentary Civil War General; Charlotte Bronte and her siblings; and Harry Ramsden the ‘Codfather’ of the fish and chip business!
These records not only help to fill the gaps in your family tree but also give details of the society they were living in, adding to the story of their lives. If you delve further you can find references to murder, flood, fire, excessive weather, plague and disaster.
Registers for Leeds, Wakefield and Pontefract all contain evidence of the English Civil War. There are references to the Battle of Marsden Moor, the siege of Pontefract Castle and the burials of soldiers in Leeds and Wakefield following battles for control of those cities.
Just two years later bubonic plague hit Leeds in 1645. The first cases were discovered in Vicar Lane and quickly spread throughout the town. Within a matter of weeks 1,325 people had died – an estimated one third of the entire town’s population. The records released today include the tallies kept of plague victims and record the closing of churches to burials and services due to this catastrophic event.
Later records show West Yorkshire involvement in the rise of the Luddite movement, which began in 1811 in Nottinghamshire and quickly spread to West Yorkshire and took hold amongst the working populations in Leeds, Huddersfield and Wakefield.
The Luddites rejected the advance of technology which they felt threatened skilled craftsmen’s way of life. Mills were often attacked or destroyed by organised Luddite forces. The burial records list a number of people who were executed for leading Luddite forces, including John Ogden, who was hung for his attack on a mill in Huddersfield in 1812, during which the mill owner was murdered.
Also recorded are the ordinary men and women who died doing their job whether it was building the railway near Harewood or working in the coal mines that covered the whole of West Yorkshire as embodied by the 110 men buried at Thornhill parish church after the pit disaster in 1893.
The records give a wonderful series of snapshots of life in West Yorkshire over the last 500 years and are of great value whether you wish to fill gaps on your family tree or discover more about the world in which your ancestors lived – and the good and the bad of West Yorkshire history!
Posted on behalf of Catherine Taylor of the West Yorkshire Archive Service
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