What else could Y be for, really? Yorkshire is my home county, but more importantly, it has also been home to many of my ancestors – on nearly every branch I’ve managed to find at least one Yorkshire resident! It shouldn’t be that surprising. Yorkshire is the largest county in England (when all its parts or combined), and so I suppose there’s a good chance that everyone has the odd bit of Yorkshire in them!
The great thing about having Yorkshire ancestors is that there are loads of really useful records, and lots of them are online.
The not so great thing is that it can be utterly baffling trying to wade through so many possible records, particularly if you’re not familiar with the country. The strong Yorkshire streak in my mother’s family was what encouraged me to start with them: I was comfortable with the names and the places. I could spot which were the most likely families based on geography without having to resort to a map every five minutes. One of the most useful resources for those without this knowledge is Genuki’s Where is it in Yorkshire? page. This is absolutely invaluable for identifying the correct parish for your tiny Yorkshire place, and I also find it a very helpful list if you’re struggling with handwriting or transcription errors, as it’s pretty definitive.
Another possible complication for non-Yorkshire folk to get their heads around is the sub-division of the county, which has changed over time. Once upon a time Yorkshire was divided into three ‘ridings’. The term is essentially derived from ‘thirding’, meaning ‘a third part (of a county)’. The three ridings were the North, West and East.
However, modern Yorkshire was formed in 1974 from North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, with the eastern part becoming Humberside.
South Yorkshire was formed mainly out of the southern part of the West Riding, as well as parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Humberside took in parts of the former East and West Ridings as well as places previously in Lincolnshire. However, after the abolishment of Humberside in 1996 a new local government district called the East Riding of Yorkshire was created. This includes most but not all of the old East Riding.
Other parts of the former West Riding became part of North Yorkshire, Lancashire and even Cumbria, leaving West Yorkshire now a much smaller area than the old West Riding, while the North Riding lost some of its territory to County Durham and Cleveland in the north.
Effectively, it is only the last six years that one can accurately refer to North, South East (riding of) and West Yorkshire! There is a useful map roughly showing how the old and new boundaries compare here.
What is so wonderful about Yorkshire as a country is the variety you can get in such a (relatively) small area. You have vast hills and moorland, particularly to the north and west, while in the south and east the landscape is generally gentler, stunning coastline which is made up of both rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, and you have vibrant metropolitan cities like Leeds contrasting with beautiful historic towns like York and the spa town of Harrogate.
Yorkshire was also historically home to a vast variety of industry and commerce. Agriculture dominated the rural north, while to the west there were coalfields but also centres for trade in textiles of all kinds. Fishing, unsurprisingly, dominated the coastal region, and Sheffield in the south was renowned for the steel industry. Much of the confectionery industry also developed here, and one West Yorkshire area was known as the Rhubarb Triangle! Of course, it is this variety that led to its attracting people from all over the country – my ancestors moved from South Wales to Yorkshire for the mines and from Lincolnshire to the steel trade in Sheffield, as well as to work on the railway, which of course was tied in with this explosion of industrial activity.
I could write on and on about the history, dialect and culture of Yorkshire, and I have already touched on it in a few other posts (ive given them all a Yorkshire label, so click on Yorkshire at the bottom to find out more). If you do want to read a bit of general background, I would recommend the Wikipedia page, which gives a good overview. As you can probably tell, I’m really quite passionate about my home county! I think it’s impossible to come from Yorkshire and not be though – it’s testament to the character of both people and place that Yorkshire as a whole continues to be recognised despite all the divisions and name changes that have taken place in its history, and despite the vast differences in the landscapes and economies.