When I started my family history quest, I never dreamed I would be able to get as far back as I have. But, due to a bit of determined persistence (something I suspect all successful family historians possess), I got past a particularly stubborn obstacle, and then got lucky with a complete set of parish records and ancestors that stayed put.
Generation upon generation of my ancestors lived in Mirfield, perhaps best known now for being the childhood home of actor Sir Patrick Stewart. Unfortunately, the West Yorkshire town is also known, at least in the history books, for having lost many of its inhabitants from the bubonic plague in 1631.
Back then, my tenth great grandparents - Thomas and Alice Barker, and William and Mary Swindin, were living in Mirfield, quite possibly earning their living from the town's already flourishing woollen industry, or maybe off the land. It is hard to imagine the helplessness and terror they must have felt on hearing that the Black Death had reached the town.
The records from St Mary's Church, Mirfield, clearly show when this was. April 1631: "Buried - a poor woman being a stranger named Elizabeth Prince xxvth day which was suspected to bring playge to towne."
Eighteen days later, the records read: "Buried - Jenet Fraunce Widdow the xiiith day beinge the first pson after the foresayd stranger wch died of playge. The number of those yet died of the fearefull visitacon from which good Lorde deliu'vs , is centu' et triginta." One hundred and thirty people dead, at least 49 families directly affected, in just three months. Three months of wondering if you and your family would be next. Of having to try and live a normal life, while walking past houses stricken with the deadly disease. Of having to see friends unceremoniously buried in communal pits. It defies description.
Yet my tenth great grandparents, Thomas and Alice, William and Mary, lived through it. They managed to keep their families safe and well, and so I am glad that I have had the opportunity to help keep the memory of them and their struggle alive.