For a good while, we’ve known quite a lot about the dominant two lines in my family tree, the people who produced my mother. One half has lived in Wallasey, on the Wirral, across the River Mersey from Liverpool, for centuries. They have four-hundred-year-old headstones in the churchyard. The other half came from Ireland, where many of them were seamen of various types, until they migrated to Liverpool and mostly continued their association with the sea.
The genealogical work one of our daughters and I have been doing recently has been to find my father’s line. He was orphaned before he married my mother, and he died young, so his family history has been quite a mystery. All we knew was that they came from Hull, a fishing town on England’s east coast.
Earlier this year we traced half of the Hull line to 18th century Chelsea, where they were house painters, and the other half to Carlisle, in Cumbria, NW England, where they all worked in the cotton industry. Some evocative job names in the censuses.
Then, in the mid-1860s, they (the working generation) left their aged ones in Carlisle and moved to Bradford for a generation, and then the next generation moved on farther east to settle in Hull, where they presumably used transferrable skills to become rope makers, etc. rather than cotton spinners, etc. Plus some fishermen, obvs. And a blacksmith.
Anyway, I’ve been wondering what triggered that first migration, and today I found it. The cotton famine of 1861-6. I vaguely remember the name of it, from Industrial Revolution history lessons at school, probably, but none of the details. So this morning I read up on it.
When the cotton industry people of NW England, mill owners and workers, declared their support for slavery abolitionists in the southern states of America, cotton growers in those states responded by placing an embargo. Other regions, mainly Yorkshire, imported cotton from India as well as America, but in difficult times the American embargo proved to be the final straw that killed the industry in NW England. No cotton, no industry.
I can now visualise my people walking away from their homes and everything they knew in Carlisle to find work in Bradford, Yorkshire, when the mills in their towns died. Sad. But a definite answer to my question.