Some years ago I started to research my family history. I'm not sure why – probably too much time spent watching 'Who Do You Think You are?'. And I'm not sure what I thought I'd find, although I didn't expect any big surprises – no connections to aristocratic families, great inventors or infamous criminals. In this I was not disappointed – my family are North Country working class as far back as I have managed to get. Which, in the case of my paternal grandmother's family (’the Yorkshire branch') is 9 generations, back to the late 17th century,to my 7 times great grandfather Robert. (Parish records of the time are much better for tracing men than women: wives, if they are mentioned at all, are often not named.)
I don't know anything about Robert's occupation, but the next five generations all worked with textiles, as tailors or wool dealers.
Most of my other ancestors came from South Lancashire, so no surprise that many of them worked in the cotton industry, mostly in spinning mills. Then there is a hatter, and several dressmakers: it seems to be what my foremothers did when they were widowed – or, in the case of the wife of the hatter, when her husband became 'incapable', in the words of the 1871 census. Presumably he was 'mad as a hatter'.
So what has all this to do with 'footsteps'? Well, as someone who works with textiles, albeit from choice rather than necessity, I feel a strong connection with all these textile workers amongst my ancestors. When I pick up fabrics and thread, or a ball of wool, I feel I am following in their footsteps – although I think they might be a little surprised at what I do with them.