Although mostly agricultural today, parts of the dales were surprisingly industrialised in the past and much more densely populated. Many families supported themselves by a combination of farming, lead mining and knitting, alongside a whole host of other trades and community life revolved around church, chapel and pub.
Inside the Swaledale Museum
Visit the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes and the Swaledale Museum in Reeth to get a flavour of life and work in the area. The DCM has a Research Room which is manned by volunteers on Mondays and Wednesdays - click here for full details of their archives. The Swaledale Museum has a large collection of papers on local families and businesses as well as a growing library of local history books and an online photographic collection - click here to read more.
Although some copies are available in the local archives, most records from local churches and chapels have been deposited at the North Yorkshire County Record Office in Northallerton.
For a comprehensive overview of local records and where to find them see the North Riding page on Genuki.
Click here for a map of the core area covered by the Upper Dales Group.
If you are trying to locate a small community or even an individual farm in the dales and have a rough idea where it is, try Bing Maps where you can switch to an Ordnance Survey map view and then zoom in to search manually.
Many local parishes were very large, incorporating several villages and hamlets. Changing legislation over the years had an impact on where couples could legally marry so it's worth looking at a wide variety of records. It's not uncommon, for example, to find a couple marrying in the parish church, then baptising children in Methodist and Congregational chapels but burying them back at the parish church where there was a family plot. An increasing number of local records are on the volunteer led site FreeReg where you can search across several sets of registers over a wide area at once. The Quaker movement was also very strong in the dales at one time - they were exempt from marrying in the parish church and kept separate, but very detailed, records.
From 1838 onwards it is possible to cross check church records with civil ones. A useful site to do this is FreeBMD but the General Register Office (GRO) are running a pilot scheme which enables you to search their records and order PDF copies of certificates online - these are cheaper and quicker than paper copies. Click here for details and to create a GRO account. The GRO site has more details such as mother's maiden name for birth registrations and ages of deceased for deaths but is harder to search.
Many churches, communities and individual group members have their own websites which you may find useful - some of them can be found listed on our Links page.
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