I ONCE read that when a famous actor’s family tree was researched for TV’s Who Do You Think You Are? and was quickly dropped for being too ‘uneventful’. It didn’t get beyond the research stage of the genealogy programme because all they found was a long line of northern labourers.

I expect that would be the case for many of us who are descendants of mill-workers. As far as I’m aware there’s no royal mistress lurking in our family history, or Victorian villain, or Cold War spy, although there was a Clayton among the Cragg Vale Coiners, so maybe there’s hope yet of some notoriety.

Few of us know much of our history beyond our grandparents. There was occasional mention of great-grandparents over the years, but I never knew them so it didn’t mean much. But last Saturday afternoon they haunted me a little as I stood in a village churchyard in the Calder Valley.

My paternal grandma grew up in the village - today it’s a charming des-res with pretty hillside cottages and winding cobbled streets, a Yorkshire in Bloom Gold winner and conservation area. When my grandma lived there in the early 1900s it would’ve been a soot-blackened place dominated by noisy mills, one of which she started work in at the age of 12. She once told me she loathed it and dreaded it every day.

Standing in that little graveyard, where some of my ancestors are buried, I wished she’d told me more about her early life. I don’t suppose I asked. If only she’d known that one afternoon, fittingly on Remembrance weekend, her grandchildren would be reunited in the place she was from, scraping dead leaves and slimy moss from old gravestones and looking for clues to our past.

My siblings and I had met up with our cousins, who were up north to scatter their late parents’ ashes. After fish and chips in the village pub, we headed to the churchyard nearby to try and find family graves. Sadly, like many old cemeteries, it’s overgrown, with some gravestones no longer visible beneath long grass. We managed to find one bearing our grandma’s maiden name; an inscription to a husband and wife who may have been her grandparents. The dates and ages added up anyway. And nearby, buried beneath choking weeds, may have been a gravestone bearing the name of a young mother and baby; her sister who died in childbirth, aged 21, always spoken of with sadness.

It felt quite comforting being there, among old graves, with our cousins. A sentimental journey without saccharine, thanks to the shared sense of humour we inherited from our parents, (“It was a bit like doing the Shake n Vac,” smiled cousin Claire, on her attempt at scattering ashes earlier that day). But it also left me a little melancholic, at losing the people we once took for granted, and with the uneasy acceptance that we’re now the generation that is getting on a bit.

How little, in youth, do we acknowledge those who came before us. As I get older, I feel a need to preserve family stories, maybe for a time when we too are gone. I want to piece together the snippets I heard growing up - the mother who one day walked out on her young family and disappeared forever, my mum’s cousin who secretly became a nun, and my eccentric grandad who kept a printing press in a back-to-back kitchen and bought a cinema with cigarette cards.

My ancestors may or may not have included pioneering Elizabethan explorers, great social reformers, Enigma code-breakers or notorious rogues. But their stories are worth telling nonetheless.