RESEARCH across three countries has led the Spanish descendent of a renowned Wharfedale family to uncover more about the people who left much to the local community.

Maria Roqueta Clark, of Seva, near Barcelona, set out to trace the origins of her great-grandfather’s family, and discovered the family’s own legacy to the town of Ilkley.

While researching the history of the Clarke family – the letter ‘e’ was dropped in Spain to avoid incorrect pronunciation – she was amazed to come across two family names in the name of Ilkley’s own Clarke Foley Centre.

Staff at the centre were even more surprised when Maria and her husband arrived at the Cunliffe Road community centre, complete with copies of historical records proving her family ties.

The Clarke Foley Centre was built, and other local causes were also established, from the fortunes of one-time Ilkley resident James Clarke and his sister, Sarah Foley.

As Maria’s research has proved, however, their older brother, Michael, went to start a family in Spain, before eventually going to America, where he sadly disappeared in the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Michael Clarke was Maria’s great-grandfather.

Maria, 58, says she began researching her family history after her retirement, and the trail of great-grandfather, Michael Clarke, led her to Ilkley. She has searched through archives in Spain, the United States and UK census records to learn abut her ancestors.

The Clarke family, later to be a significant name in the history of Ilkley, came from Ireland. Michael himself was born in Ireland, and moved with his parents, Martin and Bridget, to Bradford in the late 1800s, and the family later moved to Addingham, where other children, including James and Sarah, were born.

Maria’s research shows that Michael moved to Barcelona as a mill overseer in around 1890, where he met Maria Font Corbatera.

The couple married in 1893. Maria remembers a family anecdote that the wedding was held up awaiting confirmation from a clergyman back in Yorkshire that Michael was a Catholic – the Spanish community assumed that because he grew up in England, Michael would be a Protestant.

She found a record of this in the Bishop of Barcelona’s archives, and had made contact with a retired priest in Ilkley to find out more about the talks that went on to allow the marriage.

The couple had a son, Charles Clark Font, Maria’s grandfather, in 1897.

The trail did not stop in Ilkley. A trip to New York also enabled Maria to find out more about the Clarke family’s fortunes in the USA, to which Michael moved on business.

She studied records from Ellis Island, documenting the millions of immigrants arriving in the USA, and discovered Michael’s name.

He moved to San Francisco in 1903, three years before the disaster in which he disappeared.

Other members of the Clarke family later moved to the USA too, but apparently they also paid a visit to Michael’s family in Spain.

Maria said: “My mother, Maria Clarke, the only daughter of Charles Clarke, used to explain to me that in 1936 just before the start of the Spanish Civil War, two ladies were visiting her and her family and presented themselves as their Clarke aunts offering the possibility to move to England or the USA.

“ I have found that both Catherine (Kate) and Agnes Clarke were travelling through Europe at that time.

“To our surprise at that point of the story, we found the Clarke Foley Centre, which has the names of two of Michael Clarke’s siblings (James Clarke and Sarah Foley maiden name: Clarke). Sarah and James were born in Addingham in 1884 and 1889 respectively.”

“There is another member of the family, Miss Agnes Clarke, who visited the area several times during the 30s and later on.”

In her visit to Ilkley last week, Maria and her husband laid flowers at a family grave in Ilkley Cemetery, and went to see a house on Leeds Road, where they discovered members of the Clarke family once lived.