In the 1800s why did some of our ancestors decide to leave for overseas and others go to places in the British Isles? Why did some stay put? How much was movement determined by factors such as occupation, gender, place of birth or upbringing? (For an overall summary of Cornish migration see the article below.)
These were some of the questions that prompted a long-term research project that I initiated back in the 2000s. The original idea was to track everyone who was aged 11 in Cornwall in the census of 1861. I soon discovered that it would take too long to do this so it became a 50 per cent sample. Every other 11-year old in 1861 was traced through the census and civil registration data from birth to 1891 or time of death if earlier. That still left over 4,000 individuals.
The basic data collection was completed just before the pandemic hit. I’m now entering it into a database alphabetically by parish. What I intend to do is use some of the family histories uncovered or implied from the decennial snapshots as a window onto the lives of our great-great or great-great-great grandparents. This was a generation that grew up in the boom years of the 1850s and early 1860s but then had to negotiate the economic slumps that occurred with grim regularity from the later 1860s to the mid-1890s. This was also a time when emigration gathered pace and when the population of Cornwall began to shrink, a decline that lasted until the 1960s.
As we travel through the parishes of Cornwall you may well be able to help me fill in some of the many gaps in the research data (or correct some of the inevitable errors). But more on that later. A blog on the first parish – Advent – plus an illustrative life-history will be here soon. We may not be able to escape the travails of the present by using a time machine but you’re welcome to peer over my shoulder as I complete the database. Join me on a journey that will uncover some of the lives of our Victorian predecessors.