Visiting the Victorians: nineteenth-century Cornish life-cycles

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.

a screenshot of part of the database

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.

7 thoughts on “Visiting the Victorians: nineteenth-century Cornish life-cycles

  1. What an incredible and wonderful, magical initiative. What hard work, too! Really look forward to more than peering – grabbing the whole lot! Look forward to Warleggan – Advent starts with A so is it going to be alphabetical?


  2. Thank you for your hard work. I see there is a Pascoe on your list. My great grandfather, (possibly Henry) Pascoe- a stone mason, left Cornwall and went on to be a labourer on Nottingham railway station.


    1. If anyone has an ancestor born in 1850 and/or living in Cornwall in 1861 (not always the same thing) do let me know as they have a 50/50 chance of being on the database.


      1. You have listed those in the study from Advent, but will there be a list of those for other parishes available as you add them? At the moment I’m thinking of Altarnun in particular as I may be able to help work out where some of the people in your study moved away to but I have ancestors in many other parishes.


      2. Good question. I was intending to list the names of those we’ve lost, either through deaths or migrations we haven’t found, in the hope someone out there may have something to add (or of course spot errors to correct). Altarnun is actually an exceptional case as there’s only one name not traced through to 1891 and that one was only lost in the 1880s. It’s a different matter for mining parishes such as Camborne, the data from which I’m entering at the moment. As almost two-thirds have not been traced to 1891 there, the list is likely to be quite long. I’ve yet to decide how best to provide this. Maybe in the form of a table for each parish posted as a separate blog as I work through them.


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