St Erme: two-stage migration

Now hosting one of Truro’s commuter villages, St Erme was a rural parish in the 1800s. Although a mainly farming parish it provides us with a classic example of two-stage migration. This involved moving first to an industrial region of northern England or Wales before then departing overseas. The process of two-stage, or indirect, emigration was commonest in the 1870s, when major economic dislocation meant it was difficult to raise sufficient funds to emigrate. As an alternative, especially if encumbered by children, families would move elsewhere in the UK and build up their savings before setting off for North America or Australasia.

That’s the theory. In fact, our database, now with over 2,300 individuals traced over their first four decades, tells us that of the 31 known to be living in Glamorganshire in south Wales in 1881 only one was overseas in 1891. The proportion was somewhat higher in the north of England. Of the 24 in County Durham in 1881, five were overseas in 1891; of the 25 in Cumbria, two had moved abroad. This is of course a minimum. It’s certain there were several unknown others who have not been traced.

Matilda Mary Duff was the daughter of William, a lead miner, and his wife Mary in the village of Trispen in St Erme. William was away working in 1861 when Mary had to work for local farmers to keep her small family out of the workhouse. By 1871 she was widowed. In that year Matilda was working as a servant on a farm in the parish. It seems Matilda gave birth to an illegitimate daughter at St Erme in 1875. Her whereabouts in 1881 are unclear but she was recorded as marrying Richard Bell in County Durham in 1885. In 1887, Matilda, together with her children, her mother and an older sister arrived in New York. Richard was not with them, presumably having gone on ahead.

Richard and Matilda settled in the coal mining district of Pennsylvania where she died in 1920. However, the family may well have returned temporarily to the UK as a Richard Bell was recorded, married to Mary, living in Auckland in Durham in 1901 and with a daughter born in America. Things are often more complicated than they look.

Trispen and St Erme then – in 1879
Trispen and St Erme now

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