The Cornish Victorian lives project

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?

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 well 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. The family histories uncovered or implied from the decennial snapshots provide 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 I work though the database entry I’m writing at least one short blog about each parish. There may be a few more for the bigger ones. These will include some examples of life courses from the database. Join me on a journey that will uncover some of the lives of our Victorian predecessors and find out how you might be able to help here.

2 thoughts on “The Cornish Victorian lives project

  1. Hi, my great g/f William Jeffery born 23 Aug 1845 became a tin miner had 8 children married Susan Grace Bawden in Menheniot on 27 Aug 1885. He died 17 Mar 1886 in Menheniot at age 40 of miners lung. Buried in Lanteglos. I would like to know whereabouts the miners cottages were at that time, and which mine did he mine in. I can give you the names of all of his children too.


    1. Presumably William was married twice or had a lot of illegitimate children if he was only married to Susan for less than a year! You could probably locoate the cottages of the 1880s fairly easily by using the first edition of the OS 25 inch map – freely accessible at – together with the census enumerators books for 1881, assuming the addresses in the latter are sufficiently detailed and then comparing it with a modern map or google earth to see what the current housing looks like. Identifying which of Menheniot’s mines (they were lead mines not tin) your ancestor worked in is much more difficult if not well-nigh impossible and would involve hours of checking through any surviving cost books of mines in the area. Even then not all the miners are listed, just the leaders of the pares that agreed the contract. Puzzling that William died in Menheniot yet was buried in Lanteglos. Neither of the two Lantegloses are very near Menheniot and neither are mining parishes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.