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.

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