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Researching Your Cornish Roots

If you have Cornish ancestors, then you will be able to feel most fortunate and most frustrated.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Crossing the ocean to research your ancestors is often difficult. Great Britain is often the first place that people start. In Great Britain, it helps to know if your ancestors are from a certain area. If you have Cornish ancestors, then you will be able to feel most fortunate and most frustrated. Fortunate because there is a wealth of genealogical information available for your Cornish ancestors. Frustrated because so many of the names in Cornwall are the same, and until you have established your Cornish family, you may have dozens of the same surnames to track.

A good place to begin your Cornish ancestor search is This website provides a list of other websites to use. Most of them are quite useful in your search.

In terms of history, the name "Cornwall" comes from Cornovii, which means hill dwellers, and Waelas, which means strangers. Around 1000 BC the Celts arrived in Cornwall. They lived in villages; farmed; mined for tin, copper, bronze and iron; smelted; forged iron into weapons and worked the metal. The Romans landed in Britain in 55 BC, but they had very little influence in Cornwall. When the Romans abandoned Britain, Cornwall came under Saxon influence, and following the Norman conquest, the first real integration of Cornwall into Britain began to take place. The first Duke of Cornwall was Edward, the Black Prince, son of Edward III. During the Middle Ages, there was a succession of rebellions.

Mining, the backbone of Cornwall, was revolutionized by the invention of the steam engine in the 18th century. The mines were dug deeper. The ports had to be developed to ship the iron ore, and there was lots of employment in Cornwall. By the end of the 19th century, tin and copper ore mines had been found in other parts of the world. The true legacy of the Cornish miners is that they emigrated all over the world – Australia, North and South America, and South Africa – taking their mining skills with them.

One of the first places to start your ancestor search in England, as in the United States, is with the census records. The first census for England, Wales, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands was taken in 1801. Since 1801, a census has been taken every ten years in Great Britain. Your search will only yield basic information with the first four censuses, but after that the census returns begin to record a wealth of genealogical information. The census returns allow you to look into the households of British families. The census records offer many clues for further research. By researching your Cornish ancestor in the census, you will likely find a parish name that will help you narrow your research to a certain area in Cornwall. By narrowing your research in Cornwall itself, you will be able to concentrate more on your family and not lose precious research time following distant relatives or no relatives at all. The web site mentioned earlier lists other sites that will give the researcher access to Cornish census records.

The Cornwall Record Office is listed as a source of information. A wealth of information is available at It cannot be stressed how important the Cornwall Record Office is to the genealogist. The main source of family history in Cornwall before 1837 will be the registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Cornwall is comprised of 257 parishes. Nearly all of them have their records in the Cornwall Record Office, or the records have been filmed for public use. The dates covered by the parish records range from 1538 to present day. Most of the people in Cornwall attended Methodist chapels in the 19th century. Over 500 registers for various Methodist churches are in the Cornwall Record Office, as well as certain Baptist, Congregational, and Society of Friends records. These church records will provide invaluable clues in searching your Cornish ancestry. Cornwall is almost a land unto itself in England. The people of Cornwall have a proud heritage that has spread across the world. Cornish societies are prevalent in North America, Australia, South Africa, and South America. Whenever you talk of your Cornish roots, you usually mention the mining industry in some form. The roots for these Cornish descendants can still be found in the land at the southernmost point in England.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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