Most family historians will need no reminding of the importance of emigration in the lives of their forebears. The 'great emigration' as it is termed, cast its shadow across communities and families all over 19th century Cornwall. Furthermore it was one of the fundamental factors in the shaping of modern Cornwall. Around a quarter of a million Cornish men and women left their native land for destinations in Australia South Africa and North America as well as other parts of the globe. Many came back, but most didn't - and there are now thousands particularly in Australia and parts of the United States who are proud of their Cornish ancestry as well as a great number in Cornwall who are still in contact with cousins overseas.

Emigration turned so much on the decision and actions of individuals and families the very stuff of family history. Family historians are ideally located to discover the human traumas and tribulations that accompanied this movement. Each family has its quota of rich experience to add to the story mapped out in the books of A C Todd A L Rowse and Philip Payton amongst others.

However this multitude of individual journeys adds up to a fascinating social process as well. While Cornwall's experience of emigration was on a scale unknown in either England or Wales the Cornish were not alone. In fact around 35 million Europeans left the continent from 1840 to 1920. Researchers across the Channel blessed - especially in Scandinavia - with better data have been putting together a picture of this migration process. They are beginning to answer such questions as who went, what age they were, whether they left in family groups or as individuals how many were women, how many returned, where they left from and, most important, what were the key factors that explain the decision to go or to stay.

Surprisingly though we are still unable to answer many of these questions with any degree of certainty here in Cornwall. We can make some intelligent guesses - that emigrants were mainly in their 20s, that the pattern changed from family groups emigrating to single individuals after the 1870s, or that people were more likely to leave the rural mining parishes. And yet we can't be certain about these and other very basic questions. The only way we can ever hope to increase our knowledge of the Cornish emigration process and then compare it with the general European picture in order to shed light on the wider process is to build up a record of individual moves overseas. This is a time consuming task, but it's the basic aim of a research project 'The Cornish-American Connection".

'The Cornish Global Migration Programme" has two main purposes. The first is to research the history of emigrants, in order to answer the questions posed above. The second, in parallel, is to widen our knowledge of the effects of emigration on Cornwall itself. The main way forward will be to build up a data bank on as many individual emigrants as possible, however slight the information. This will be recorded in a separate section of the Biographical Index for Cornwall, which is housed at Murdoch House. Redruth.

The co-operation of family historians is obviously crucial for the long term success of this project. If you have Cornish emigrants in your family history then please get in touch with us. We are particularly interested in information on the year of emigration. age at emigration, parish of origin, occupation before and after emigrating, and moves before and after emigration. But any information, even just names of Cornish emigrants, would be most valuable. We feel that this is an exciting project that can unite family historians and others in a collaborative and productive venture. The individual details of families can help shed light on broader processes of movement and a growing awareness of this broader process can in turn help put the history of individual emigrants in a wider context. Letters or enquiries are most welcome and may be addressed to The Cornish Global Migration Programme, Murdoch House Adult Education Centre, Cross Street, REDRUTH, Cornwall TR15 2BU

Useful Links

Cornish Global Migration Programme

Cornwall County Council - Historic Cornwall

Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild:
Located on the web at http://istg.rootsweb.com.
Passenger lists from ships carrying emigrants from the 17th century.

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