Friday, April 28, 2006

Transcribing Cornish Parish Registers

The three basic tools of Cornish family history research are the registers of Births, Marriages & Deaths; the census returns; and the parish registers. The first two are coming on nicely, so we would like to turn our attention to the parish registers.

Recently a well-known Australian traveller has discovered what many of us have known for a long time. The records bequeathed us by our ancestors are often faded, damaged, badly written and poorly reproduced. They also, in the main, have to be viewed on antiquated equipment.

We would like to get the Cornish parish registers transcribed and placed online free-to-view. It has been estimated that there are 5 million records in the Cornish parish registers. In spite of hard labour by quite a few people, the surface has hardly been scratched.

I don't know how you are dealing with parish registers, but many of you may do what I do. I usually transcribe any that look as though they might be useful. So, looking for ROBERTS in Coverack in the late 18th century, I find there are 5 families, but only one is mine. So I transcribe the lot including any in surrounding parishes. Just in case. These transcripts can be used by us.

If you have got the film at your local FHC, it's worth the time to transcribe anything that might be yours - however remote. If you have bought parish registers on fiche and have extracted your ancestors, why not get some added value and help other Cornish researchers to find their ancestors?

It doesn't matter how many you have done, 10 or 10,000, just send them in. Nor do they have to be sequential or provide complete coverage, just send them in.

Those transcripts, however incomplete, can be added to the pile. 1 or 10,000 - they can be used. Ideally, we would like you to transcribe to our prescribed layout - this can be seen on But we don't insist on this.

How will they be used? There will be a new OPC online database - searchable & free-to-view. We have several hundred thousand records already - so five million shouldn't take long. Our policy on distribution and ownership is that of the COCP. The information belongs to no one and everyone. Bit like the Cornish motto really.

Obviously we need another confusing set of initials - so we have decided on the Cornish Parish Registers Online Project - C-PROP. It even has a motto - Send us your dead!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Things that are crossed out or added

The census pages are littered with words crossed out; words added, and various markings that often obscure the enumerator's valuable words. We have to make sense of them.

The alterations fall into two groups. Those that seem to have been made at an early stage, perhaps by the enumerator or the registrar. Typical of these are where the enumerator has described someone as a pauper. This was not required to be entered, but it often is. It is then crossed out; either by the enumerator or the registrar, who was supposed to check the returns before they were attested to and sent off to London. With these alterations, the data should be entered with a note stating that it was crossed out. If you can get this into the occupation field, well and good, if not, enter it as a note. Where records (including whole households) are crossed out, enter them with a note. Even if they should appear elsewhere; they may not - and what is lost?

The second group of alterations appear to have been made much later; probably by the clerks in London. Typical of these are those found in the place of birth field. They have inserted a county where only a place name is given. Sometimes it is obvious they are right, other times you wonder how they could possibly have known. We stretch the "as is" concept here, and you can enter the county they suggest if it looks right to you. When they don't know the answer, they often write ALS; I have no idea what this means. Sometimes, when the age is given as N K, someone has entered an age in round numbers next to the age column. This is best entered as a note as we have no idea who entered it and why. One of the reasons for the census was to work out the size of the agricultural and other industrial sectors. By 1891 there was quite a complex system of classification; they can often be seen in the occupation field; we ignore them.

Transcribers & checkers have to make a judgement on what is to be included. If information looks good but is crossed out, enter it with a note. If it looks like a later addition, ignore it except where it is covered above.

Finally, there are the markings that add nothing to the data. Typical of these are the annoyingly thick strokes through ages; presumably made as the clerks grouped the population by age. We just have to work through these.

Census Taking in Cornwall - No 1

Each Registration District was divided into sub-districts and each sub-district had a number of Enumerators. The Enumerators were recruited for a particular census and were generally of the opinion they were underpaid for what they were asked to do. In 1871 the pay scales were as follows:

A fixed fee of one guinea.
2s6d for each 100 persons in their area above 400.
6d for every mile above the first five miles covered in delivering schedules.
6d for every mile above the first five miles covered in collecting the schedules.

The local registrars were responsible for keeping track of changes in their district and for dividing it into roughly 200 household pieces. Each of these would have an enumerator and the authorities hoped to recruit men of local standing who would undertake the job as a social duty.

“He must be a person of intelligence and activity; he must read and write well and have some knowledge of arithmetic; he must not be infirm or of such weak health as may render him unable to undergo the requisite exertion; he should not be younger than 18 years of age or older than 65; he must be temperate, orderly and respectable, and be such a person as is likely to conduct himself with strict propriety, and to deserve the goodwill of the inhabitants of his district.”

Each enumerator was supplied with a set of household schedules, an enumerator’s book, and an instruction and memorandum book. This latter was used to order the houses, mark down where houses were being built or were uninhabited, and to keep a check on whether or not they had collected all the schedules distributed. These books do not appear to have survived.

When collecting the schedules the enumerators were to assist in completing the forms. They then copied them into the enumerator’s book. These books were supposed to be checked by the local registrars. Finally, the books arrived in Whitehall, where clerks extracted the data for statistical purposes.

Making Sense of the Census Revisited by Edward Higgs. Published by University of London in conjunction with TNA.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

COCP Newsletter No 4

Hello folks

Since the last newsletter, we have uploaded:

St Minver Lauren Patey (Aus) & Di Thompson (UK)
St Veep Jane McDonnell (US) & Di Thompson (UK)
Trevalga Lauren Patey & David Trounce (Can)
St Teath Lauren Patey & David Trounce
St Erme Sue James & John Nance (both Aus)

1541 Padstow Tina Russell (UK) & Maxine Cadzow (Aus)
1558 Truro St Clement Louise Haywood (Estonia) & Marion Paul (Aus)
1594 Penzance Ceilia Wikert (USA) & Chris Uphill (Aus)

There are five pieces in the queue here; at the moment I am up to my armpits in Warwicks stuff - only two more pieces to go out of 122!

For those of you who have signed up to jabber; the chat room server is now rather than The name is the same. To those of you who haven't tried it - it will give you one-to-one with me or entry to the chat room. There is nearly always someone there who will look up a difficult entry for you. Please give it a whirl - if you don't like it don't use it. But try it. Details of how to get signed up are on an earlier post in this blog.

Found a new "old" occupation today - Hokey Pokey maker. If this sounds familiar - try looking at

In fact, it was a type of ice cream sold by street vendors.

Here in Cornwall it is a cool dry morning; rather overcast. The forecast is good and I am expecting to get some gardening done. I hope that you all have a happy Easter.