I have noticed that once I go beyond 1800 with my family tree the spelling goes crazy. Although there are many who seem to have been illiterate the recording of their names is very erratic and often seems to reflect a Cornish pronunciation. Even quite "common" names such as Anne, Gilbert, Davies, Colensoe, etc are spelt in all different ways.
Would this suggest that perhaps some of these people were not native speakers of English and/or spoke either Cornish or a very strong dialect of Anglo-Cornish?
The second question, at what period could we safely say that our Cornish ancestors were probably first language Cornish speakers?
As one brickwall falls another bugger puts one up!!!!!!!!!!!!
Post by Cornish Terrier on Oct 23, 2008 10:29:09 GMT -5
My own thoughts only.
1st Question - Even today, most particularly in the Far West, it can be very difficult to understand a Cornishman. Although I managed easily enough I have heard many people, even in Cornwall itself, who have told me they had great difficulty understanding a Cornishman when he spoke. And once you crossed the Tamar into Cornwall the further West you travelled the stronger the accents. I have also read that, in days gone by, the differences in dialect made it extremely difficult, if not almost impossible, for the Western and Eastern Cornish to understand each other. If we imagine a clerk as being not a native of West Cornwall then it is not difficult to imagine the written translations of words or names given him verbally.
2nd Question - We need first to go back beyond the death of Dolly Pentreath in about 1778 who was reputedly the last of the native-speaking Cornish folk. Beyond that time we must explore the time when the King (I think Henry VIII) decreed that all Church services must be in English. (Still have not resurrected my books!)
This last was probably the beginning of the downfall of the old Cornish language and your answer lies somewhere in between the two events.
Post by myghaelangof on Oct 25, 2008 5:51:11 GMT -5
A good book I have found for history from a Cornish perspective is 'West Britons - Cornish Identities and the Early Modern British State' by Mark Stoyle. It centres around the civil war period, but has a lot of historical background info that makes you aware the Cornish were a distinct nation.
To summarise, the Saxons added Cornwall to their empire in the tenth century but us Cornish never accepted the occupation. Resentment against the Saxons/English gave rise to the first Cornish uprising in 1497 led by my namesake Myghael Josef An Gof and Thomas Flamank, quickly followed by the Perkin Warbeck uprising.
Resentment continued to bubble, and the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 led to several fierce battles between the English and Cornish, culminating in Cornwall being subdued by superior forces. This rebellion was in protest at the prayer book being made only available in English when many Cornish folk couldn't speak the alien tongue.
Following this date the language declined, and by 1650 Cornish was only widespread west of Truro, 1700 west of Falmouth, and by 1750 west of Penzance. This regression was also aided by the influx of English gentry and money.
So, with the language evolving, one would expect names to be changing as well, especially as people struggled to grasp a new language when a lot couldnt even write in their own tongue. Also a lot of the clergy were of English stock and would have trouble with the phonetic spelling of foreign names ;D
Perhaps I should add, Malcolm, that even today I'm never sure how to spell Ann, Davis, Collenso, or even Gilbart
You also need to keep in mind that whether our forbears were literate or not, the majority of records available to us today (parish records, censuses, etc) were not written by the ancestor themselves, but rather recorded by a clerk or similar.
The clerk would have written down what he heard and even if he was unsure of the spelling and asked the person whose information was being recorded, they would only have been able to spell their name if they were literate. Further, add to that fact the clerk may have been disinterested in ensuring correct spelling anyhow.
Also, as myghaelangof said, surnames were evolving, so the spelling could change over the years.
I seem to remember in the past having come across notes in relation to the censuses directing that the census taker should use specified standardised spellings for many Cornish surnames, and I suspect that this as much as anything helped to standardise the surnames during the 19th century into the forms we know today (first names are a much more fluid area even today). Don't forget also that literacy levels rose significantly during the 19th century as it became compulsory for all children (girls as well as boys) to receive some level of schooling during this period.
When having trouble locating an ancestor, a good trick to use is to take your ancestor's name (particularly if it is a more unusual one - i.e. not Smith or Jones!) and then say it aloud with a very thick accent for the appropriate area - in this case Cornish. You may be amazed at how different the name may sound to how you expect it to be written.
I have a good example in my own family - my 3 greats grandmother Elizabeth (nee Caraher) Hurley. She and her husband emigrated from Ireland to Victoria, Australia in 1842 and had a number of children there. Between birth and death certificates, together with baptismal certificates, I have something like 15 different spellings of her maiden surname of Caraher - including once as CARTER. (Say Caraher aloud quickly with a thick Irish accent - you can see how Carter came to be recorded)
Although I am yet to find Elizabeth's family in Ireland, I currently have her maiden name as Caraher only because it is the most common variant in the records, appearing about 6-8 times whereas most of the other variants appear only once.
Post by Cornish Terrier on Oct 25, 2008 9:39:52 GMT -5
And hence my surname appearing at least once in the old PRs as 'TARWEELA'.
Last count (several years ago) I had about 23 different spellings of the name in my database and I think I have picked up a few more since. ;D (Most notably from the USA)
But from each of the notes posted on this subject we all seem to be in agreeance.
And perhaps we should practice some of the hints given here as it can be very easy to forget - and if you forget things like this you can end up chasing your tail again and ignoring important clues, just like when you first started. ;D (At least that's what I did. )
Could I also add that people were also not numerate. Hence the variances in ages as you go through the 1851-1901 census. Probably if they were asked "what year were you born in ?", they knew the answer. But it was most likely they were asked "how old are you?". Not being able to do the maths the answers were seldom correct. I have found examples of having definately the correct person, with an age variance of up to 10 years. And just to go back to the name theme. My Grandfather, born in Tredegar, S.Wales, who's name was John Remphrey White was actually registered as John Ramferry White.
I agree White, numeracy was also patchy at best in that period, just as literacy was. While people could manage money (critical to their existance) more complex math was likely beyond many/most of them.
I am also with you that the way that the clerk/enumerator/etc asked the question of the person supplying the details can indeed be critical.
I have seen several examples in Australian death records where the deceased person and his/her spouse are given as the parents of the deceased - i.e. the dead person is his/her own parent.
However, you can easily imagine the conversation at the BDM registry when the deceased's son or daughter goes in to register the death: Clerk asks: Name of the deceased? (Child supplies deceased's name.) Clerk asks: Parents? Without thinking, the child automatically details their own parents names, rather than their grandparent's names which would be the correct ones. What the clerk should have said was: deceased's parents, and then he would have got the correct information.
Just another example of how official records (particularly death records) are often at best just a guide rather than something that can be absolutely relied upon to be accurate.
Firstly, I agree that spelling variations can often indicate and reveal what the contemporary pronounciation of a word or a name was. Or at the very least what it was not. It is very valuable for that reason, although at times confusing for us since in the modern world we are all used to every name (or words in general, for that matter!) being consistently spelt in the same way!
Secondly, at the same time I would point out that such spelling variations are typical for most if not all UK records before the 19th century. One can and often does find the same name spelt more than one way not just in different documents, but also within a single document. None of this is unique to Cornwall, and so it's occurrence in Cornwall is not necessarily connected to the presence or influence of the Cornish language --although there are of course cases where the influence is also apparent.
In societies where most folk probably possessed only limited literacy, spelling variations would reflect more on the education and local knowledge of the record creator rather than on that of the subjects of a register entry/census entry etc themselves. Clearly expatriate clerks would be more likely to stumble over unfamiliar and/or foreign-sounding names than locals would. On the other hand, I do not know whether there has been any research done into what proportion of clerks and vicars etc in Cornwall in those years were locals (meaning here Cornish folk and not specifically folk from Penwith). Some clearly were locals. E.g. the antiquarian Borlase who was vicar of Ludgvan for many years. So we can't assume that spelling errors or inconsistencies were necessarily the work of outsiders. Especially since spelling per se was not standardised at the time for words in general, and not just for names.
Thirdly, the Cornish language died out in terms of daily use in the east of the county first, and the geographical range of its widespread use retreated westwards over the centuries. The process was accelerated by the Protestant Reformation during Edward VI's reign precisely because it imposed the use of English as the religious language in place of Latin. As I understand it, Welsh as a language survived to modern times in large part because the Bible was translated into that language. The failure to similarly translate the Bible into Cornish was disastrous for the ongoing prospects of the language as a widely spoken tongue within the county.
It so happens that our hundred is the area in Cornwall where the language lasted the longest --probably because it was the most isolated part of the county. I am aware of a court case involving inhabitants in Sancreed in the latter half of the 1500s in which there is evidence that someone there spoke Cornish as her mother tongue, and had difficulty understanding English. I also know of another record, again from the late 1500s, where there was a reported fight in Lelant church involving two women with one calling the other some less than polite names which were described as being uttered in English "and not in Cornish"!
I suspect therefore that prior to, say, 1600 most ordinary folk in Penwith possibly spoke Cornish as their first language. When that changed is going to be hard to say precisely because the language of administrative records throughout was English (or Latin at times) and not Cornish. With English being thereafter the language of not only religion but also of trade and commerce it would have increasingly been used in preference to the old celtic tongue by all levels of society. I suspect it changed by 1700. The Wesleys would have preached in English and were obviously well understood by the locals in that language. At the same time a lot of Cornish words would have survived in the local dialect of the area long after people started using English as their daily tongue.
Ok friends....Remember that before the advent of the radio in the earlier part of the 20th C standard English was not at all widespread. Local dialects and accents changed within a few short miles. For example, where I was born a 'moggie' was definately a mouse, whereas five miles away it was definately a cat. Consistancy of spelling also did not exist....one spelt as one spoke. On the west coast of Ireland I have seen shop signs advertising 'Sangwiches' and 'Pomps' (canvas shoes) Mis-hearing names can produce problems too and it doesn't seem to be confined to the 'ancients'. If you look on the Mitchell thread in the Boscarn board you will find that I had a problem with a Samuel Harris Nicholl who turned out to be Samuel Harvey Mitchell. I think that this was a 'modern' error, possibly post internet, on the OPC site.
This reminds me of the story of Jewish imigrants to the USA. The clerk at Ellis Island couldn't understand their names so gave them familiar sounding name and told them to remember it when they came to the next desk where another clerk was due to give them landing papers. When he reached this second desk the clerk dutifully asked the head of the household, "What's your name?" The head of the household couldn't remember the name which had just been given to him so replied, in Yiddish, "Schon Vergessen" (I've forgotten) whereupun the clerk replied "OK Shaun Fergusson, what part of Ireland do you come from?"
Hmm interesting, two points I have noticed. 1. The spellings often reflect the strong Cornish accent that I remember my old Uncle Bob from Newlyn having. e.g. Symonds becomes Semmens or Semmers Bodinnar becomes Bodener etc. 2. There is evidence from the will of Joan Vingoe that a cow was named in Cornish, "Bolganion", although we do not know what it means really. 3. I think we have to bear in mind the social stratus of the people involved. It seems that Cornish was relegated to the poorest/most uneducated i.e. the fisherwoman and fishermen or people in the remote rural areas etc. I wonder how much Cornish was never documented from these people? 4. My Grandfather said he could not speak Cornish and was quite sceptical about the language yet at the same time would use Cornish-Cornish dialect words for things without realising that they were not "English" as such- especially for anything to do with mining and fishing. He was a civil engineer and when he went to Newcastle to work found that the terms he knew for geological features were unknown to the Geordies!!!
My gut feeling is that Cornish never really disappeared it sort of went to sleep for a while. Without wishing to be a romantic, it is interesting to note that despite what detractors always say fishermen in Newlyn were counting fish and casting off in Cornish until the 1930's. Although it is generally thought that Dolly Pentreath was the last native speaker there was also John Davey of Zennor much later. Here in Italy it is the same with "Griko" an ancient dialect of Greek still spoken in a few villages. Although young people do not use it, they understand it from their grandparents.
The important thing is that we do not let Cornish vanish forever!!!
PS Tony I heard the story of a Chinese immigrant who sneezed at the wrong moment and was called Ah Choo. Good one!!!
As one brickwall falls another bugger puts one up!!!!!!!!!!!!
all indeed interesting and born out by my own variations of BOSANKO, BOSANCO, BOSANCHO, BOSANCHOE, BOSSANCO, BOSSANCOE, BOSANQUET even. although I do understand that this name is believed to derive from a French family that emigrated to Cornwall in 1600s.....no doubt Reginald may know more. Of interest to me is the common factor of BOS and where this originates. It is obviously a coomon term in Cornwall but seemingly nowhere else. I did read somewhere that it was the word for "To Be" in the old Cornish Language and there are several place names with this prefix in the county viz Boscastle, Bosorne etc. so could it be conjectured that BOS...ANCHO etc means "To be here or TO LIVE in Ancho wherever that might have been?