Cornish Genealogy: Digging up your ancestors and the fun of discovery
My grandfather (or Gramps as he preferred), E. G. Phillipps (1888-1970), which he changed to Phillips ‘on the fly’ sometime after getting to the States, was Cornish through-and-through. He emigrated from Cornwall in 1911 enticed by the promise of California he was born and raised in Bodieve and married a beautiful, young woman from Launceston. He never made it to California, running out of money in Cleveland, so he got a job there and called that city home. As a matter of fact, it was in Cleveland where he would first meet my grandmother, Ina Marie Cottle (1889-1977) so the whole Cleveland ‘thing’ actually worked out quite fine.
I was twice blessed by my Cornish grandparents. Firstly, my Nana taught me what a real Cornish pasty should taste like and thanks to Nana we never had a family picnic without pasty and sausage rolls in the basket. Secondly, Gramps loved to tell stories and thankfully I loved to listen. Nearly 100% of his stories revolved around his growing up and living in Cornwall. Each of Gramps’ stories would end with the same admonition by my grandfather: “Scott” he would say “remember we are CORNISH, not English!” I would nod and smile, but it wasn’t until I became our family’s genealogist I fully understood what it was he was actually saying to me.
Fast forward a few (?) decades and I would find myself delving into our Phillipps family history. No one had ever taken an interest in genealogy in my family. I am not sure why, but no one ever did. I well recall the day I was bitten by the genealogy bug. Our son and daughter-in-law informed my wife and I we were to be grandparents for the second time and our new grandson-to-be was to be named William in honor of my father who had just recently passed away. I decided I should ‘write a paragraph or two’ about who my father was so his namesake would know him, even though he had never been able to meet him. Years later and I am still writing!
The Phillipps journey has been a marvelous one for me and if there is one overriding lesson I have learned so far it is that Gramps sure was right! We are Cornish!
Thankfully one of my very first ‘stops’ along my journey was at the Cornwall Family History Society (http://www.cornwallfhs.com). While a genealogy newbie at the time I was helped immensely and once the deep love I have for my Cornish roots started to show it was simply as if I had joined a large and loving family!
There have been a wide variety of discoveries along the way. One of the first was that Gramps had an older brother, William Morrish Phillips (1879-1919). This discovery resulted in significant consternation for me as Gramps had always said he grew up in a family with only sisters. As a result of this family ‘legend’ I found myself starting over on our family history at least a dozen times certain I had made some critical mistake along the way, However, as was often the custom of the times, I realized family often did not speak of its lost members. William Morrish Phillips, a member of the 66th Division, Mechanized Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps, died in the Great War on February 25, 1919, at only 39, and now rests in the tiny churchyard in Houyet, Belgium. His name is not only on his gravestone there, but also on the Roll of Honor in Egloshayle Church, the plaque in Wadebridge City Hall and the town War Memorial in Centennial Park.
Other discoveries have occurred beyond the paper and computer as I have made connections with several of my second cousins who still reside in Wadebridge but with whom we had lost touch for at least a generation. And of course there are the wonderful Cornish folk who, while not related, offered and continue to offer me wonderful help. Fine folks such as Ann Trebilcock of Wadebridge and Paul Collier of Lanteglos by Camelford.
It was with Ann’s help I was able to connect with my cousins and it was with Paul’s assistance I was able to discover a major portion of the Phillipps trail that led me to Lanteglos by Camelford and St. Teath parishes.
We Phillipps certainly weren’t royalty, but I have found a Knight amongst us (Sir Jonathan Phillipps (1725-1798)), a few Reverends in the parishes of Lanteglos by Camelford (William Phillipps (1723-1794)), Minster, Forrabury, and St. Cleer, and of course it was hard to overlook John Phillipps (1678-1745) who was described by Governor Thomas Pitt as ‘the greatest villain as ever was employed’.
Perhaps my most impressive ancestor though was my great-great-grandfather, Nicholas Phillipps (1821 – 1886) of St. Minver. Dirt poor, but even while losing both eyes at 18, walked the mail route from Wadebridge to St. Minver and back each day, later adding a stop in St. Kew. You can read about Nicholas in the letter here written to the Mercury and Post, by a Mr. Charles Waring Wood. Making his rounds, Nicholas logged some 134,400 miles equal to just about five and a half times ‘round the globe. Truly an amazing man I’d say. While I have discovered Nicholas is buried in Egloshayle churchyard, sadly he died too poor to afford to have any gravestone.
One of my most unexpected discoveries also resulted in quite a sense of amazement. I was reading the will and inventory of my 12th great grandfather, Nicolas Phillipps, (1574-1642) when I came across the fact the name of his property and our family home was “Melorne”. Melorne, or sometimes Old Melorne, is now an active archeological dig being undertaken by the North Cornwall Heritage organization (their homepage is at http://www.northcornwallheritage.co.uk. Believe me when I say being a part of this dig is now right at the top of my ‘Bucket List’ so I can someday say I literally spent time digging up my ancestors (or at least their home).
Cornish genealogy can be an amazing amount of fun, so if you have Cornish Cousins don’t forget to check out our Cornish Genealogy Knowledge Hub at http://OnwardToOurPast.com/cornish!
Onward To Our Past