We spend a day touring round numerous, remote Cornish parishes that have ancestral associations. I am reminded how much I enjoy map reading, or following along on an Ordnance Survey map, with the sat-nav for back-up.
We drive out past Kit Hill, which is a former mining area on the edge of Bodmin Moor and enjoy the spectacular views. I know it is not a good idea to tour churches on a Sunday, nonetheless here we are doing it. On the upside, it may mean they are open but it also means they are full of worshippers. So begins a game of dodge the congregation, at which we are only partially successful.
We start in Sydenham Damerel, which is actually back across the Tamar in Devon and arrive just before the service begins. My 7x great grandparents, Matthew Deacon and Joan Cowl, married here 200 years ago. The church was burned down and rebuilt on smaller scale to reflect diminishing congregations, so only tower is original. This means I cannot imagine them walking down the aisle. The proximity to the River Tamar is significant, as the Deacon family end up further down the river in later generations. It is always a good idea to look at maps to understand ancestral migration routes and remember that, historically, water is far more likely than land. The next stop is Stoke Climsland and here the service is just finishing. Unusually, it seems they have a thriving congregation. Two branches of the family married here. The next generation of Deacons, Walter Deacon and Mary Bennett in 1752 and 6x great grandparents Samuel Braund and Jane Lucas in 1741.
I descend from the Kenner family. This is a branch that my online searching in the caravan has potentially extended by three generations. There is a likelihood that they once inhabited Trekenner (Tre being Cornish for farmstead). We drive past but there is no obvious old farmhouse. At this point there is a diversion to a nearby superstore for a toilet stop. The places we are visiting consist of a few cottages and a church. There are no public toilets, cafés or pubs and even if there were, cafes and pubs would necessitate buying a drink and thus somewhat defeat the object.
We resume at South Petherwin where the service is finishing. 7x great grandfather, Thomas Kenner was baptised here in 1664. We take a look at Kennard Farm, another likely abode for the family but again can only spot modern buildings. On to Lewannick and at last, an empty church Two more ancestral marriages took place here. Thomas Buckingham and Ann Davey in 1732 and William DiIling and Susannah Davey in 1733. I am sure the two Davey brides are related but I have not yet found their baptisms.
The final port of call is North Hill and the only locked church of the day. The churchyard has been deliberately left to be wildlife friendly. Whilst this is very laudable, it does mean that we encounter long grass, stinging nettles, ants’ nests and other hazards in our hunt for gravestones. This is the only location where there are any relevant headstones, probably because this was home to more recent generations of the Buckingham family. None of my direct ancestors rate a gravestone but they are here somewhere.
It is so important to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, to get a feel for where they lived and the landscape they would have encountered. If you can’t do this literally, I recommend a virtual trip using Google Earth. Here, back on the edge of Bodmin Moor, it looks glorious today but it is very isolated and would have been bleak in winter. I suspect the Buckinghams had little time to appreciate the scenery, which would have been unremarkable to them as it was all they knew. I am now fired up for taking another look at this part of my ancestry. All I need is a few days with 48 hours in them……..