As a child, I regularly regaled my Mum with affirmations of visiting Cornwall. Even then I felt an affinity to the most Southern county of the UK. Each time, she rebuked these claims, maintaining that we had never visited Cornwall. This was something I refused to accept wholly, the connection felt too great. As I got older, Cornwall retained its hold over me.
I began my family history research in March 2007, entering a few names into Ancestry led to a passion I couldn’t have predicted. It wasn’t long before I encountered a name and place of birth that sent shivers up my spine. Selina Matthews, born 1866 in St Just, Cornwall. I remember almost squealing in delight. Was my love of Cornwall really a genetic memory from 150 years before?
Selina was the eighth child of Joseph Matthews and Mary Berryman, my 4x great grandparents. Joseph, Mary and all twelve of their children were born in the villages surrounding St Just and baptised in the villages Churches. The family moved from Cornwall to Llangeinor, Glamorgan between 1874 and 1881. Llangeinor being a parish in South Wales where coal and iron were in abundance.
I didn’t actually visit Cornwall until the summer of 2014 but it was every bit as wonderful as I knew it would be. Walking through the narrow streets of St Just, wandering around the medieval church, it was as familiar to me as the town I lived in. One of the most beautiful things about the modern village of St Just is that it is easy to imagine the inhabitants of years gone by.
In 2019, I took an Ancestry DNA test that confirmed much (if not all) of my Ancestry is within the UK, notably Wales and Cornwall with a little Scottish and Irish. Cornish, like Welsh, is a Brythonic language, sharing the same alphabet with words that, even now, sound incredibly similar. However, Cornish is a language that is all but extinct.
Whether my connection to Cornwall is genetic memory, a wistful imagining, or something else is largely irrelevant. Wales and Cornwall are intrinsically connected from a time long before modernity.