I have an uncommon surname; Varcoe. It is a Celtic name that traces back to Cornwall where it use to be as common as the name Smith is in North America! Thoughts are it is derived from the Cornish for “son of Mark”.
Cornwall is next door to Devon where I was staying for a few weeks, so I was determined to make the time to “find my roots” while there. Fortunately some family members had already done some research so I was able to pinpoint three towns in the area to visit.
I started in Nanpean St. George where my great-great-grandfather (2x), James (1845 to 1911) is buried. I then visited St. Stephen-in-Brannel where my great-great-great-great-grandfather (4x), Jonas (1768 to 1851), lived and is buried. Unfortunately, due to time and the elements, there are no longer gravestones for my direct descendants or if the gravestones are still there, they are now unreadable.
Then I visited St. Dennis where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (9x), Nicholas (1555 to 1614), lived and died.
Up until and including today, China Clay mining is the main industry for all three towns. Census records show that my family was engaged in this industry in some form or other for several centuries.
St. Dennis also has a public house called the Commercial Inn that was owned by a distant cousin. It still has the original name and is still in the original building. On the walls are photos and copies of legal documents showing my family’s ownership in the year 1852 of the business and building.
It seems that for a time my family were quite well off. The last will and testament of Nicholas from 1614 shows that he had money and possessions with a value totaling £951 ($1785 CAD). Even today that is a meaningful amount, so imagine that amount 402 years ago! I think in today’s market he would probably be considered a multi-millionaire.
Finally the last place I visited was the St. Dennis church which is located at the highest point of the town, about 500 feet above sea level. This is a medieval church surrounded by gravestones and beautiful wild spring flowers left to grow until the blossoms have finished blooming. This location has had significance for over 3000 years and is the site of an ancient Iron Age hill fort. There is an ancient Celtic Cross on the pathway towards the church entrance which is evidence that Christians have worshiped there for nearly 1500 years. It is possible to look out at the whole town and surrounding areas with views over Goss Moor to the sea at Newquay.
This is the churchyard where Nicholas and other family members are buried. But as with the other graveyards there are no longer gravestones to mark their presence.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (6x), John (1685 to 1764) also worshiped at this church and his name is engraved on one of church bells which could mean the bell was donated by my family. In fact, there are two church bells with my family name on them; John (my 6x great-grandfather) and William, a distant relative. One of the church wardens kindly opened the church and let me climb up the stairs of the church steeple to see the bells and he even rang them for me.
As I sat on the blanket my friend and I had laid out in the little park beside the church to have a picnic in the beautiful sunshine, I could picture my ancestors walking on the same ground after a church service conversing with their neighbors and their children running around laughing and playing; children being baptized, getting married, worshiping together, and in the end being buried.
It was a very moving experience to walk on the same ground that my ancestors walked on and to discover where I am from and in essence who I am.
Every week when those church bells ring my ancestors are saying, “We were here. We lived. We made a difference. We are not forgotten.”