By Dr Adrian J Cornish

When I first became interested in researching my family history, in about 1987, I had no particular reason for believing that there might be any significant variations in the distribution of the name CORNISH throughout the U.K. The name seemed something of a rarity, as apart from the few more immediate members of my own family, I had never actually met another CORNISH in nearly fifty years, while the numbers of entries listed in the telephone directories of Lancashire and Buckinghamshire - the areas in which I have lived most of my life - were somewhat sparse.

However, on reading in the March edition of "Family Tree Magazine" an article by Lesley H. Brooks on the geographical distribution of some other surnames, I made haste to the local library and spent a good many hours determining the frequency with which the name CORNISH appeared in each telephone directory area per 100,000 subscribers in that area. (Most of the directories were dated either 1986, 1987 or 1988.)

Given the origins of the name it is perhaps not surprising that the highest concentrations are found in the South West, with a peak of 66 (per 100,000) in the Exeter, Torbay & N.Devon area. The pocket of high concentration around Cardiff (22), and the low concentrations in areas such as N.Ireland (0.3), S.W.Scotland (Nil), and the Scottish Highlands and Islands (2.1) are perhaps not too surprising either.

However, by far the most interesting, and unexpected finding to me, was the relatively high concentrations throughout much of E.Anglia, parts of Kent and Sussex, and a ring around London. Typical concentrations in these regions include Bury St Edmunds (27), Tunbridge Wells (20) and Outer London: S.W.Essex (21).


Having identified my great grandfather as

THOMAS JAMES CORNISH (1827/8 - 1881)

and then traced him back to the Bury St Edmunds area, an even stronger E.Anglian connection emerged when I was lucky enough to be able to link into an extensive family tree researched by a distant cousin. My own family tree now stretches back over a further 4 generations of Cornishes - all from the Rougham and Woolpit areas of Suffolk - to a NICHOLAS CORNISH (c.1690 - 1721), and possibly a further 3 generations to an EDWARD CORNISH (c.1616 - 1686) of Bradfield St George.

The current surname distribution information, coupled with that of my family tree poses the question as to what it was that drove one or more of the early Cornishes to leave the South West all those years ago and embark on the long journey that would have culminated in them settling in E.Anglia and/or the South East?

As a final point of interest on the distribution, the total number of (non-repeated) CORNISH entries in the U.K. at the time of my survey was 2105. With an (estimated) total number of listed subscribers of 20,079,000 this works out at an overall average frequency of 10.5 per 100,000.