Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mining the past

The places shown above represent former mining districts whose locations fall outside nominated bid areas in Cornwall and West Devon. © HES.
I decided to restrict my forthcoming excursion to the southwest to visiting Tavistock in Devon, leaving my call on the Cornwall Records Office in Truro till a later date. Why? Well, a few more facts about my ancestors from that area trickled in over the last few days.

At the time of my visit to Coniston in August, I discovered that many of those who came to work in the local copper mines during the 1840s had been drawn from the tin mines down south. My ancestors Samuel Jones (of Devon) and Jane Woolcock (of Cornwall) had wound up in Coniston at this time, and had their first 3 children there. Through the Origins Network, I was able to search Boyd's Marriage Index, and discovered that they had married in this area in 1836.

Inspection of 1841 census records and a family tree of Woolcocks showed that there was a set of Woolcock miners who had moved from around St. Austell in Cornwall to Coniston, and I had two Jane Woolcocks (cousins) born around the same time as candidates for my ancestor. On the night of the 1841 census however, neither Samuel nor Jane are listed in Coniston, but their young daughters Elizabeth & Hannah are listed with Woolcock kinfolk.

So with this temporary ambiguity - which Jane? - I am getting the Lancashire records office to look at the parish register of marriages to see if the actual parents are listed. Official civil records did not begin in England & Wales until 1837, so I just miss out on being able to look them up through the General Records Office.

I'd like to spend a bit more time in Cornwall than I have available over the next couple of weeks, so just visiting Tavistock and neighbouring Dartmoor will allow better pacing.
United Kingdom non-ferrous mining sites outside the nominated Site. © HES.

This Cornish mining reference shows that both Tavistock and St. Austell were important tin-mining areas. I can see from census records 1841-1871, and birth records of his children, that Samuel Jones and his family travelled from one mining or canal-building area to another over the decades:
c1813: born in Tavistock
1841: Coniston copper mines
1844-1855: Cardiganshire, Wales (copper)
1861: Llangollen
1871: Shropshire - mines, mines, mines.

All this movement of people reminds that I just finished reading Philip Ball's Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. Ball looks at how physical models of particle motion & interaction can be (and have been) applied to economic and psychological models of human behaviour from crowding in passageways to the geographic distribution of social cliques.

In the chapter that covers options pricing I had a flashback to my days writing software pricing models. I was not sure whether to be alarmed or proud, when on the very first day my first options program was run, it gave the same prices as displayed by all the market makers on the dealer's Reuters screen. It turned out that the dealers tended to call each other and swap their consensus of the single-variable (and almost indefinable) market volatility that was the magic number input for the Black-Scholes pricing model. Since no one really had a clue how this magic number was calculated or related to reality, the options market seemed rather more like an exercise in trading perceptions of this number in reference to Black-Scholes than a real attempt to insure commodities producers against market vicissitudes. Ball says in his book "The Black-Scholes model... more or less defines the thinking of dealers in options." (p249)

At an ABA lunch a few years later, I offered this interpretation to guest speaker Myron Scholes. I got a look from him like I'd just said that the emperor was not wearing any clothes. Myron got his Nobel Prize anyway.

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