Why did our families migrate to Guernsey from France?

I’ve often wondered what led the Goasdoue and Guegan families to leave Brittany and move to the tiny island of Guernsey.

Some clues to the answer may lie in this PhD thesis – Guernsey 1814-1914: migration in a modern society by Rose-Marie Crossan,  (now published by The Boydell Press, 2007 and available on Amazon.com; I can send a link to the PDF if anyone interested).   It’s fascinating in it’s details and provides a solid background for us.

Some tidbits I’ve gleaned

  • most French migrants went to Jersey rather than Guernsey (p 112), probably due to it’s proximity to France and size but also the nature of the potatoe harvest meant a seasonal influx of labourers.
  • many migrants came to Guernsey via Jersey (p. 113) – was this case for our family?
  • 70% of migrants from France came from Brittany (the rest mostly from Normandy)
  • What language did our relatives speak?  This is not as obvious as it sounds, as our family are from deep Brittany, west of the famous Sebillot line – this line represents the linquistic frontier where Breton was spoken more commonly.

What was the motivation behind this migration?

As Guernsey’s agricultural sector developed, sheer availability of work, low-paid though it might be, was a pull-factor of a sort, but …[there were]… powerful push-factors at home. The Cotes du Nord (now called Cotes D’Armor) area had a hjigh population density, but it was supported by a society of subsistence agriculture.  Very small landholdings, less than a third of farmers were owners, with 2/3 being tenants or sharecroppers, and there was a high number of landless agricultural labourers ”  (Our family were pretty much all described as labourers in the 1901 Census). Such overpopulation and underdevelopment (reminiscent o f pre-Famine Ireland) meant a precarious existence for Brittany’s overwhelmingly rural population at the best of times. (p. 117).  The agricultural depression of the last quarter of the century, reduced what little extra cash Breton farmers had been able to make so that many could no longer afford to hire help, nor indeed to pay their rents.This pushed Bretons (who of all French had been traditionally most resistant to migration)to leave their region in droves. Between 1872 and 1911, the population of Les Cotes-du-Nord declined by 165,000, despite its continuing high birth rate.

Large-scale French migration to Guernsey can therefore be said to have ceased in 1914, though the settled French
community remained a distinct sub-group in the population for many years to come.”

This thesis provides a wealth of background information about the Breton population in Guernsey – watch out for more extracts in later posts.

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