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TIP FOUR: Expect to make mistakes if you don’t develop trees.

Eric Trudgill    -    4 September 2011

Research Tips For Beginners In Gypsy Genealogy

Beginners won’t find tips here on finding research material: for that they can use the internet, join the Romany & Traveller FHS, and buy Sharon Floate’s excellent book, My Ancestors Were Gypsies. What they are offered here are tips on evaluating and interpreting the material they find.

TIP FOUR: Expect to make mistakes if you don’t develop trees.

All of us make mistakes. All of us identify people as probable Gypsy ancestors who turn out to be not Gypsies or not ancestors. Sharon Floate, as I indicated in July, can help you avoid the first mistake, help you confirm a particular ancestor was a Gypsy, with her four signs of Gypsy ethnicity (traditional Gypsy surname and forename, typical Gypsy occupation and impermanence of abode). And it may be I can help you avoid the second mistake, help you confirm a particular Gypsy was an ancestor, with my four tests for consanguinity (congruity of time and place, intra-family marriages, travelling ties, and significant forenames).

If you’ve found a particular Gypsy with the right forename and surname, don’t assume he’s your ancestor: early 20th century gypsiologists, without our easy access to the records, regularly confused identically named Gypsies of different generations and areas; and modern genealogists less forgivably have often had Gypsies producing children before they were born themselves, after they were dead, or while they were in a completely different part of the country or even Australia.

If you’re sure your Gypsy was of the right time and place, look for intra-family marriages that will show he’s in the right family: Gypsies liked to keep things in the family, marrying their cousin, their sibling’s in-laws, or their deceased spouse’s sibling. Tommy Boswell of Berkshire, for example, married a cousin, had two sisters who married brothers, and had a father and a grandfather who married their deceased wife’s sister.

Or look for travelling ties that your Gypsy is in the right family: Gypsies usually travelled with family members, so if you find them in the census with people who are apparently unrelated, look a little deeper (the travel companions, for example of Plato Boswell and his wife Mizelli will turn out to be Mizelli’s mother and brother, Barbara and Sampson Lee). The same applies when you find couples, apparently unrelated, baptising their children together on the same day in the same church.

Or look for significant forenames that show your Gypsy is in the right family: Gypsies liked to repeat the same forenames through the generations, sometimes, when the forenames were very unusual, offering invaluable genetic markers: for example, if you find a Salathiel Boswell, he’s sure to be one of Viney Boswell’s descendants, offspring of one of Viney’s sons, William, George, Osery or Phoenix, and if you’re puzzled by the name of one of Phoenix’s sons, baptised Rowarasbah, you’ll probably find what it was meant to be in the name of one of Rowarasbah’s nephews, baptised Raoul Asprey.

My four tests won’t necessarily stop you misidentifying ancestors. Experienced and highly intelligent gypsiologists who knew the famous Selina Buckland, wife of Edmond Smith, and discussed her family with her, believed she’d previously been married to Job Cooper, but though Selina would pass all four of my tests, the 1861 census shows, while she’s with Edmond Smith in Middlesex, a different (though closely related) Selina is with Job Cooper in nearby Berkshire. Given the nature of Gypsy genealogy I can’t stop you, or myself, from misidentifying people, but applying my tests will, I believe, reduce your risks, whilst offering opportunities for enriching your research.

And you’ll further reduce your risks and enhance your opportunities, I believe, if you prioritize trees over data-banks. Trees encourage you to discriminate, data-banks to merely aggregate. Laying out your research diagrammatically, as opposed to piling it up, perhaps piecemeal without always checking your additions are compatible, will help protect you, I’ll suggest in September, from making mistakes, and enable you, I’ll suggest in October, to spot possible ways of progressing your research.

Copyright © 2011 Eric Trudgill