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TIP SEVEN: With Gypsy names be prepared for variant forms and spellings.

Eric Trudgill    -    4 December 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 SEVEN: With Gypsy names be prepared for variant forms and spellings.

With forenames be prepared, when searching records, for standard gypsification of gorjer names and standard gorjerfication by clerics or officials of Gypsy names: a Phoebe will turn up as a Fambridge, a Theresa Ann as a Trezian, a Susanna as a Shuransa; or conversely a Genti will turn up as a Jane, a Siara as a Sarah, and any number of unconventionally named Gypsy females as a Mary. Be prepared too for standard alternates: an Elizabeth in many families will turn up as a Lydia or Isabella, a Selina in several families as a Reni, a Riley as a William or William Riley, and an Alec as a Sanders (the other half of Alexander).

And be prepared for standard modifications: Gypsies, ever keen to keep themselves on the move, did the same for their forenames; dropping a letter (C/Lementina, C/Levansyetc), dropping a syllable (Pro/Vidence, Ma/Dona, Cina/Mentie, Syl/Vanus, Sur/Render, To/Bias etc), or dropping both (Lementina and Levansy became Tina and Vansy); or conversely, especially with females, adding and modifying an end-syllable or two (Rose became Rosina, Rosetta, Rosaliaetc). Sometimes names would morph into something fairly different (in the Boswells Septimusturned into Satus via Septirus and Siterus, in the Herons Ezra into Isa via Isariah). And sometimes names would morph into something very different: in the Scamps and Lovells Sarah turned into Celia via, it seems, Sally and Sely, Sarah and Celia becoming alternates; and in a family of Boswell/Lovells Temperance turned into Dambretty (I’ll write in Tip Nine about the confusion of T and D, and P and B, amongst uneducated people), Dambretty itself turning sometimes into Dambros, Amberess, Damaretty and Etty.

With surnames, when searching the records, be prepared for standard variants. In Boswell families during the 18th century you’ll find such variants asBossell, Bossill and Bazel; in the 19th century you’ll find Boss used on the odd occasion by all the major families, and consistently after about 1828 by one section of one of them, that of Viney’s brother, Anselo (ingenious explanations for this use of Boss have been offered, but it seems to me arbitrary, a matter of personal preference). In the 1820s and 1830s William, Elijah, Fowk and Miller, sons of Dick Heron, changed their surname, with its variants (Hern spelt many ways, and Herring) to Young: again ingenious explanations have been offered, but again it may just have been a matter of personal preference (three of Dick’s sons don’t seem to have used Young, Fowk went back to Herring when christening Phoenix in 1834 (who subsequently described himself as an Elliott, his mother’s maiden name), and two of Miller’s sons were still using Herring in the mid-1840s); perhaps some Herons just didn’t like being associated with smelly fish.

It’s interesting that the London Hearns are just that, not Herons let alone Herrings like their East of England distant cousins. There’s a similar distinction to be made within the Buckleys.. In the mid 18th century those of the family who established themselves in East Anglia, like Shadrach and Old Joe, remained Buckleys, but those who favoured the West of England, like Old Emmanuel, Barrington and Doctor, became Bucklands. Perhaps the difference was simply a matter of demographics (gorjer Herrings were not as familiar in London as along the East Coast, and gorjerBucklands much more common in Wiltshire and Somerset than in Essex). Or perhaps it was just a matter of personal preference.

Copyright © 2011 Eric Trudgill