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Tracing Gypsy Families back despite the lack of records.

Eric Trudgill    -    3 June 2013

Tracing Gypsy Families Back Despite The Lack Of Records

ONE: Henry and Elizabeth Boswell

Two Gypsies, Henry and Elizabeth Boswell, were buried in Ickleford, Herts in 1780 and 1782; another, Lettice Boswell wife of Henry, was buried there in 1796. These facts (despite the unfounded claims of a pioneer gypsiologist) are all we have about them, and, although it’s probable the first Henry was husband of Elizabeth and father of the second (Lettice in 1796 was described as her Henry’s wife, not widow), without more evidence we can’t be sure of this. It’s also probable the first Henry was father of, in addition to the second, Lawrence (the famous founder of the Derbyshire Boswells, born about 1757), plus a William and a Mary; butuntil more evidence emerges, if it ever does, we should keep an open mind on this too. Here’s what evidence I have.

Lawrence Boswell seems to have arrived in Derbyshire rather late, having travelled for most of his life, like the Boswells and Bucklands with whom his family inter-married, within a 100 mile corridor between Wiltshire and Cambridgeshire. He married Carnation Boswell in Egham, Surrey in 1774, and seems to have wintered from 1777 to 1782 around Hitchin, Herts, with or near Henry and Elizabeth: he and Carnation christened Azgad, Lucretia (see my Research Tip 23) and Scamper during those years in late November or January in Cottered, Ware, and GtWymondley, all close or very close to Ickleford.

Lawrence was surely the brother of a William Boswell. He witnessed his marriage in 1786 (William described as a widower) to Hannah Beldam in Hitchin, next door to Ickleford. He probably travelled with him in 1790 in Huntingdonshire: Godmanchester and Leighton Bromswold, where they christened Joanna and an unnamed son respectively within a month, are very close. And he almost certainly travelled with him in 1793 in Berkshire: Sonning and Aston Tirrold, where they christened Samson and an Elizabeth respectively within a fortnight, are also very close). Elizabeth, incidentally, was buried in Ickleford in 1796 two months before Lettice (aged three gypsy daughter of William and Hannah).

Lawrence and William were surely siblings too of Mary Boswell (wife of Robert Boswell), who witnessed with Lawrence William’s wedding, and in the daughter ofher son, Edward (who the Derbyshire Boswells said was Lawrence’s nephew), supplied a wife for Aaron, Lawrence’s son by his second wife, Peggy Boswell.Besides Edward, christened in Kilmington, Somerset in 1780, who married Phyllis Lee in 1799, Robert and Mary quite possibly had an Abraham, John, and Joan: the Abraham Boswell (christened in Wimborne, Dorset in 1788 son of a stranger and pauper) whose daughter, Honor, in 1854 married Josiah Boswell son of Edward and Phyllis; the John Boswell (husband of a Charity) who in 1821 christened a Mary Ann in Swimbridge, Devon, a special place for Edward & Phyllis’ family; and the Joan Boswell, wife of John Burton, who in 1799 christened a son in the church used two years later by Edward Boswell for one of his, and who was related by marriage to the Henry Burton whose wedding Edward Boswell witnessed in 1812.

Lawrence, William and Mary were surely siblings too of Henry, husband of Lettice. In Wolverton, Bucks in 1794 Lawrence within five days christened and buried Carter, his last child by Carnation, christened Aaron, his child by Peggy, and buried Carnation. The father at Aaron’s baptism was recorded as Henry, and this was surely not a clerical error but proof that Lettice’s husband was Lawrence’s brother: Lawrence had his brother stand in for him, because he needed to be with the dying Carnation, or because he was reluctant to ask a priest to christen sons by two different wives within four days, or because he was simply too distressed by his double loss.

I’m speculating here, as I have been throughout this article: it’s the only way to trace Gypsy families back through the eighteenth century, where the records are so scanty; and no harm will come to any genealogist following my lead, provided they’re alert to material that challenges my ideas as well as material that supports them. Next month I’ll be speculating about Lawrence’s two Boswell wives, Carnation and Peggy, and trying to trace them back.

Copyright © 2013 Eric Trudgill