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TIP THREE: Use the descriptions in original records to establish family structure.

Eric Trudgill    -    3 August 2011

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 THREE: Use the descriptions in original records to establish family structure.

In July I stressed how important it is in establishing Gypsy ethnicity to use the descriptions in the Parish Registers that are omitted in the big internet genealogical indexes, descriptions giving evidence of typically Gypsy occupations and typically Gypsy impermanence of abode. When asked at baptisms of their children about their place of abode, occasionally up to 1812 and routinely from 1813, Gypsies often interpreted abode, not having a fixed one, as place of origin or settlement, ie where they, their father, or even some distant patriarchal ancestor, had been born. And this besides confirming their ethnicity often gives us invaluable clues to the identity of their forbears and other close relations.

Looking up in the Register a child’s baptism you’ve found in an internet index will often give you its father’s baptism and thereby the name of its grandparents. Look up Mark Hearn’s baptism in the Register, where his father is Mullender Hearn of Princes Risborough, Bucks, and you can then find Mullender’s in 1776 in Princes Risborough son of Benjamin and Ann. Look up James Smith’s baptism in the Register, where his father is Neptune Smith of Horton, Wilts, and you can then see Neptune’s is the one, on the internet, in 1781 in Potterne, Wilts son of Thomas and Ashey (Potterne being next to Horton, which didn’t then have its own church).

Being able to find the father’s baptism like this is especially valuable where his forename, unlike Mullender’s or Neptune’s, is a common one: look up James Burton’s baptism in the Register, where his father is Henry Burton of Arborfield, Berks, and you can then find Henry’s in 1765 in Arborfield son of Ambrose and Sarah; look Up Menanette Cooper’s baptism in the Register, where her father is Francis Cooper of Cobham, Surrey, and you can then see Francis was the son, christened in Cobham in 1837, of the famous Matty Cooper and Eliza, and

Menanette’s mother was a previously unknown wife of Francis.

Evidence of origin or settlement is often equally invaluable in illuminating family structure. If it guides you to the father and grandfather when you know the child, it also guides you to the child when you know the father or grandfather, a real boon in distinguishing different sections of a large family: the four Claytons who described themselves as of Sandford a total of 14 times, when christening their children, marked themselves for our convenience as sons of the James Clayton christened in 1773 in Sandford on Thames, Oxon. Sulgrave, Northants was a similar genetic marker for a particular Nehemiah Smith’s offspring; Steeple Claydon, Bucks for a particular Wisdom Smith’s; Macclesfield, Cheshire for a particular John Boswell’s; Willenhall, Staffs for a particular John Sherriff s; Barwell, Leics for a particular Robert Holland’s; Meldreth, Cambs for a particular Charles Gray’s; Shuckburgh and Tanworth, Warwickshire for respectively a particular Joseph Butler and Edward Hodgkins

Evidence of origin can guide you to a new understanding of family structure even when you thought you knew it quite well. Look up John Lee’s baptism in the Register, where his father is Elijah Lee of Bredon, Worcs, and you can then find Elijah’s in 1815 in Bredon son of Samuel Lee, of Enborne, Berks, and Hannah, in a triple baptism with a daughter of Riley Scamp and Elijah’s known sister, Clevansy Lee, and a son pretty obviously of Elijah’s previously unknown brother, Thomas Lee, and his wife Oceana; and Samuel Lee’s place of origin there in 1815 will give you his baptism in 1766 in Enborne, Berks son of John and Phillis Lee, gypsies, which will in turn identify the Robert Lee married to Xantippe Smith as the son Samuel christened jointly with his daughter Clevansy in 1792 (Robert is of Enborne, Berks at the christening of a daughter in 1824) and this will suggest the famous Richard Lee who married Rhoda Draper, and looks like Robert’s brother, was wrongly placed by the early 20* century gypsiologists in another family. You don’t get a pay-off like this every time you look up descriptions omitted in internet indexes, but you get one often enough to keep you at it.

Copyright © 2011 Eric Trudgill