Share this page

Lost in Translation

Anne-Marie Ford    -    8 April 2014

The youngest known child of Gypsies Peter and Jane/Jenny Stanley was baptised Deborah at Chieveley, Berkshire on 21st March 1756, but did not survive; hers was probably the burial that took place at Eling, Hampshire on 1st October 1757, where she was recorded as Seborah Standley. It may seem probable that the burial record is simply a mishearing or an error in transcription of the little girl’s name, but perhaps, after all, it was Deborah that was incorrect.

In Dorset, on 10th May 1792, another Peter Stanley, a razor grinder and tinker, was examined with regard to settlement. Although I have found no baptism for him, I believe that he is likely to have been a son of Peter and Jane/Jenny Stanley; since he claims to be about 62 or 63 years of age, this would probably make him the eldest of their children. He claimed, too, to have been born in Hampshire and to be, with his wife, Sarah, the father of seven children who were still living. He named these as William, Selbea, Aaron, Peter, Sabra, Paul and Henry. There is also a burial record for a Jenny Stanley, at Marnhull, Dorset, on 18th June 1774, daughter of Peter and Sarah Stanley as well as one for a Deborah Stanley. It seemed reasonable to assume this Deborah, like Jenny, had died in infancy, a common enough occurrence at the time.

But it is an assumption, with regard to Deborah, that proves to be incorrect, not because Peter lied about his living children, but because of confusion between the names of Sabra and Deborah. It seems that he had two daughters known as Seborah/Sabra; the first, baptised at Winterbourne Kingston on 9th February 1764 is, after all, the child buried on 14th December that same year, the daughter of Peter Stanley. The later child, baptised as Deborah, at Crichell-Moore in 1772, and indeed marrying as Deborah to a Thomas Whittle at Church Knowle, Dorset on 7th August 1796, is recorded as Sabra Whittle at the baptism of the two known children she had with her husband, Thomas. The baptisms took place at Coombe Keynes, Dorset on 20th November 1803 and record a Jane and a Gentilla. Two sisters with, apparently, different names, but actually variations of the same one offer a trap for the unwary into which, at first, I fell much too easily.

The burial of a Sabra Whittle at Church Knowle on 6th August 1836 further complicates this already confusing family pattern; it seems likely that she is the wife of Thomas, a Deborah who was clearly known as Sabra/Seborah, but actually there is another Sabra Whittle! A Sabra Burden/Burton had married a Robert Whittle in Winfrith-Newburgh, Dorset in 1808.It seems that it is she, not Sabra/Seborah Stanley, whose burial is recorded here, aged 51 years, indicating a birth in around 1785.

The misreading/mishearing of names also applies to Peter and Sarah Stanley’s eldest daughter, Selbea, who has been mistakenly transcribed, owing to damaged records, as Dorothea by some researchers. Selbea was to marry, as Silby Stanley, in Millbrook, Hampshire on 4th February 1781to a William Fletcher, and they had ten known children: Gentilla, baptised at Medstead, Hampshire on 22nd August 1784; Sarah at Owermoigne, Dorset on 3rd December 1786; William at Bere-Regis, Dorset on 22nd March 1789; Jane at Shillingstone, Dorset on 12th June 1791; Jemima at Winterbourne Zelston 25th February 1795; Kerenhappuck, also at Winterbourne Zelston, on 5th November 1797; Paul at Shapwick, Dorset (where a Vanloe Stanly had been buried on 25th May 1749, the son of a vagrant, so clearly an historical family patch) on 23rd June 1799; Henry at Witchampton, Dorset on 18th April 1802; Louisa at Bere-Regis around 1805; Matilda, in the same location, on 17th September 1809.

Since Sabra/Seborah’s elder sister, Selbea/Silby also favoured the names of Gentilla and Jane perhaps they are used in memory of the Jane/Jenny who was the wife of the elder Peter Stanley. Selbea/Silby is almost certainly a corruption of Sylvia, a name which Peter, son of Peter and Sarah, and his wife, Mary Drake, also gave to their eldest daughter. Sylvia, sometimes recorded as Silveria and Silvanna in later census records, was baptised, together with a younger brother, Michael, on 31st August 1794 in Dorset.

The name of Silby/Selby is also threaded through the descendants of Mary Stanley, a daughter of Peter and Jane/Jenny Stanley, who was the partner of Samuel Eyres, with whom she had 13 children. A son named for his father married Charlotte Kircher/Croucher on 12th August 1825 at Micheldever, Hampshire and one of their children is almost certainly the Sylbe Ayres, baptised 14th March 1824 at Hannington, Hampshire. Another of their children, Major, baptised 8th January 1837 at Froyle in Hampshire, married Fanette Scotte and one of their daughters was also baptised as a Selby on 14th September 1873 at Binsted, Hampshire. (She can be found in the 1881 census at South Warnborough, Hampshire with her family, and here she is recorded as Silvane, very like one of the forms of the name used for Peter and Mary Stanley’s daughter in Dorset.) Even more persuasively, Major’s daughter was baptised together with an Elizabeth White, daughter of James and Selby. Surely Elizabeth’s mother must be Major’s sister, baptised as Sylbe, who had formed a union with a member of the White tribe.

At the known baptisms of the children of James and Selby, the mother’s name displays a range of mishearing and errors in transcription: Walter was baptised on 23rd August 1857 at Holybourne, Hampshire, son of James and Silby White, of Shatesbury, Dorset; Joseph is recorded as the son of James and Sylvia at his baptism, on 7th August 1859 at Soberton, Hampshire, where his parents are, once again, said to be of Shaftesbury; Edward, baptised at Binsted, Hampshire on 22nd September 1861, is also recorded as the son of James and Sylvia; Elderia, however, also baptised at Binsted on 6th September 1863, is the daughter of James and Silvy; George, the son of James and Silvia, in baptised on 19th August 1866, at Colmer, Hampshire, of parents said to be of the New Forest; the last known son of this couple, child of James and Silby, was baptised Major on 12th September 1869, and the parents said to be of Shaftesbury.

Sabra, too, was a name that continued to be used amongst the Stanleys. Peter and Sarah had a grand-daughter who was given this name, the daughter of their son William, who married Anne Bullock; she was, rather gloriously, recorded as Zebra Stanley at her baptism at Owermoigne, Dorset on 29th September 1793. Other known children of this couple include two daughters, also baptised in the same location, Elizabeth Stanley on 20th April 1786 and Sarah Ingram Stanley, on 2nd January 1789, as well as three sons, all baptised together at Froyle in Hampshire in 1800, Aaron, Peter and William.

The alteration of a ‘v’ sound to a ‘b’ was common enough amongst the Gypsy community, Vertie/Bertie frequently interchangeable forms of Vertina, for example. In addition, the mishearing and mis-transcription of names, especially the more unusual ones the Romany and Traveller families favoured, explains the many variations recorded. It leaves me wondering if the Savery (sic) Eyres, partner of Thomas White, who baptised two children in Froyle, Hampshire in 1811, is a Sabra, a child of one of the two Stanley sisters, Mary or Jane/Jenny, both of whom baptised their children with their partner’s surname. Interestingly, there is the burial of a Sabra White recorded on 30th November 1815 at Alton, in Hampshire, age at death is given as 37, indicating a birth in approximately 1778, which could indeed place her within one of these families.

Copyright © 2014 Anne-Marie Ford