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TIP FIVE: Use your trees to make sure you’re not barking up the wrong one

Eric Trudgill    -    5 October 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 FIVE: Use your trees to make sure you’re not barking up the wrong one.

In a recent publication Lewis Boswell, baptised in Bromham, Wilts in 1788 son of Bartholomew and Colle, was confused with three other Lewis Boswells: the one baptised in Hindlesham, Suffolk in 1792 son of Shadrach and Cinderella; the one buried in Eastwood, Notts in 1835 probably son of Daniel and Sarah; and a gorjer, of unknown parents, buried in Flore, Northants in 1803. The writer, and the readers I’ve discussed this with, clearly didn’t notice that on facing pages we’re told a Lewis Boswell baptised in 1788 himself had a daughter baptised in Flore in 1783, and having been buried in 1835 baptised a son in 1838. We all make mistakes out of ignorance, we can never know enough, but how could intelligent people see nothing worrying about a man seemingly having a daughter five years before he was born, and a son three years after he’d died?

The answer, I suspect, is that the writer presented his material, and had worked it up, in the form of a data-bank, not a tree. If you develop your material in tree-form, parents across the top with their birth, death and marriage data in parallel lines beneath them, then lower down their children across the page with their birth, death and marriage data in parallel lines beneath them, you develop the habit of spotting incongruities of time (eg parents too old or young to have these children) and incongruities of place (eg one child or more born or baptised on very different territory from the others); you develop the habit of applying the four tests for consanguinity I outlined last month.

If you use trees, not data-banks, you also develop the habit of applying the three other tests, intra-family marriage, travelling ties and significant forenames. And this is especially helpful when you’re tracing your own ancestors and want to avoid confusing one with somebody of the same name but in a quite different family: using trees can help protect you from wasting time and money, barking up the wrong one. You can of course apply my four tests to the material in data-banks, but without a tree’s visual clarity and freedom from clutter I at least find it appreciably more difficult, and often re-write the material, in a data-bank I’ve been given, in tree-form in order to see it better.

Some trees, however, are almost as hard to use as data-banks, and I’ve therefore developed a new kind, which the Romany & Traveller FHS has used in its family tree series, and some experienced researchers have liked enough to adopt for their work in progress. Basically, traditional trees have operated horizontally, each generation of siblings spread across the page, so that you soon have a very squat pyramid, with, say, two parents at the top, ten children in the middle, and maybe a hundred grandchildren at the bottom. This means even the children, let alone the grandchildren, are spread over several pages, thus negating, for me, one of the tree’s great benefits, the opportunity at a glance to apply the four tests across siblings and generations.

The tree I’ve developed operates horizontally with the children, but goes vertical in columns for the grandchildren. Two parents, ten children and a hundred grandchildren in an A4 published pyramid will occupy at least 20 pages that are very hard to use, but the same family in the Romany & Traveller FHS’s A4 series can occupy just two facing pages that are very easy to use – you can apply the four tests by simply running your eye across the children’s birth, death and marriage data, and then down through the grandchildren’s. Thus in Josie Tombs’ superbFamily Tree of Woodfine Smith, if you glance across the birth data of the children of his son Edward, you’ll find only Gilderoy lacks confirmation that he’s a child of Edward and Elizabeth, but if you glance across the marriage data you’ll find he married (son of Edward), like one of his brothers, a daughter of a Clayton/Booth couple closely related to Edward’s wife, and if you glance down the grandchildrens’ columns, you’ll find another brother was almost certainly travelling with Gilderoy around 1860, and gave his and Woodfine’s unusual forenames to two of his sons; you don’t need a baptism or birth certificate to show Gilderoy is Woodfine’s grandson, only a helpfully laid out tree.

Copyright © 2011 Eric Trudgill