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TIP THIRTEEN: Donít trust excessively the information provided by family members: test it in the records.

Eric Trudgill    -    3 June 2012

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 THIRTEEN: Don’t trust excessively the information provided by family members: test it in the records.

Most Gypsy genealogists, I suspect, are happy, because of privacy issues, to trace families other than their own no further than 100 years before the year they publish. Only direct ancestors have the knowledge to trace the recent history of their family and those related to it (as Jim Hayward, for example, did in his invaluable six volume series on Travellers and Fairkeepers in the Cotswolds, the Vale of the White Horse, and beyond). But don’t assume present families have reliable data, any more than their ancestors, about the generations before that of their grandparents.

I once met a professional genealogist fascinated by his first ever commission to trace a Gypsy family. He’d joined the R & T FHS, consulted the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, inspected the gypsiological manuscript collection in Liverpool, and spent far more time and money than he could ever recoup through his fee. He delivered his research, tracing the family back with documented facts through several blood-lines, including one deriving from very famous Romanies in the middle of the 18th century. But the family, who’d done no research, dismissed the whole lot(it didn’t fit their notion of their ancestry), and the genealogist, very nobly in my view, waived his entire fee.

The family’s attitude wasn’t so different from that of the Derbyshire Boswells a century ago, when shown by a gypsiologist the baptism of a child of Lawrence and Carnation: they’d never heard of the child, and were tolerably sure all Lawrence’s children were by Peggy Boswell and Betty Buckland. The records, however, show Lawrence married Carnation Boswell in 1774, and had at least eight children baptised as hers before her death in 1794; he had five children we know of baptised as Peggy’s, and none baptised as Betty’s. The oldest family members alive a century ago had joined it nearly 50 years after Carnation’s death, and with little second-hand, let alone first-hand knowledge of her children assigned them to the two wives they knew about. If the gypsiologists had been able to tell Lawrence’s family that he wasn’t, like them, a Derbyshire Boswell, but according to his numerous appearances in the records a Southerner till very late inhis life, I imagine they’d have been as dismissive as they were of Carnation.

The truth is elderly Gypsies interviewed 100 years ago could describe their descendants, siblings, and siblings’ descendants (if they’d stayed in touch), plus their parents, but they were often pretty vague about their grandparents, great-uncles and great-aunts. The famous Esmeralda Lock gave the gypsiologists an account of the children of her grandfather, Matthew Lock, which has been confirmed as accurate in every respect except birth-order, but she and other family members gave her great-grandfather, Henry Lock, five sons besides Matthew (Merrick,Lamrok, Rowley, Lucas and John), and four daughters (Unity who married George Payne, Salome who married George Dixon, and Prudence and Sheba who both married a Ryles), and so far only Matthew at his baptism and Unity at her wedding have been confirmed as Henry’s children, Merrick at his baptism has been confirmed actually as son of George, Henry’s brother, and none of the others has been confirmed as even existing.

The gypsiologist, George Hall, similarly, was told by Iza Heron (a near-infallible source, Hall claimed, for the Heron Pedigree) that Jack Gray(brother of Iza’s grandfather) by Urania Heron(sister of Iza’s grandmother) had a Speedy, Studiverus, Gerenia, Enos (father of Cashmere), Mochus, Kaomi, Vidance, Dienia, and Rabi (mother of the Joshua Boswell who married Fazzy Boswell), but the records show Urania bearing a completely different crop of children by Leonard Printall in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, while those named as hers by Iza were being born in the West Country by Sarah, wife of William Lovell (the first three being identified by their baptisms, and the next two and the last by appearing with William and Sarah’s family in the census).

You shouldn’t trust excessively the information provided by family mambers, but, as we’ll see next month, you also shouldn’t trust excessively the information provided by the gypsiologists, even when they’d not been misinformed by family members.

Copyright © 2012 Eric Trudgill