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Research Tips For Beginners In Gypsy Genealogy

Eric Trudgill    -    6 January 2013

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 TWENTY: Where the name is the same, check the context.

It’s risky making assumptions about Gypsies with common forenames: to be sure you’ve got the right one you need to research the rest of their family and their travel profile, all the time looking for other Gypsies with the same name and a better claim. As examples of dangerously common forenames take Dick Boswell, husband of Kitty Evans; Ted Buckland, husband of Paradise; Sam Lee, husband of Phoebe; and Christopher Smith, husband of Priscilla Shaw.

If you look up Dick’s belated marriage in 1872, you’ll see he was son of another Richard; if you check Dick’s children, you’ll find he had an Israel, Rebecca and Louisa, the names of children of Richard Boswell and Sarah Smith, christened with a Dick 1806-15, with Richard at his Louisa’s baptism described as of Bishop Auckland, Durham, which is where Richard himself had been christened in 1781 son of Daniel. If you examine Ted Buckland’s final years, cast off by his family, wandering about around Seagry and Sutton Benger, Wilts, you may think, as I do, he looks like the Edward Buckland christened in GtBedwyn,Wilts in 1757 son of Thomas & Judith, not because GtBedwyn is that near but because Edward’s sister, Garmanale, was christened in 1761 in Dauntsey, Wilts, which is very close indeed.

If you track Sam Lee’s travels, mostly in Hampshire but also in Somerset, Worcestershire, Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, you’ll find at two baptisms and one census in Hampshire, but also at one in Somerset, he’s of Itchinstoke, Hants, where he was christened in 1792 son of George and Martha; no other Sam Lee is even worth considering. And if you compare the children christened by Christopher Smith in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire 1809-27 with the children christened by a Christopher Smith and his wife, Maria, in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire 1837-50, you should in principle suspect these are different Christophers, it’s such a common name, but a glance at Christopher and Maria in the 1871 census shows them with Moses from Christopher’s marriage to Priscilla as well as Stephen and Barty from his marriage to Maria.

Common forenames can deceive you into seeing two people as one and one person as two: if you’ve plumped for a different father for Dick, Ted and Sam and only one marriage for Christopher, your only chance of being right is with Ted.But uncommon forenames can be just as treacherous. Take Mordecai Boswell, Desira Julia Buckland, Damon Lee and Nehemiah Smith.

The most famous Mordecai Boswell was christened in 1820 by Absalom, but it’s easy to get confused between the one christened in 1843 by Phoenix (the first Mordecai’s cousin) and the one christened in 1849 by Josiah (the first Mordecai’s brother, whom I like most people, following the gypsiologists, muddled for years with Josiah son of Edward and Phyllis); the Mordecai of 1849 incidentally died at three months, and Josiah had another one in 1854. The most famous Desira Buckland, the daughter of Selina Buckland by Edmond Smith, married James Bunce, and was given in the 1871 census as born in Henley, Oxon 1852/3, but it’s easy to get confused by the Desira Julia Buckland, born in Henley in 1853 daughter of Sinfy Buckland by Septimus Boswell and christened in Henley in 1853 as daughter of Emmanuel (sic) and Sinfine, whilst James Bunce’s future wife was christened in Henley in 1852 as Zara Julia Smith daughter of Edwin (sic) and Selina.

The most famous Damon Lee was christened in 1822 son of Charles, and married Mizelli Carey, but it’s easy to get confused by a Damon Lee, born about the same time and son of another Charles (cousin of the first one): the second Damon moreover, being family, used the first Damon’s family church, Eversley, Hants, to marry Eliza Baker in 1846 and christen two children. And the most famous Nehemiah Smith, husband of Rhoda, was christened in 1794 son of John and Mary, but it’s easy to get confused by Nehemiah Smith, husband of Mary Fletcher and son of another Nehemiah; the gypsiologists were told Nehemiah Smith was brother of the famous Woodfine, but unfortunately plumped for the first of these Nehemiahs, not the second.

As I said last month, unusual forenames (like the four I’ve just discussed) often run in families and as genetic markers can help distinguish one family of Boswells, Bucklands, Lees and Smiths, say, from another. But they can be traps for those who don’t see the need to always check a person of interest’s context.

Copyright © 2013 Eric Trudgill