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Tip Twenty Three: Where names are missing, look for clues.

Eric Trudgill    -    28 March 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 THREE: Where names are missing, look for clues.

Church burial records rarely identified the deceased’s family if it was of the lower orders, so to be sure you’ve found the right one, you need not just the right name (even when it’s very unusual) and an appropriate age at death (which is often not given or inaccurate), you need also a suitable location, an area where the deceased’s family travelled, and better still a church they used. When you find a Louisa Light buried, aged 20, in 1838, you know she’s a daughter of William and Ann because three of her siblings were buried in that church, all with ages matching their baptisms. Where there are no persuasive clues in the burial register, you can always invest, after 1837, in a death certificate, which is often more helpful: I was once pleased to find a mysterious Dorcas Boswell identified on hers by her brother, Septimus, as the daughter of Solomon deceased, a tinker.

Church marriage records before 1837 rarely identified the couple’s families, so you need to look for clues, in for example the witnesses (if recorded) and the couple’s children. At the 1793 marriage of Sophia Smith to Samuel Smith (of WolstonWks at the baptism of one of their children, which made him son of James and Mary), the witness was Absalom Smith (who also christened a child jointly with Samuel and Sophia in 1798), which surely made Sophia his sister and thereby daughter of Thomas and Hannah. At the 1782 marriage of Hannah Smith to Wisdom Smith (son of Cain and Sarah) we have no witnesses, but Hannah’s forename, her first-born’s forename (Absalom), and her use, when christening children, of three churches used by Absalom, all suggest she too was his sister and thereby daughter of Thomas and Hannah.

Similarly with marriage records you need to look for clues in the church used (siblings often married in the same church, sometimes on the same day) and the conjunction of the couple’s surnames (one inter-family marriage was often followed by another). In 1808 Brington Clayton married Charlotte Booth in the same church and on the same day as Francis Clayton married Mary Bannister. Since Francis (of OxhillWks at the baptism of one of his children, and surely christened himself in 1785 as Frances Clayton daughter of Francis and Mary of Oxhill) was surely the brother of the Dinah Clayton (baptised in 1778 as the daughter ofFrancis and Mary of Oxhill) who married John Booth, son of John and Mary, and since Dinah had a daughter who married one of Brington Clayton’s sons, and a brother-in-law, George Booth, who had four children marry four of Brington’s, it’s clear, without an identifying baptism for either, that Brington was also a child of the first Francis and Mary Clayton, and Charlotte was also a child of John and Mary Booth.

Church baptism records before 1812 can be very frustrating: sometimes they identify both child and parents, but often the mother’s forename is missing, and regularly so is the child’s or father’s or both. You find this occasionally after 1812: to identify the child of Richard and Lucy Taylor, baptised unnamed in 1835, you have to match him with the Phoenix with them in the census; to identify the James Brown baptised in 1841 as the son of unnamed Gypsies, you have to match him with the birth data in the census of the son of Francis and Rosetta; and to identify the Sarah (a treacherously common name) baptised in Chew Magna, Somerset in 1823 as the daughter of an unnamed Gypsy, you have to recognize a somewhat mangled Chew Magna as the birthplace twice given in the census by Sarah daughter of Riley Scamp and Clevansy Lee.

Some missing names are a little less certain. Take two Boswells: I’m confidentFallowfield Boswell, baptised in 1785 as the daughter of unnamed Gypsies, was the child of Bartholomew and Colly recorded eleven years later as Fallerissa (her parents’ travelling companions, Jonas and Constance Smith, had christened a Fallowfield in 1784); and I’m fairly confident that the unnamed child “of Bossill the gypsy”, baptised in Ware, Herts in 1780, was Lucretia daughter of Lawrence and Carnation (Lawrence wintered around Ware 1777-82 and had the personality to be known as “Bossill the gypsy”, while Lucretia, calling herself Susan, seems to be travelling in the 1861 census, aged 80 and born in Herts, with her brother, Samuel, who we know inherited her savings when she died in December 1861). On the other hand take two Smiths: I’m not confident Comfort Smith, baptised in 1775 daughter of an unnamed traveller, was the child of Jasper & Kitty, as Terence Lee suggested (Nehemiah and Elizabeth Smith, in my view, have an equally strong claim); and I’m not confident, though I’d like to be, that Arthur Smith, baptised in 1777 son of an unnamed “poor travelling stranger”, was the son of Thomas and Ashey, and thereby brother of my wife’s 4x great grandfather, Neptune Smith, whose daughter married Arthur’s son. Sometimes it’s best to keep an open mind.

Copyright © 2013 Eric Trudgill