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TIP TWENTY FOUR: Where names are possibly plural, look for clues.

Eric Trudgill    -    5 May 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 FOUR: Where Names Are Possibly Plural, Look For Clues.

Gypsies sometimes adopted pseudonyms, especially when confronted by the authorities (by a constable, say, or a census-taker), but, where you suspect this is happening, make sure you establish the correct identity. In the 1851 census, for example, you’ll find a Gypsy tinman calling himself George Rix, an odd surname for a Gypsy, but, if you look for clues, you’ll find his birth data and that of his wife, Honor, and children, Adelaide, Saunders, Walter, Adolphus, Sarah and Ada, prove he was actually Frank Smith son of Robert and Margaret.

Gypsies regularly used alternate forenames (sometimes reserving them for different contexts, with gorjers, fellow Gypsies, and close family, and sometimes using them indiscriminately and changing them over time), but again, where you suspect this is happening, make sure you establish the right identity. Thomas Lovell, for example, in 1816 married his cousin, Spanish Lovell, who was named as the mother of four of his children baptised 1817-25, but a Sarah was named as the mother of three more, baptised 1827-39, and a Penelope was named as the mother of another, baptised in 1836. If you look for clues, you’ll find we have plural forenames here, not plural wives, since Thomas’ wife, when she died in 1879 attended by Uriah Lovell (who’d been baptised as a son of Spanish), was recorded as Pen; and the mother of Uriah, two other sons of Spanish and one of Penelope in the 1861 census was recorded as Sarah.

We have a similar problem with the Samuel Lee who married Mary Ann, the sister-in-law of John Chilcott. Four of their children have unproblematic baptisms, but their supposed son who married John Chilcott’s daughter, Union (christened in 1812) looks rather like the Charles Lee baptised in Walthamstow, Essex in 1810 son of Samuel and Amelia, and their incontestable daughter, who claimed in the census to have been born in Saxmundham, Suffolk, looks rather like the Elizabeth Lee baptised, very close to Saxmundham, in Snape, Suffolk in 1824 daughter of Samuel and Mildred otherwise Milly. The gypsiologists, it may be worth recalling, collected some very unreliable data about the Zachariah Lee who married Charlotte Hammond being the son of a Samuel and Million.

Turning to the men, we have two small problems with the children of Lawrence Boswell. His son by Carnation, Sam, was surely baptised as Samson Boswell in Sonning, Berks in 1793 son of John and Carnation: Sam was “of Eaton Bray, Beds” at the baptism of a daughter, and it’s possible the priest misunderstood his claim that he’d been born “near Eton or Bray”, as both places are close to Sonning! And Lawrence’s son by Peggy, Aaron, was surely baptised in Wolverton, Bucks in 1794 son of Henry and Margaret: Lawrence seems to have got his brother, Henry, to stand in for him, either to be himself with the dying Carnation, or to avoid explaining to the priest why he was bringing him babies for christening by two different wives within three days.

The trickiest of the Boswells, when it comes to plural names, are Viney’s sons, George and Othea. George christened at least six of his children more than once, sometimes giving them different forenames (you have to keep a close eye on place and date). Othea christened at least five of his children more than once, but to make things trickier, he also used three aliases for himself (James, Noah and Samson) and something like the same for the mother or mothers of the children he christened before marrying Dinah Heron. I’ve tried to unravel all this in my Viney Boswell Family Tree booklet, but I suspect newly discovered plural baptisms in the years to come will bring new problems with them.

THIS IS THE LAST RESEARCH TIP I’LL BE GIVING FOR A WHILE. NEXT MONTH I’LL BE STARTING A NEW SERIES, “TRACING GYPSY FAMILIES BACK DESPITE THE LACK OF RECORDS”, IN WHICH THE TIPS WILL BE IMPLICIT. I’LL BE FOCUSSING ON THE 18TH CENTURY, AND ILLUSTRATING (AS WELL AS LAYING OPEN TO CHALLENGE) HOW I TRY TO DEAL WITH THE SCANTINESS OF RECORDS IN THAT PERIOD.

Copyright © 2013 Eric Trudgill