Was Your Ancestor a Gypsy?
Do you suspect that one of your British ancestors was a Gypsy? If so, how
can you establish a firm connection with a Gypsy family?
Not everyone described as a traveller or a vagrant was a Gypsy. Not every
hawker, basket maker, or chimney sweep was a Gypsy, but many were. By
gathering a series of documentary references to an individual or a family,
it may be possible to establish a Gypsy connection using a combination of
typical occupations, forenames, surnames, and other data.
References to travel or movement may give a clue to Gypsy origins. Most
Gypsies lived in tents, though travelling vans were adopted by some from the
mid nineteenth century.
Gypsy, Egyptian (until the 18th century), traveller, vagrant, stroller,
tramper of no fixed abode, living in tents, van dwellers
The following occupations were commonly practised by Gypsies, who provided
goods and services to local communities in the course of their travels. The
terms dealer and general dealer were frequently used by Gypsies from the
late 19th century, but the terms were also used to describe other traders
and shopkeepers. A marine store dealer was a dealer in scrap materials.
hawker, licensed hawker, pedlar, basket maker, mat maker, beehive maker,
brush maker, chair bottomer, sieve bottomer, tinker, tinman, razor grinder,
dealer, general dealer, marine store dealer, wardrobe dealer, peg maker,
chimney sweep, horse dealer
Gypsies often used standard forenames - such as Samuel, William, Mary - but
they were also fond of unusual names.
Examples of male names:
Elijah, Goliath, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, Noah, Sampson, Shadrack
Amberline, Belcher, Dangerfield, Gilderoy, Liberty, Major, Nelson, Neptune,
Examples of female names:
Anselina, Athalia, Britannia, Cinderella, Clementina, Dotia, Gentilia,
Sabina, Tryphena, Urania
Fairnette, Freedom, Mizelli, Ocean, Reservoir, Sinfai, Unity, Vancy
Most surnames used by Gypsies are also common in the "Gorjer" or non-Gypsy
population. The best known and most widespread Gypsy families include:
Boswell, Buckland, Faa, Hearn, Heron, Lee, Lovell, Smith, Wood, Young.
The following families all travelled in southern England:
Ayres, Baker, Ball, Barnes, Barney, Bartlett, Bath, Beaney, Beckett, Birch,
Black, Blackman, Bland, Bowers, Brazil, Buckley, Bull, Burton, Bushnell,
Butler, Camfield, Carey, Carrington, Castle, Chapman, Clark, Cole/Coles,
Collins, Coneley, Cooper, Cox, Cripps, Crocker, Crutcher/Croucher/Kircher,
Curtis, Davis/Davies, Dawes, Deacon/Deakins, Dixon, Doe, Draper, Duckett,
Eastwood, Elliot, Essex, Frankham, Giles, Golby, Green, Gregory, Griggs,
Gritt, Groves, Hall, Harfield, Harris, Hibberd, Hicks, Hughes, Isaacs, James
Jeffs, Johnson, Jones, Keet, Kempster, King, Kircher, Lakey, Lamb, Lambert,
Lane, Light, Loveridge, Matthews, Miller, Mills, Mitchell, Mustow, Newland,
Odam, Orchard, Page, Pannell, Parker, Pateman, Penfold/Pinfold, Peters,
Pidgley, Pike, Proudley, Rawlings/Rollins, Ray, Roberts, Rose, Rowell,
Rowland/Rowlands, Sanders/Saunders, Scamp, Scott, Sheen, Sherred/Sherrard,
Sherwood, Sines, Stanley, Stevens/Stephens, Stokes, Stratton, Tanner, Taylor
Thompson, Turner, Vincent, Wells, Wenman, Wheeler, White, Willett, Williams
This list is by no means exhaustive. Further names are given on the Journal
The journal Romany Routes, published quarterly by the Romany & Traveller
Family History Society, includes much information about British Gypsy
families, and gives advice on sources and methods for Gypsy research.
The publications of the Society include research guides and memoirs, as well
as transcripts and indexes of documents relating to Gypsies.http://website.lineone.net/~rtfhs/gypsy.html
HIMMLER'S CIRCULAR OF DECEMBER 8, 1938: "COMBATTING THE GYPSY NUISANCE"
Experience gained in combating the Gypsy nuisance, and knowledge derived
from race-biological research, have shown that the proper method of
attacking the Gypsy problem seems to be to treat it as a matter of race.
Experience shows that part-Gypsies play the greatest role in Gypsy
criminality. On the other hand, it has been shown that efforts to make the
Gypsies settle have been unsuccessful, especially in -the case of pure
Gypsies, on account of their strong compulsion to wander. It has therefore
become necessary to distinguish between pure and part-Gypsies in the final
solution of the Gypsy question.
To this end, it is necessary to establish the racial affinity of every Gypsy
living in Germany and of every vagrant living a Gypsy-like existence.
I therefore decree that all settled and non-settled Gypsies, and also all
vagrants living a Gypsy-like existence, are to be registered with the Reich
Criminal Police Office-Reich Central Office for Combating the Gypsy Nuisance
The police authorities will report (via the responsible Criminal Police
offices and local offices) to the Reich Criminal Police Office-Reich Central
Office for Combating the Gypsy Nuisance all per-sons who by virtue of their
looks and appearance, customs or habits, are to be regarded as Gypsies or
Because a person considered to be a Gypsy or part-Gypsy, or a person living
like a Gypsy, as a rule confirms the suspicion that marriage (in accordance
with clause 6 of the first decree on the implementation of the Law for the
Protection of German Blood and Honor... or on the basis of stipulations in
the law on Fitness to Marry must not be contracted, in all cases the public
registry officials must demand a testimony of fitness to marry from those
who make such an application [to be married].
Treatment of the Gypsy question is part of the National Socialist task of
national regeneration. A solution can only be achieved if the philosophical
perspectives of National Socialism are observed. Although the principle that
the German nation respects the national identity of alien peoples is also
assumed in combating the Gypsy nuisance, nonetheless the aim of measures
taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be
the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention
of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and
part-Gypsies. The necessary legal foundation can only be created through a
Gypsy Law which prevents further intermingling of blood, and which regulates
all the most pressing questions which go together with the existence of
Gypsies in the living space of the German nation.
Translated in Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, The Racial State:
Germany 1933-1945 (New York, 1991), pp. 120-21.http://www.holocaust-trc.org/nuisance.htm
Gypsy Lore Societyhttp://sca.lib.liv.ac.uk/collections/gypsy/intro2.htm