Useful links: specialist family history sources
This is a list of sources that RTFHS members tell us they find useful in their research. Their inclusion here doesn’t mean that the Society endorses them: they’re offered purely as suggestions. And if you have your own suggestions to share, please contact us.
Gypsy Archives in Britain
The Gypsy Collections, University of Liverpool: a collection of books, manuscripts and photographs relating mainly to British Gypsy families, created by members of the Gypsy Lore Society from 1888 onwards.
The Romany Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds: a collection of books, documents, photographs and ephemera relating to the history and languages of the Gypsies both in Britain and worldwide, collected and donated to the Library by the Gypsiologist and author Dorothy Una Ratcliffe.
Robert Dawson Romany Collection, Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading: a lifetime’s collection of books, documents, ephemera and artefacts about British Gypsy families, amassed by RTFHS President Bob Dawson and generously donated by him to the Society.
Research into Roma, Gypsy and Traveller artefacts and records held in the UK: an online catalogue of items relating to Romany and Traveller history held in UK Record Offices and libraries.
Photographs of British Gypsies
Fred Shaw’s Photographs at the University of Liverpool: a collection of photographs of British Gypsies and members of the Gypsy Lore Society taken by the Gypsiologist and photographer Fred Shaw (1867-1950). They date from the 1890s to the 1940s, mostly of people and locations in England.
Ivor Evans’ Photographs at the University of Liverpool: a similar collection of images, taken by Ivor Evans (1886-1957), a anthropologist, enthnographer and member of the Gypsy Lore Society. The photos were taken in the period 1924-1932 in East Anglia and the South of England.
The Robert Dawson Gallery: a collection of historic images of English and Welsh Romanies, Scottish Travellers, Fairground People and Gypsies from other countries, created by RTFHS President Bob Dawson.
Gypsy history websites
Gypsy Genealogy: articles about British Romany families and family history research tips by Eric Trudgill and Anne-Marie Ford.
Romany Genes: family history information and photographs.
Romany Road: memories of travelling life.
Gypsy resources by region
Traveller Exhibition: photos of vardos from the local archives. Names of vardo owners in captions include Scarrett, Smith, Parker.
Cambridgeshire and Essex
Gipsy Rodney Smith: a Facebook page showing many family photos of the famous evangelist (1860-1947), his father, uncles, siblings and children. His family originated in Cambridgeshire and Essex.
Gypsies in Dorset
Gypsy Church – Tin Tabernacle, Bramdean
Leicestershire Record Office Gypsy Roma Traveller project
Travellers from the Northants’ baptism index
This YouTube clip presents a slideshow of historic magic lantern slides from the early 20th century discovered in an Eastbourne library warehouse and featuring Sussex Gypsies. There’s commentary by RTFHS Honorary Vice President Janet Keet-Black, two members of the Penfold family and magic lantern slide expert Peter Gillies.
Western England: Cornwall, Devon, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire
Romani: An Anglo-American Romany Gypsy & Traveller Heritage
The Scottish Gypsies
Black and White Families: travelling life in Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey.
Brazil Family – West Country: family history information and photographs as included on a CD of songs sung by the Brazils.
Gray Family: Keomi Gray as the model and partner of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys.
Loveridge Family: travelling life in and around Northamptonshire.
Stanley - Romani: An Anglo-American Romany Gypsy & Traveller Heritage: the site has a predominance of Stanley references from the Western counties of England but increasingly many other surnames and geographical locations are being added.
Borrow’s Gypsies: Smith, Chilcott, Lee, Boswell, Draper, Franklin: articles about the real-life East Anglian Gypsy families on whom the author George Borrow based characters for his novels The Romany Rye and Lavengro.
Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society online
Hathi Trust Digital Library: complete run, 1888-1999, as fully digitised editions. Search by the title on the home page of this free site. Each volume of the Journal has a name and subject index at the end of the book.
Internet Archive: small number of early volumes as fully digitised editions. Search by the title on the home page of this free site.
Online books on British Gypsy themes
Romany Life by Frank Cuttriss (published 1915)
The Gypsies by Charles G Leland (published 1882)
The Dialect of the English Gypsies by Smart & Crofton (published 1875)
The Tinkler Gypsies by Andrew McCormick (published 1907)
The Gypsy’s Parson by Rev. George Hall (published 1915)
Gipsy Smith: his life and work by Gipsy Rodney Smith (first published 1901)
Romano Lavo-Lil by George Borrow (published 1874)
Lifestyle and Transport
Romany Gypsy Trailers: a fine collection of photographs of trailers and their owners, mainly dating from the 20th century. Includes images from old family photo albums including Beaneys, Elliotts, Whatnells, Prices, Biddles, Smiths, Hearns and Parkers, to name a few.
Archives on film
British Pathé News: search by ‘gipsy’, ‘gypsy’ and ‘fairground’ – includes a film of the funeral of Mrs Levi Boswell – ‘Gypsy Lee’ – in 1933.
The East Anglian Film Archive: search by ‘gipsy’, ‘gypsy’ and ‘fairground’ – includes a film of Silvester Gordon Boswell, author of The Book of Boswell (published 1970) and two of Mackenzie Thorpe, of the East Anglian Gypsy Thorpe family, who featured in the book Kenzie: The Wild Goose Man (published 1962).
The Song Collectors Collective: an online archive of traditional songs and stories recorded from members of the English Gypsy, Irish and Scottish Traveller and settled community who are alive today.
The Full English: a free digital archive of thousands of traditional English songs, tunes, dances and customs, in printed and manuscript form. Includes the names of the performers that the songs and music were collected from, some of them clearly Romanies and Travellers.
London Sound Survey: a free archive of the street sounds of London in the 20th century. Includes a recording of the song of a lavender seller called Robert Penfold of Battersea; a mini biography of another Gypsy lavender seller called Lilly Brinkley, again of Battersea; and recordings of fortune-tellers and the hub-bub of fairgrounds.
Publishers of books about British Gypsy life
Joyland Books: new and secondhand books about British and international fairground history and people.
Cottage Books: new and secondhand books, postcards, music and prints about Gypsies and rural life. Postal only. Free catalogues from: Cottage Books, The Cottage, Rempstone Road, Gelsmoor, Coleorton, Leicestershire LE67 8HR, UK.
British fairground history and archives
National Fairground Archive: a collection of photographs, books, ephemera, documents and newspapers relating to the history of British fairgrounds and the lives of showmen and women.
The Fairground Association: free downloadable early editions of the Fairground Mercury magazine.
The Fairground Society: includes an online archive of old photos of fairgrounds
Scotland’s Fairgrounds: includes the history of the Codona family.
Showpeople of Hampshire: a project to capture, record and celebrate the hidden heritage of the county’s fairground families. Includes free downloadable presentations and a video featuring the history of the fairground.
Philip Bradley Fairground Collection, held at the Surrey History Centre.
Mailing lists and message boards
What websites have helped you in your family history research?