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.

Gypsy Traveller and Roma Collections, 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 Community at the Pleasure Beach, Blackpool: a collection of photographs on Pinterest of the families who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lived and worked on the sands at South Shore, Blackpool, on the site where the Pleasure Beach amusement park now stands.

RomanyHeritageUK and Romanylife: two Instagram feeds of historic photographs of British Romanies, that have been professionally colourised. They include a series of six images that are believed to be the earliest photographs ever taken of British Gypsies. These date from the period 1855-1859 and are of members of the Lee family. They were taken in Epping Forest, Essex, by the pioneering photographer William Morris Grundy.

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.

Chimney Sweeper Index

18th century Gypsy lives

Romani: a collection of baptisms, marriages and burials extracted from British parish registers, plus census returns and newspaper articles. An innovative mapping facility enables you to locate events in neighbouring villages, towns and counties in seconds.

Gypsy resources by region

Historic references to Romany people, contained within a PDF document created by Bedfordshire Archives that features different ethnic minorities within the county as they appear in sources such as parish registers. The Gypsy/Gipsy references start on page 62.

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.

Yesterday’s Journey

Gypsies in Dorset

Gypsy Church – Tin Tabernacle, Bramdean

A Visit to a Hampshire Hop Garden

Remembering our Family: New Forest Gypsies

Romany Roots

Gypsy Community at the Pleasure Beach, Blackpool: a collection of photographs on Pinterest of the families who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lived and worked on the sands at South Shore, Blackpool, on the site where the Pleasure Beach amusement park now stands.

Leicestershire Record Office Gypsy Roma Traveller project

Travellers from the Northants’ baptism index

The Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers who lived in or travelled through the Staffordshire Moorlands

Tracing Gypsy and Traveller Ancestors in Surrey

The Epsom Derby Gypsies

History of the Traveller Community in Sussex

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.

The Scottish Gypsies

Romani Cymru/Romany Wales Project

Travelling Ahead

Traveller Heritage

Gypsy Families

Black and White Families: travelling life in Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey.

Boswell, Sherriff, Nield and Hodgkins

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.

Grays, Smiths and associated families of East Anglia.

Loveridge Family: travelling life in and around Northamptonshire.

Scamp – the Genealogy of a Gypsy Family: a Kentish family. (This family also features in the RTFHS book The Family Tree of Samson and Celia Scamp: click here to find out more.)

The Family of Shadrack and Emily Smith 

Reservoir Smith

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

Gypsy Waggons

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. 


Gordon Boswell Romany Museum, Clay Lake, Spalding, Lincolnshire PE12 6BL

South East Romany Museum, Marden, Kent

Fairground Heritage Centre, Lifton, Devon

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).

Sound archives

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.


Gypsy Lore Society

Publishers of books about British Gypsy life

Robert Dawson

Anglo-Romany Heritage Publishing

Specialist booksellers

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.

Graham York Rare Books

British fairground history and archives

National Fairground and Circus 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.

The Showmen’s Guild

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.

Historic Amusement Parks and Fairground Rides: a free online publication about Britain’s amusement park history, published by Historic England

Fairground Families

The Irvins

The Wilsons and associated families: Barron, Botton, Gess and Rosaire

The Whitelegg and Oldridge families of the West Country

Mailing lists and message boards

Romany Routes: the E-mail Group of the Romany and Traveller Family History Society

Travelling People – Rootschat

What websites have helped you in your family history research?

Please get in touch to share them with us.
This page last updated: 3 July 2022.