Z is for….

10 November 2013

….and finally, Z is for zigarius – a nineteenth century term for a gypsy. On historical documentation, you will rarely find reference to families being gypsies, whether they state their occupation as zigarius or otherwise. Terms such as traveller, hawker and basket maker, may give a clue to gypsy ancestry, but not every person with these occupations were gypsies. Using a combination of typical occupations, forenames, surnames, and other data, it may be possible to establish a Gypsy connection.

The Romany and Traveller Family History Society list descriptions relating to travel or movement, giving 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 eighteenth century), zigarius, traveller, vagrant, stroller, tramper
  • of no fixed abode, living in tents, van dwellers

It is also possible to spot Gypsies by their occupations particularly those who, in the course of their travels, provided goods and services to local communities. The terms dealer and general dealer were frequently used by Gypsies from the late nineteenth 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
  • tinker, tinman, razor grinder, knife grinder
  • dealer, general dealer, marine store dealer, wardrobe dealer
  • peg maker, umbrella mender, chimney sweep, horse dealer

Gypsies often used standard forenames – such as Samuel, William, Mary – but they were also fond of unusual names. For example, Elijah, Goliath, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, Noah, Sampson, Shadrack …, Britannia, Cinderella, Clementina, Ocean, Sabina, Tryphena, Urania and many more!

There are two specialist family history research guides on the subject – My Ancestors were Gypsies  by Sharon Sillers Floate and Gypsies in Britain by Janet Keet-Black, Vice President of the Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

And so ends The Genealogist’s A-Z…. what will tomorrow bring?

[N.B. Letter Z: http://www.redbubble.com/people/juliehartman/works/8453234-the-letter-z-white-background]

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