Gypsy and Traveler Culture in America
Gypsy and Traveler Culture, History and Genealogy in America
Are you a Gypsy, Traveler or Roader, or have some ancestry in any one of such groups? This site is dedicated to you; to help you become more aware of your own rich heritage, to help preserve your traditions, language and knowledge of where you came from and who you are.
The identities of Traveling People are everywhere threatened by the flood of misinformation that is being disseminated on the web and through the popular media. This site pledges to correct such misinformation and to present an accurate and unbiased view of traveling life as it has unfolded since the your ancestors first set foot in the New World.
Preservation of your ethnic heritage and pride in your own ethnic identity are some of the most valuable assets that any parents can leave to their children and grandchildren. To be of Gypsy or Traveler background is something special, something to be treasured along with the language, customs, and cultural values embodied in a unique way of life.
If you want to learn more about your family and your ethnic group, whether you be of Cale, Hungarian-Slovak, Ludar, Rom, Romnichel or Sinti Gypsy or American (Roader), English, German, Irish or Scotch Traveler background we will provide you with an interactive forum for asking questions, finding lost relatives, guidance to accurate sources, exchanging information as well as just keeping in touch with your own kind.
To get started just send a note to ASK MATT specifying what kind of Gypsy you are and in which family background you are interested.
The foundation on which this site is built is a rich storehouse of data of every imaginable kind: documentary sources, oral histories and observations of traveling life collected in over 35 years of unpaid research by Matt and Sheila Salo. The Salos have dedicated their lives to providing a true history of traveling life in America and to dispelling the myths that are currently being spread on the web and other media.
This endeavor is based on the premise that every kind of Gypsy and Traveler has a right to his or her own identity, whatever it might be. Each of you has a unique heritage that your ancestors nurtured over centuries of hardship and persecution. Now those rich and unique identities are in danger of being lost as more and more people lose the sense of who they are; customs, language and traditional life patterns are not being passed on; some people are even becoming ashamed of their Gypsy or Traveler identities.
Again, email any specific inquiries into American Gypsy or Traveler history, culture and genealogy to Matt T. Salo at ASK MATT.
Forthcoming: This history and culture page under preparation will be divided into subject areas that you can access separately depending on your interests. If you seek information sources, have specific questions, or want to broaden your horizons by learning about other groups, we will provide the best, most accurate information available. You will not be fed speculations about Melungeons, hordes of Gypsies in Colonial America, or Gypsies and Travelers as hapless victims or criminal castes - instead all our information will be based on actual verified data that truly represents the experience of your people in America since your ancestors first arrived here.
Culture and language are not easily lost and, unless you are among those few unfortunate individuals whose parents or grandparents misguidedly tried to separate themselves and their families from their roots, you should easily be able to pick up traits of language and culture that indicate your origins. We will begin with a brief overview of the different groups to orient those among you who are not quite sure of where they belong. More detailed descriptions will follow.
Gypsy and Traveler Groups in the United States
Cale: Spanish Gypsies, or Gitanos, are found primarily in the metropolitan centers of the East and West coasts. A small community of only a few families.
English Travelers: Fairly amorphous group, possibly formed along same lines as Roaders (see below), but taking shape already in England before their emigration to the US starting in early 1880s. Associate mainly with Romnichels. Boundaries and numbers uncertain.
Hungarian-Slovak: Mainly sedentary Gypsies found primarily in the industrial cities of northern U.S. Number in few thousands. Noted for playing "Gypsy music" in cafes, night clubs and restaurants.
Irish Travelers: Peripatetic group that is ethnically Irish and does not identify itself as "Gypsy," although sometimes called "Irish Gypsies." Widely scattered, but somewhat concentrated in the southern states. Estimates vary but about 10,000 should be close to the actual numbers.
Ludar: Gypsies from the Banat area, also called Rumanian Gypsies. Arrived after 1880. Have about the same number of families as the Rom, but actual numbers are unknown.
Roaders or Roadies: Native born Americans who have led a traveling life similar to that of the Gypsies and Travelers, but who were not originally descended from those groups. Numbers unknown as not all families studied.
Rom: Gypsies of East European origin who arrived after 1880. Mostly urban, they are scattered across the entire country. One of the larger groups in the US, possibly in the 55-60,000 range.
Romnichels: English Gypsies who arrived beginning in 1850. Scattered across the entire country, but tend to be somewhat more rural than the other Gypsy groups. Many families are now on their way to being assimilated, hence estimation of numbers depends on criteria used.
Scottish Travelers: Ethnically Scottish, but separated for centuries from mainstream society in Scotland where they were known as Tinkers. Some came to Canada after 1850 and to the United States in appreciable numbers after 1880. Over 100 distinct clans have been identified but total numbers not known.
Sinti: Little studied early group of German Gypsies in the United States consisting of few families heavily assimilated with both non-Gypsy and Romnichel populations. No figures are available.
Yenisch: Mostly assimilated group of ethnic Germans, misidentified as Gypsies, who formed an occupational caste of basket makers and founded an entire community in Pennsylvania after their immigration starting 1840. Because of assimilation current numbers are impossible to determine.
This inventory leaves out several Gypsy groups that have immigrated since 1970 due to the unrest and renewed persecution in Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism. They have come from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, the former Yugoslavian area, and possibly other countries. They number in few thousands by now, but their numbers are likely to increase.
Copyright @ 2002 Matt T. Salo