Tracing Irish Traveller family history can be extra challenging due to the lack of written records. However, there are clues to be found that can point to Irish Traveller ancestry, and a number of resources to help people discover more.
This resource is a work in progress; please feel free to add recommendations and suggestions to this message board thread.
An Lucht Siúil (Traveling Folk lit. the Walking People) or Travellers can refer to a variety of people who lived life on the road. Irish Travellers aka Mincéir aka Pavee are a distinct Irish ethnic group with their own customs, language and traditions. Many live in the UK for all or part of the year. They are a recognised ethnic minority group.
Irish Traveller culture and ancestry
Irish Travellers are a separate cultural group that started migrating to Britain in the early 19th century and can be traced back to 12th century Ireland.
Genetic research found that Irish Travellers are of Irish origin and have significant genetic makeup compared to their settled community. An estimated 40,000 Travellers (less than 1% of the population) are living in Ireland today. Although sometimes called gypsies, they have no genetic relation to Romani.
The Celtic Travellers DNA project is for descendants and members and of Irish Travellers, Highland Scottish Travellers, Lowland Scottish Travellers, Fairground Travellers and other Non-Romani travelling families. However, Roma or mixed Traveller heritage are also welcome to join.
Searching Census & Vital Records for clues
Clues that can suggest Traveller ancestry include:
Place of Birth: All the children in the family being born in different places is also a big clue.
Residence: Unusual residences such as "tent on common"
Irish Gypsies and Irish Travellers are distinct ethnic groups often referred to in parish registers as 'Pavees' or 'Minceir'.
Irish Traveller Genealogy Resources
Here is a list of useful resources to help you trace Irish Traveller or Mincéir ancestors:
IrelandXO Message Board
The IrelandXO message board can be a great resource for finding out more about Irish Traveller family histories and connecting with other descendants. Click on the links to read some interesting message board threads:
IrelandXO Traveller Timelines
Irish Traveller Buildings & Places
Irish Traveller Photo Collections
Common Irish Traveller Family Names
Berry, Brown, Cash, Carmody, Carthy, Casey, Cassidy, Cawley, Clark, Collins, Connors, Conroy, Corcoran, Cunningham, Delaney, Doherty, Donoghue/ O’Donoghue, Donovan, Doran, Dunne, Flynn, Furey, Gallagher, Green, Hanafin/Hannifin, Hand, Hanley, Hanrahan, Harper, Hennessey, Joyce, Keating, Keenan, Kerrigan, Kiely, Lawrence, Lee, Lynch, Maguire, Malone, Maloney, Maughan, Mongan, Moorehouse McCarthy, MacDonald, McDonagh, MacDonnell, MacAleer, McCann, McDonnell, McGinley, McInerney, MacLoughlin, McRea, Nevin, Nolan, O’Donnell, O’Reilly/ Reilly, Power, Purcell, Price, Quinn, Stokes, Sweeney, Ward, Wall, Windrum.
Famous Irish Traveller Ancestors
The Duchás Folklore Collection
Between 1937 and 1939, primary school pupils across the Republic of Ireland interviewed the elderly in their neighborhood to collect and record local stories and folklore from the 19th century. "The Schools Collection" as it became known is held by the Dúchas Folklore Collection in UCD and is and has been digitized online at duchas.ie. One of the topics schoolchildren were asked to write about were "Travelling Folk" or An Lucht Siúil. Click here to read a selection of what "settled" children wrote about travelers in the late 1930s.
Are you descended from Irish Travellers? Add their story to the IrelandXO website and connect with other descendants living all around the world.
Additional Advice from our IrelandXO Community
My great-grandmother was from Galway Travellers, it took me years to put together the best family history I could manage.
If you are not sure the name you are looking for is a Traveling People name you might go to the Pavee Point site and search other sites under Traveller History, names, etc. There are different groups of people who seem to come under the category of "Traveller", Irish, English, UK, Scotland & Wales), Roma, Romania & South Eastern European, Carnival & Show Travelers, and I'm sure others.
Families often marry within particular other families, I saw an online list of which families marry into which other name families and first names are repeated thru generations like the Irish naming pattern used to be, these lists are usually individual observations and quite old.
In addition to the name on UK census records you might find the address listed as "in Tents", "in Lanes", etc. The occupation might be listed, such as it was for my great grandfather, as Tinman, as the Traveling people used to do pot mending and such things as they moved from place to place.
Location can be difficult because of moving from place to place, often within a particular area, such as only Munster, or Scotland to Ireland, I spent years finding a family member who had gone to Wales. Then of course someone you are searching may have gotten Transportation to Australia or be in prison in England, sometimes waiting several years there before transportation. This might be a bit of luck for you as records for prison and transportation are online.
Of course you can always search the parish registers in a particular area you are interested in, as Traveling People are likely to be Roman Catholic and very likely to have their children baptized which would be recorded along with other church sacramental records, marriage etc. Also consider that many people with Irish Travelling people heritage were settled and maybe had not been going from place to place for years, if not generations.
As far as DNA sites I recommend My Heritage, this site has more Irish, UK, English than any other I have seen. If your DNA is on another site you probably can transfer it to My Heritage for free, its very worthwhile. Make good use of your higher number DNA matches by checking the shared matches for repeat names.
** originally published in 2022
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