“Gypsy Queens” and Irish Travellers

Funeral of "Queen" Tryphena McNeill, Waterbury, Connecticut, 1915

Funeral of “Queen” Tryphena McNeill, Waterbury, Connecticut, 1915


Tryphena McNeill, née Green, from an English Romanichal family of Greens and Bucklands, was married to Samuel “King Sam” McNeill, who seems to have been of Irish Traveller (Pavee) stock.

The extent of intermarriage between these two itinerant groups is much debated, with outsiders often preferring to focus on ethnic difference rather than cultural overlap.

Perhaps even more interesting is the girl second from left, who was reported as being a Cherokee visitor paying her respects, due to her own family’s affiliation with these travelling people.

A genealogist (or even a trained historian) who views such people only through the lens of birth, baptism, marriage, census, and death certs would likely never know the complexity of identities present here.

Not a word or a clue adverting to Romani or Pavee ethnicity is apparent from state or federal records, and the same was often true of non-enrolled, off-reservation indigenous Americans in centuries past.

Early 20th century romanticising of “Gypsies” in literature and music ensured that a local newspaper took an interest in the death of a “Gypsy Queen”.

Such explicit newspaper reports become more and more rare the deeper we travel into the past, so uncovering the true story of our own ancestors requires an incredible amount of detective work, and a profound awareness of America’s historical social complexity.




#romani #gypsies #IrishTravellers #pavee

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