Russian Gypsies / Gitanos Rusos

La versión español está después de la versión inglés.

There are a few photos from the 1920s of my paternal grandparents in some kind of folk costume. Since they both emigrated to the United States from Russia (Belarus, to be exact) early in the 20th century, I thought when I was a boy that the costumes were traditional dress from their homeland.

Years later, My Mother The Dowager Duchess, who unfortunately never hid from us her strong preference for her own parents, told me they probably just went to costume parties in New York. She said it with disdain and usually followed with, “MY parents weren’t like that.”

I’m sure The Duchess was right — that they went to costume parties. Still, I really did like to think of them as Russian gypsies.


Hay algunas fotos de la década de 1920 de mis abuelos paternos en algún tipo de disfraz popular. Dado que ambos emigraron a los Estados Unidos desde Rusia (Bielorrusia, para ser exactos) a principios del siglo XX, pensé que cuando yo era niño los trajes eran trajes tradicionales de su tierra natal.

Años más tarde, Mi Madre, La Duquesa Viuda, que lamentablemente nunca nos ocultó su gran preferencia por sus propios padres, me dijo que probablemente habían ido a fiestas de disfraces en Nueva York. Ella lo dijo con desdén y usualmente le decía: “MIS padres no eran así”.

Estoy seguro de que La Duquesa tenía razón — que iban a fiestas de disfraces. Sin embargo, realmente me gustaba pensar en ellos como gitanos rusos.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

33 thoughts on “Russian Gypsies / Gitanos Rusos”

  1. I agree with anne marie — I suspect those clothes are indeed national clothing of Belarus. They may have dressed up for national holidays of the old country or belonged to an association of their country people or something like that.

    1. Debra,
      I’ve learned a lot by posting this. Fascinating. And poses so many more questions.

      1. Did you ever see the film “Defiance,” with Daniel Craig & Liev Schreiber? Story of jews surviving in the forests of Belarus. Like anything holocaust related very hard to watch, but the triumph of their surviving was so very powerful. True story, the film also showed interviews of survivors and their families.

  2. How very colorful, uh….sepiaful! I think my traditional costume would look something like what Hattie McDaniel wore in Gone With the Wind. Just daydreaming here 🙂

      1. Ruby Dee-dles? I love this! She was absolutely gorgeous in her younger days and aged superbly. Such a tiny thing with such a big voice.

      2. Deedles:
        It’s your new nickname. Another beautiful woman with a big voice.

    1. Kirk:
      I DO wonder. Especially with the comments received AND the identification of the costume (from where they grew up).

  3. The costume they wear are traditional Highlander dress or Gorali, people from Western Ukraine today formerly Poland before 1945 and borders Belarus. I do understand why your mother would say her parents would never dress this way, the Gorali are thought to be hillbillies by city folk.

    1. Larrymuffin:
      This is fascinating. I had a feeling you would know something about this. I’m very excited and will start researching the costumes and precisely where my grandparents came from. Thank you!!!

  4. I hate to question the DD but I grew up in a Polish neighbourhood not long after the war and on National Days and Association picnics the largest percentage of the attendees would be in folk costume. As most of them were recent arrivals they observed many of the customs of the old country.

    1. Willym:
      Your comment and Laurent’s are wonderful. I can’t thank you both enough for this info. Very exciting to learn and opens all new areas of research for me. Wish I had a family member who knew more about their history.

    1. Willym:
      I haven’t found an email from you, but did have that previous comment about your Polish neighborhood.

  5. I sent it to the email address shown on the blog. No big deal I’m just wanting to clean up some of my previous posts however every time I change an old post you and a few others get a notification as if it were a new post. Just wondering how you get the notification – is it an email and do you recall how you signed up for it.

  6. Very interesting. I agree, I wish family would talk more freely about history and origin. Any long lost cousins you can trade pictures and explanations with?

    1. David:
      I once asked my father’s sister what she knew about her grandparents (who remained in Russia). Her first abrupt response. “I didn’t have grandparents!” I told her I knew she never knew them, but did she know anything about them, “I didn’t HAVE grandparents!” she repeated. Three years later, she and my uncle were visiting us in Santa Barbara. She saw all our family photos on the walls and said to my uncle, “You should send Mitchell that picture we have of my grandparents.” Oh dear god. Like pulling teeth. The photo turned out to be priceless. A studio shot from around 1900 of my great-grandparents along with all their children.

  7. These photos are wonderful!! Costumes or not, they’re terrific. So interesting to think about the history of the photos and the dress attire.

    1. hollihd:
      Thanks so much for your comments. I have so many photos of this vintage from these grandparents that I didn’t really know so well. Fascinating.

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