Researching theatrical ancestors has its pros and cons. On the plus side, they often get a lot of newspaper coverage during their careers, and if you’re lucky, you might find some promotional photographs. On the down side, they tend to move around a lot so can be hard to find, and also use a variety of names, including on official documents.
I’m currently researching a first marriage in one of my theatrical families. The marriage itself is easy enough to find – Henry Dunthorne SMITH married Adairine Mary TISDALL in 1869 in Poole in Dorset. A newspaper announcement, placed in a number of publications, adds some theatrical set-dressing:
DUNTHORNE – TISDELL — July 23, at Poole, Dorsetshire, Henri Dunthorne Esq., Cavendish Square, London to Adairine Mary, eldest daughter of Thomas Tisdell, Esq., Ranelagh Road, Dublin.
The couple remained married until Henry/Henri’s death in 1883, but by the late 1870s they were estranged and Adairine had already settled down with the man who would go on to be her second husband, William Stanhope BUTLER. The BUTLERs had their first child in 1878 and appeared together as a married couple in the 1881 Census, going on to marry legally in 1884.
When Henry/Henri died in January 1883, following an accident in a theatre, newspaper reports of the inquest in Wallingford state that he was part of a touring company, and that no one present knew his real name, age or anything about his family. His death was recorded under the name Henry DUNTHORNE.
I was hoping to be able to use the census to find out more information about Henry/Henri. There are no entries in the Civil Birth Register Index for a Henry Dunthorne SMITH, and without knowing Henry’s accurate age and place of birth, the right Henry SMITH could be impossible to find (if SMITH was even his real name). Therefore the census would be the obvious way in to tracing his birth.
I didn’t get anywhere in my search for Henry/Henri on his own in 1881, so decided to concentrate instead on finding him with Adairine in 1871, particularly as I knew she had been born in Dublin in 1840 (though could be a bit vague about her age in later censuses).
I also knew that Adairine at that time was using the stage name Ada TISDALL, so tried every combination of the couple’s real names and stage names I could think of, alongside searches for actors and Dublin births of the right date. No records fitting Adairine turned up, but a search on Ancestry for ‘Henri’ with no other details brought up a ‘Henri TADA’, aged 35, and lodging with a family in Little Rupert Street, Soho. Looking at the enumerator’s form, Mr TADA was unmarried, of unknown occupation and of unknown place of birth. (The same record on FindMyPast has been transcribed as ‘Henri TODD’ but the Ancestry version looks more accurate).
A further search showed no other records for a Henri TADA who came close to fitting this entry, so I wondered if he was in fact ‘Henri & Ada’, living together in lodgings in the heart of West End theatreland. Could it be that when the individual form was filled in by the householder he knew almost nothing about the couple renting his room, and they weren’t around to ask? It isn’t that hard to imagine the enumerator trying to make sense of all the handwritten returns and misreading an incorrect entry, and sadly, the original individual forms were destroyed long ago so can’t be checked.
And then I did what I should have done earlier – I ran the same searches on a different census site (in this case FindMyPast). And there they were, in St Pancras, Marylebone, London – Henri DUNTHORNE, an Operatic Artiste aged 45 from Middlesex, with wife Ada (aged “20”) and brother-in-law George TISDALL. On Ancestry, the surname had been transcribed as DURTHORNE (which, because Ancestry requires a minimum of the first 3 letters in a name for a wildcard search, meant this variant hadn’t showed up in those searches) and Henri had become Henry, so the household had completely eluded me.
A frustrating experience, but hopefully a useful lesson, plus now I have the information I needed to search further for Henry/Henri (and his previously unknown brother-in-law George).
So I suppose I could say I’ve gone from TADA to ta-daaaaah!