A chance dis­cov­ery of an un­known rel­a­tive in a Vic­to­rian photo led Liz Tay­lor to un­cover a fas­ci­nat­ing fam­ily show­biz con­nec­tion. Claire Vaughan finds out more…

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

An enig­matic, smil­ing young man in a Vic­to­rian fam­ily pho­to­graph led Liz Tay­lor to dis­cover a show­biz an­ces­tor in her fam­ily tree

How long have you been do­ing your fam­ily his­tory?

I’ve been re­search­ing my fam­ily his­tory since my 20s, when I moved to Leeds af­ter fin­ish­ing uni­ver­sity. I had al­ways be­lieved my an­ces­tors came from the south of Eng­land, how­ever, af­ter liv­ing in Leeds for sev­eral months I was sur­prised to learn that my dad knew the area in­ti­mately de­spite hav­ing not yet vis­ited! He told me that my pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents had lived just a cou­ple of streets away and my great grand­fa­ther had died in the hospi­tal I was work­ing in – back in 1948. I had to find out more.

What had you found out be­fore hit­ting your brick wall?

By the time I was in my teens, I had al­ready lost the ma­jor­ity of the ma­ter­nal side of my fam­ily. My god­mother sat me down one day and told me about some of them. She was dis­tantly re­lated to me and had some fam­ily pho­tos, which she passed on. One of these was a group shot of my ma­ter­nal grand­mother Grace (aged about 14) with her fam­ily, taken in the early 1900s. In it she had two broth­ers and a sis­ter. I had heard sto­ries about her sis­ter Gwen­l­lean and her brother Eric, but was sur­prised to see an older sib­ling I’d never heard about. He was a very dap­per young man who clearly en­joyed be­ing in front of the cam­era, even sneak­ing a smile – a de­cid­edly un-Vic­to­rian thing to do in a photo. When I started to re­search, I learnt that this was John Stan­ley Marsh, who was born in Bat­tersea in 1884.

What was stop­ping you from pro­gress­ing?

I found de­tails of John Stan­ley’s birth and early life quite eas­ily us­ing cen­suses, birth cer­tifi­cates, etc. In the 1901 cen­sus, I learnt that he was a com­mer­cial clerk, but by the 1911 cen­sus was calling him­self Stan­ley and was listed as an ac­tor. At that point, I hit a brick wall and he seemed to dis­ap­pear from the records. Did he die per­haps in the First World War? Did he em­i­grate, or was I just miss­ing some­thing? If he had sur­vived why hadn’t I heard of him?

What else did you try?

With no more pub­lished cen­suses, I tried to find him in mar­riage records, army lists, death and burial in­dexes and trade di­rec­to­ries, but the trail had gone cold. It con­tin­ued this way for sev­eral years, dur­ing which time I in­ter­mit­tently tried again in the hope some­thing would turn up.

In his in­ter­views, he spoke about his hopes to get into the “talkies”

What was your eureka mo­ment?

This came when the Bri­tish News­pa­per Ar­chive came on­line. The search en­gine al­lowed me to scour a vast range of news­pa­pers us­ing any key­words I wanted, so I spent many an hour try­ing dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of sur­names, ad­dresses, and oc­cu­pa­tions with great an­tic­i­pa­tion at what I would un­cover. I was not dis­ap­pointed. Hav­ing found lots of use­ful in­for­ma­tion on my great grand­fa­ther us­ing this re­source, I turned my at­ten­tion to Stan­ley.

How did it solve the mys­tery?

To my amaze­ment, the news­pa­pers re­vealed that Stan­ley sur­vived the e war and had a long and suc­cess­ful ca­ree er in the the­atre. He worked in sev­era al reper­tory groups firs st in Lon­don, then Derby and later around Burn­ley and d in the 1920s he fea­tured al­most weekly in re­view pages of the Derby pa­pers. The re­views were fas­ci­nat­ing – not only show­ing that he was well-re­garded as an ac­tor, but also giv­ing an in­sight into his char­ac­ter and re­veal­ing much about his life both on and off stage. I was very ex­cited to dis­cover a cou­ple of pho­tos, which helped to prove that I had the right man, while an in­ter­view in 1929 and his obit­u­ary in 1950 helped to fill in many of the miss­ing de­tails of his life. In the First World War, Stan­ley served with the Royal Gar­ri­son Ar­tillery and was on the first boat to sail through the Bospho­rus to Con­stantino­ple af­ter the war, pre­ceded by a mine-sweeper, an ex­pe­ri­ence which he said sev­eral on board found “windy”. He served in Salonika and Me­sopotamia and af­ter the Armistice he ran the 37th Bri­gade con­cert party. Be­fore the war he worked as an ac­coun­tant, then moved to In­dia where he worked for the travel com­pany Thomas Cook and Son in Bom­bay, Cal­cutta, Colombo and Ran­goon. In his in­ter­views, he spoke about his hopes to get into the “talkies” and tells how he had an at­tack of malaria dur­ing a per­for­mance, but man­aged to con­tinue on to the end – af­ter which he was off for six weeks. He even light­heart­edly re­calls a back­stage in­ci­dent where one of the stage­hands dropped a cur­tain on his head!

How did you feel?

Go­ing from hav­ing so lit­tle in­for­ma­tion to hav­ing such de­tail was amaz­ing, as it re­ally gave a full pic­ture of this man who had pre­vi­ously just been a face in a photo. It also ex­plains why he was so con­fi­dent in front of the cam­era. I won­der if he would have made it into films to­day? I’m very glad I got to know him and feel very proud of him.

Did you dis­cover any­thing else along the way?

Dur­ing my re­search I dis­cov­ered that Stan­ley mar­ried Louise Camp­bell, an ac­tress who was part of the same reper­tory com­pany. They had three chil­dren, two boys and one girl, all of whom went onto the stage de­spite Stan­ley say­ing in 1929 that he hoped the boys would be en­gi­neers! The Marsh Broth­ers per­formed in mu­sic halls in­clud­ing Leeds City Va­ri­eties, which takes me full cir­cle as that’s where my fam­ily his­tory jour­ney started.

What is your ad­vice?

When you’re strug­gling to find some­one through the usual fam­ily his­tory routes such as cen­suses and births, mar­riages and deaths, it can be worth think­ing lat­er­ally. A search of news­pa­pers, the “books” sec­tion of Google or putting dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of names into a search en­gine can some­times open doors.

Liz was in­trigued by the enig­matic smil­ing young man in this Vic­to­rian fam­ily pho­to­graph

These news­pa­per cut­tings re­veal Stan­ley’s suc­cess­ful act­ing ca­reer in Lon­don, Derby and Burn­ley

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