Who Do You Think You Are?
How To Find Your Actor Ancestors
A diverse range of online resources can help you research the thespians in your family tree
You first port of call should be the British Newspaper Archive ( britishnewspaperarchive. co.uk), also available to ‘Pro’ members of Findmypast ( findmypast.co.uk). The collection includes The Era (1838–1910 and 1913-1939) and its competitor The Stage, which launched in 1880 and is digitised up to 2007. Performers would advertise their availability including parts they have played, and both titles also published obituaries, reviews and industry news. As well as these key publications, national and local newspapers often ran theatrical reviews and notices and might even include a photograph of your ancestor.
The London Stage Database at londonstage database.uoregon.edu is another key resource, containing information about performances of plays, prologues and epilogues, afterpieces,
pantomimes, instrumental music, singing and dancing in the long 18th century.
Also, Search for Theatrical Ancestors (STAR) collates searchable data from more than 34,000 records from the late 19th and early 20th century held by archives across the UK, including the Ellen Terry and Edith Craig Database: ellenterryarchive.essex.ac.uk/star.
Finally Donald Mullin’s Victorian Actors and Actresses in Review: a Dictionary of Contemporary Views of Representative British and American Actors and Actresses, 1837–1901 (Greenwood Press, 1983) lists performers with their years of birth and death, a photograph in some cases, and extracts from contemporary reviews. You can borrow the book for free from archive.org/details/ victorianactorsa0000unse.