"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, 2 November 2012

The teeny tiny fruits of a teeny tiny breakthrough

I was using the 1911 census on Ancestry a few days ago, when I noticed something: Occupations appear in the transcribed information.
This interesting for 2 reasons. For one thing, it isn’t always the case for censuses that it does, and I like having it there for easy reference. (Especially at work, where I can’t see census images due to lack of flash – most annoying when I’m trying to do a bit of research in my lunch hour.)
The real reason this intrigued me, though, was that if it’s transcribed then it will show up in a search, and this fact opens up new options for locating people whom I couldn’t find back when I was using the original 1911 census website. In particular, my Hall family have generally been most tricky to locate, because of their peripatetic lifestyle as music-hall performers. In 1911, I only had two out of the five children – Mona and what I believe to be Marion ­­– and had not found their father either.
So, I put the 1911 occupation search to the test on the remaining three: Mabel (my 2x great grandmother), Henry Victor and Amy, as well as their father Matthew. No luck with either of the first two, or with their dad. But, with Amy I came up trumps.
Now Amy has always been a matter of some frustration. Of all the siblings she does seem to have had the most prolific career, which I have tracked steadily through mentions in the Stage publication.
Born in 1879, by November 1887, at the age of eight, Amy is already forging her stage career with performances as Jim in Saved From The Streets with the W. H. Sharpe company. She then takes up a position with the Rass Challis company from around 1893. There is a bit of a gap for her in the Stage archives between 1890 and 1892, but she was definitely still touring on the 1891 census. Between 1893 and 1895 – again, there’s a bit of a gap – she moves to the Leopold Brothers company, and stars in various production, including  the long-running show Frivolity. I have also found evidence of performances alongside her sister Mona between 1904 and 1906, and a slot in her father’s production Unknown in 1896 at his Music Hall. Her career stretches into the 1920s, when she would have been in her forties. But, despite all this, finding out anything about Amy’s private life has been utterly hopeless. Until now.
The 1911 census was taken on the night of Sunday 2 April. From the Stage archives, I knew that Amy was performing in Brighouse, just three days previously, but she certainly wasn’t there by the time the census was taken!
Now, searching for Amy Hall born 1879, Liverpool, with ‘actress’ in the keywords box, threw up the following: Amy Hall, born about 1880, Liverpool, an Actress. She is staying in Chorlton, Lancashire, in the household of a Mrs White, some of whose children and grandchildren have the surname Elliott (I have yet to unravel the relationships in this household). Also lodging there is a married couple, Horatio and Annie White, both also actors.
She gives her name as Amy Hall. But intriguingly she says she is married . So, it doesn’t give me much clue, and there’s no sign of anyone who might be her husband, but apparently she is married – I’d always wondered. Like her sister Mona, it seems she continued to use Hall as her (stage?) name. Now I just have to find the marriage record – no mean feat. However, it’s one of the very few tidbits of information I do have about her personal life, so it’s very welcome.
Plus, I can add the Sinclairs to my list of connected theatrical people to look out for on my travels; you never know when they might come in handy.
I’m now wondering whether Amy might have had children as well, and also considering whether gaps in her career might tally with marriage and/or pregnancy. On the basis that Amy was about old enough to marry from the age of 16, anytime from mid-1895 onwards is plausible. Looking at gaps in mentions in the Stage, there are holes from December 1895 to Jun 1896; March to Aug 1897, Jun 1899 to Aug 1900 and Nov 1906 to May 1907. From late 1907 the mentions slow down radically – there are none at all in 1910, for example. There are, I think two possibilities her.
One is that Amy did indeed marry sometime in the period Dec 1895 to Jun 1896, at the tender age of sixteen, and perhaps gave birth to a child in the gap between March and August 1897, and perhaps again in 1899–1900. On the other hand, perhaps she was rather young for this to be a strong possibility. Also, in 1896 Amy’s parents divorced, when her youngest sister Mabel was just five years old, and her father moved from his post s stage manager in Lincoln to the managerial position at the newly opened Burslem Hippdorome, so perhaps it was these family difficulties that kept the young Amy busy out of the limelight. You might even conjecture that perhaps the Stage diligently chose to avoid mention of the family at this difficult and potentially scandalous time for them, well-known as they were in the Music Hall community.
On the other hand, perhaps the possible slowing down of reports on Amy’s career from 1907 onwards is because she had a new family and responsibilities that kept her from the stage. She would have been in her mid-twenties by now, a much more likely age of a marriage, especially in someone so career-driven.
Of course, it can’t be proved that just because there were fewer mentions of her Amy’s career had slowed down, or that gaps meant she had stopped performing. As I previously mentioned, in 1891 she was on tour at the time of the census, and yet I have found no mentions at all of her in 1891 in the Stage. However, when you look at the frequency of entries at other times, it is hard to believe that the gaps have no significance. For example, there are thirteen mentions of Amy in various performances in 1898, and eleven mentions in 1901 – and yet from mid-1899 to mid-1900 there was nothing at all?
Whatever the truth of the matter, it never ceases to amaze me how the slightest bit of new information can reopen a mystery that you thought was pretty much a closed case. This just highlights the importance of improving the information available online, both in terms of getting new records digitised and in improving on the digitisation of those collections that do exist.
You can read more about Amy and her career in Fearless Females 2012: Shining stars
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