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I live in England and am researching an English circus, Purchase’s Circus, Menagerie and Wild West Tour. One of the members of this circus, Captain William Purchase, born in UK in 1883/4, he emigrated to America in about 1913. William was a wild animal trainer and was reported to be appearing in Col. Francis Ferrari Shows United in ‘oil city’ in 1916. He also appeared in silent animal movies and worked for Barnum and Bailey. In 1945 he was in Florida, controlling rides and amusements at Daytona Beach. He died at his home in New York in 1951, aged 68. I have tried in vain to access US immigration and social security death records from England using the internet, but without success. Any help with information on Captain Purchase and his family would be much appreciated.

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Well the 1920 census didn’t reveal much, a William Purchase in a hospital somewhere as a patient, with no age or anything else filled in, so it could be him but could be one of the many American born William Purchases. The SSN has no applicable William Purchase at all, which doesn’t say much, as he might have been retired before needing a social security number, or his death wasn’t officially noted by the SSN. But the 1930 census gives the following: William Purchase, in 1930 47 years, birth year (est) 1882, Birthplace Wales, Race White, living in district 18, Franklin, Somerset, New Jersey. The census document itself gives the following details for Purchase: Occupation: Animal Trainer Place: Circus (so that makes it pretty definite its him right?) American Citizenship is indeed of 1913, Philidelphia and so is that of his wife, Alice, who is at that time 37 years old (est birth year 1892) and is listed as: Occupation: Helper Place: Bandstand. They have two working daughters, Phillys of 19 and Edna of 17, one born Wales, one born England, citizenship both NJ 1929, both working in a factory “dried matter”, and one younger daughter, Pearl, 14, born America, occupation none. Now there is a SSN death notice for Alice Purchase, born Dec 8, 1892, so that must be her, and her last residence was 07010 Cliffside Park, Bergen, NJ. She died May 1974. I did look a little further on the daughters, but they must have married and unfortunately the SSN mostly registers ladies by their married names.

Good luck with the rest of your search, Natasha Gerson.

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ON COL FRANCIS FERRARI: The actual Col. Francis Ferrari, who in Europe was to be seen at the Exibitione de Milano of 1890, died in 1914, aged only 52, traditionally from a claw scratch turning sceptic. Francis Ferrari was British too. Born in Hull, he first came to the US in 1894, in partnership with the well-known Frank Bostock, also an animal showman. Francis Ferrari’s Shows United was continued after his death by Francis brother Jose, businesswise, well into the twenties, sometimes under the name of the Mighty Doris and (Col Francis) Ferrari Combined Shows. They had some 40-60 exotic animals and several trainers working for them at the same time. The menagerie included tigers, lions, ligers, leopards, but also crocodiles, boas and other reptiles. In 1914, in the same instance as Col Ferrari getting scratched, one of the trainers, a Captain Lorenzo, was killed by one of the lions during a 4th of July parade at Mount Clemens, Michigan. Possibly he was followed up by your Captain Purchase then? From 1915 to 1920 the menagerie Head was Professor Herman Weedon, doubtfully a real professor but certainly a real eccentric, so he must have been the one that employed Capt. Purchase. I haven’t found anything on Purchase himself so far but will look a little further.

Greetings, Natasha Gerson

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