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    I am wondering if there are any records of laborers were ever kept. I am trying to trace my father’s family and came to a dead end with his great grandfather. His was Henry French from Thetford VT. Sometime from 1870 to 1900 he left his wife and family and literally ran away to join the circus. I assume he worked as a laborer. I do not know the name of the circus but I do know it returned to the area in later years and his son refused to go to see him. The circus would have most likely have been performing in Lebanon or Hanover NH.
    Thank you, Laurie French

 

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Circus laborers came and went, often with no retained record of their employment when wages were paid in cash and there were no government programs to track their presence and working life. Few circus business records survive from the late 19th century. Many laborers also were known only by a nickname. He might have been “Frenchie”. You can try searching for Henry French in New York Clipper, the weekly show trade journal at the online Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, using that and also last name, first name, and maybe variants. There was a theatrical manager of the same name and between all of those of the same name a quick look revealed dozens and dozens of hits. You’ll need to poke through them for anything relevant. The Circus World Museum library has a name finding aid, the yellow tickets, that might be consulted. Establishing across thirty years the names of circuses passing through communities likely won’t make it any easier to learn which one he joined. Show existence was ephemeral and he may have been there with two different outfits. There are advertisements in local newspapers and the Clipper sometimes published routes that shows submitted. Finding him in the circus trade may be difficult, but if you can establish his residency at any time that could be a key to gaining insight on his traveling life. Have you tried census records, local directories, http://www.ancestry.com or other conventional genealogical resources? I’d recommend getting a handle on his landed life and use that as a springboard to research his traveling existence.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, The Ringling, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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