Archive collections

This guide was last updated in 2014

Collections of playbills, photographs and recordings of entertainers are scattered around the country in specialist archives.

Material documenting your ancestor’s career may have been deposited in more than one archive, so it’s worth scouting around to see what’s out there.

The British Library’s Music Collection (www.bl.uk/reshelp/bldept/music) and Sound Archive (www.bl.uk/soundarchive) are useful for researching musicians like Sheridan’s Doubleday ancestors. The British Library also has various biographical dictionaries for people in the entertainment industry. Documents held in the Music Collection and other special collections like the Royal College of Music Library may be found by searching for a musician’s name at www.cecilia-uk.org.

The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Theatre and Performance Collection covers all areas of the performing arts. Locate memorabilia, books and private papers using the online catalogue at catalogue.nal.vam.ac.uk. The V&A also has a range of subject guides including music hall and variety theatre at www.vam.ac.uk/page/t/theatre-and-performance.

The University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection of music sheets, fliers, posters and programmes can be searched by name here. There are plenty more entertainment collections in specialist archives, which The National Archives has listed by subject, covering music, dance, drama and poetry, film and television.

Check county record offices in the area where your ancestor performed if they stuck to a particular circuit, since ephemera may have been deposited there by local theatres or by people who saw them perform. These archives could also hold photographs of the venues where they played. Some material deposited in regional repositories will be found by searching for the performer’s name at discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/advanced-search (opt to ‘Search other archives’).

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