Fairground workers

This guide was last updated in 2011

John Simpson's great grandmother, Lela King, toured Britain with Wild West showman Samuel Cody at the turn of the 20th century

The story of the travelling fair and the showmen who present the attractions is one that resonates with romance and excitement. Vanessa Toulmin guides you through the best sources to help start your research...

Family legends of lion taming, exotic adventures and wonderful characters are handed down successive generations and it falls to you to finally uncover the truth behind what could be fiction.

To many this would appear to be the genealogical equivalent of a needle in a haystack: how does one search for ancestors that travelled from town to town visiting one of the many of thousands of fairs held every year?

However, the reality is very different and the fairground community is one where tradition and family connections are paramount to the success and hierarchy of the modern day family.

Rides and shows can go out of fashion but one thing remains unchanged, and that is the close-knit nature of the fairground community. So a show family at the turn of the century is likely to be still associated with the fairground today. Family history in this regard is simple – the child is born into the fair and marries within the fair.

Today’s travelling showpeople are more often than not the descendants of those that travelled five or six generations ago, and like any business community they keep a record of their transactions either photographically or through trade associations.

So what can this mean for the family history researcher who has suddenly found, after searching back four or five generations, that their family was involved in fairground activity and where can they find this information?


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