Artistry & Mystery in Charles Dance's Family | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Artistry and Mystery in Charles Dance’s Family Tree

We thought we would have to wait until the autumn for the return of our favourite television series, but Who Do You Think You Are? is already back on our screens!  The first episode of the new season featured Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance.  The episode featured some startling revelations regarding Charles’ father, and a history of artistry in the family.  The episode was a great illustration of how careful research can gently peel away the layers mystery that obscure the truth about even our closest relatives.

At the top of the episode Charles’ stage and screen work was highlighted and of course Charles himself features in our archive, particularly in the Illustrated London News and The Stage.  Both papers run into the early 2000s are an invaluable resource for those studying the history of stage and screen.  One of his most famous roles was in White Mischief, a film based on the true story of the murder of Josslyn Hay, Lord Erroll in Kenya in 1941.  A story which is covered extensively in the newspapers.

Turning to the history of his family the programme looked first at his maternal line and the Futvoyes – a Belgian family of artists who emigrated to England and settled in London in 1791 and who first appear in the newspapers in the early 1800s.  An artistic family, they specialised in teaching Japanning and Chinoiserie style painting and crafts to well-to-do young ladies.  The family advertised their school in The Morning Post.

Morning Post 14 April 1829


At this time advertisements were front page news.  Rather than featuring headline stories the front page of newspapers were dominated by advertisements.   Advertisements contain a wealth of social and personal information, from lost and found, to situations vacant and offers of respectable companions for European tours.

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In the archive you can narrow your search results to advertisements by selecting Type: Advertisement after you have performed your search.


Charles then turned his attention to his paternal line.  This was a truly remarkable story.  Having passed away when Charles was just 4 years old his father was a figure swathed in mystery and mis-information.  The genealogists did an amazing job of discovering the true history of a man whom Charles only knew from a single photograph.

A military historian analysed the photograph and confirmed that Charles’ father had fought with the Royal Fusiliers (7th Regiment of Foot) in the Boer War (African War) in 1900.  This conflict was of course covered extensively by the newspapers.  We used our Advanced Search to narrow our search dates to the duration of the war to give us a focused search, and used the words South Africa rather than Boer War to give us the most hits.

Through his research Charles discovered two half-sisters, one of whom tragically died at age 5 after being hit by a scaffolding pole.  We were rather taken aback when we checked the newspapers to see just how frequently accidents from falling off, or being struck by scaffolding occurred, and the many other ways in which children suffered accidental deaths in their own homes or as they played on the streets.  Mary Dance’s name does not appear in the papers but the names of many other children do.  It is always good to remember that even if you couldn’t read the paper that didn’t mean you wouldn’t be written about in a paper.

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We thoroughly enjoyed this episode of Who Do You Think You Are?  Keep up to date with all our WDYTYA inspired finds in our blogs.  And why not join us on Twitter next week for the #WDYTYA conversation.






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