I started off looking at a Prior below the Mason-Dixon line and when I “pulled the thread” I ended up following a long string of leads to a noted acting family in New York.
Between 1844 – 1849 there are several theater notices in New Orleans newspapers for plays starring an actor named Mr. PRIOR. I was hooked once I saw he performed at the American Theater in a play titled Brutus, Or The Fall of Tarquis with a Mr. Booth (relative of John Wilkes Booth?) who played Burtus.
There was also a Mrs. J Prior who performed in plays in New Orleans. A Mr. J Prior of the St. Charles and Mobile Theaters was touted as a writer or scene designer (not sure because of the flowery language).
By 1849 there are notices of performances in May and June of a Mr. J PRIOR in Pittsburgh, PA. Later notices in northern papers refer to an actor and actress named Mr. J J Prior and Mrs. J J. Prior. I’m convinced that all of these notices refer to the same husband and wife acting team.
Mrs. Prior died at age 53 in 1883 and several obituaries were published. The New-York Times reported she was the widow of an actor, the mother of actress Lulu Prior, and that she had acted in Barnum’s old museum. These bits of information assisted me in locating her photograph. (see photo). The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that although she died in Boston, she was buried at Greenwood cemetery (a very large cemetery in Brooklyn with 376,000 burials on Find A Grave). The same article also noted that Walter Prior attended the funeral.
Walter became the clue to lead to finding Mr. and Mrs. Prior– and their first names, on the 1870 Census.
Brooklyn Ward 11, Kings Co., NY
James J PRIOR 47 actor b. England, Louise 38 actress b. NJ. Walter R. 22 photographer NY, Alfred J 18 clerk in store MA, Anna L. 15 actress NY.
And then earlier
Boston Ward 3, Suffolk Co., MA
J. J. PRIOR 28 theatre Eng., “ditto” female 27 Eng., Walter 3 MA.
Such typical hard-to-track-down Priors! Did anyone really know where they were born or where their children were born? I found a birth record for Walter Richard Prior which nicely ties his parents to the theater listings in New Orleans. Born in New Orleans or New York— guess either of them start with “new” so just tell the census worker anything!
Walter Richard PRIOR born 13 Dc 1846 in New Orleans, LA to James Junius Prior and Louisa Young.
There’s a christening record from England that appears to be for James
James Junius Prior b. 20 May 1820, christened at St. James Westminster London on 21 Jan 1821. Father James Prior, mother Violetta (nee Roberts).
James Junius Prior was already performing in England before immigrating to the US and showing up in New Orleans theaters
Swansea, Wales, UK
James Prior 43 artist born out of county. James Prior 20 comedian born out of county. Violetta Prior 37 born out of county.
A funny thing though, I don’t know who is the Walter Prior who attended Mrs. Prior’s funeral because their son, Walter, had died long before Mrs. Prior. The Evening Star in Washington DC carried a story on 20 July, 1871 (12 years before Mrs. Prior’s death– “Mrs Prior, the actress, and mother of the deceased, and many theatrical people attended.” Walter, her son, was shot during a riot.