Who do you think you are?
David Suchet

David Suchet - how we did it

French Photographer

Maternal grandfather - Jimmy Jarché

Jimmy Jarché on a motorbike with his camera
Jimmy Jarché on a motorbike with his camera

Having examined something of the ancestry of his English grandmother Elsie, David now turned his attention to the roots of his much-loved maternal grandfather, Jimmy Jarché.

Step 1 - Family members

Jimmy Jarché and the Suchet boys with cameras
Jimmy Jarché and the Suchet boys with cameras

Family members are often a rich source of insight and information about shared relatives. Even your own siblings may have unique perspectives or recollections of conversations with older family members.

In David's case, his brother Peter had researched a book about their grandfather Jimmy, and David was keen to see what he knew. They met on the banks of the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park, where their grandfather took one of his earliest iconic photographs in 1923.

Jimmy Jarché was the son of Jewish émigré parents, and was one of the first paparazzi photographers. His scoops included the first picture of Edward, Prince of Wales, with Mrs Simpson.

Great-grandfather - Arnold Jarchy

As David had grown up with Jimmy, he knew a lot about his life and work. But he didn’t know very much about Jimmy's parents Arnold and Amelie, other than that Arnold had also been a photographer.

Arnold and Amelie Jarchy
Arnold and Amelie Jarchy

Peter told David that Arnold had started his photographic career running a studio in Paris, before coming to Britain in either the 1870s or 1880s. David recollected that the studio might have been called the Eiffel Tower Studios, but he doubted whether Arnold and Amelie were actually French. Peter then showed David a photograph of the couple.

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David's brother Peter gives him more information about Arnold

The back of the photo was inscribed 'Tower Bridge Photographic Studio; Director: A Jarchy'. This was a surprise to David. He had never seen the name spelt with a 'y'. Peter and David assumed that Jimmy must have changed it, but didn't know why.

Step 2 – Specialist historian

When investigating an ancestor who has an association with a particular field of interest, it can be useful to try contacting a specialist historian. You can often find such experts through museums or libraries, or by approaching relevant organisations for their advice. David arranged to meet photography historian David Webb at the site of Arnold's first photographic studio in London

Photography had been developed in France in the 1820s, but by the time Arnold Jarchy was running his business in London in the 1890s there were well over 300 photographic studios in London alone.

Step 4 – Industry newspapers

David Webb had searched the British Journal of Photography and was able to shed a little light on Arnold's time in Paris.

Industry newspapers are always worth checking for mention of an individual if his or her profession is known. Local newspapers also carry adverts for businesses in the local area. The British Library Newspapers collection in Colindale holds a huge collection of industry papers and journals (see Related Links).

David Webb's search revealed that Arnold claimed to have been employed by various well-known French studios in Paris during the 1880s. His jobs included being an operator and retoucher.

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David Webb reveals more details about Arnold's career

It seemed that when Arnold arrived in London, he made every effort to emphasise his work in Paris, which would have been highly regarded in Britain at the time. We headed to Paris to find out more about Arnold's life and work in France.

STEP 4 – Foreign business directories

We wanted to find out exactly where Arnold had worked in Paris. David was particularly keen to see whether his photographic studio was indeed named after the Eiffel Tower.

In France, annual directories covering a city allow you to identify the existence of a business during the year of publication. They usually include the address and nature of the business, as well as the name of the owner.

At the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, David consulted directory entries for Victorian-era photographers in the city. However, he couldn't find any entry for Arnold Jarchy, nor could he find details of any of the other French photographers mentioned in the British Journal of Photography. Similarly there was no mention of the Eiffel Tower Studios.

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David searches for records of Arnold's business in Paris

David did believe that Arnold had worked as a retoucher and an operator, but he now doubted whether Arnold had ever had his own studio in Paris. It seemed that Arnold decided the best way to further himself was to go to London and to play on his French connections, even if it meant using a bit of poetic license!

STEP 5 – French Vital Records

If Arnold had invented his own French studio, David wanted to find out whether he and his wife Amelie were actually French. Vital records such as birth, marriage and death certificates can reveal key clues about a person's original nationality.

We set out for the Archives Nationales (National Archives) in Paris where information about dates and places of birth, marriages, occupations, residences and deaths can be found (see Related Links).

With the help of senior curator Claire Bechu, David searched for any civil records relating to Arnold and Amelie, and found a marriage certificate for the couple. The certificate revealed that Amelie's maiden name was Salomon and that she was born in Grodno in Russia. It stated that Arnold was born in Dunabourg, also in Russia.

So both David's great-grandparents were Russian, not French! The residential address supplied on the certificate emphasised their distinctive Jewish heritage: their home had been next door to the Synagogue des Tournelles.

Following the French Revolution a century earlier, France was one of the few European countries not to discriminate against Jews. By the 1880s, Paris had an established Jewish community. As Russian immigrants, it was here that Amelie and Arnold had apparently found a haven for just under a decade, before they moved on to Britain to raise their family.

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David looks at vital records for Arnold and Amelie in Paris, and finds their former home

David knew that a similar refugee theme was likely to be found on the Suchet side of the family.

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