I retired in 2007 and I’ve been doing ancestral research since 2008 when I first purchased a subscription to ancestry.com. I’ve been writing this blog since February 2015. One of the stories I published that first month was one that I had actually written in 2013 about my great-grandfather, Louis Russell. You can read it here. It was based on a picture (see below) that I had of Louis and the older three of his six children and my wondering why the younger three were not in the picture. In the intervening years, my genealogical investigation skills have improved and I’ve learned the importance of understanding the context of writing these kinds of stories. Recently I discovered the obituary of one of the younger children and that raised some questions, so I thought I should revisit that story to give better context to it.
[Louis Russell and children]
Context – Prior to 1900
Louis was the oldest child of Walter and Lois [Cook] Russell. Walter was from Dover, Dutchess County, NY and Lois was from New Milford, CT. They had married in May 1870 when Walter was 18 and Lois was only 15. Louis was born in Kent, CT (the next town up the Housatonic River Valley) the following year in August of 1971. Over the next 9 years Walter and Lois had five more children. Some were born in Kent, others in Dover or New Milford.
In early 1883, Lois passed away. Louis was only 11 at the time. Walter continued raising his six children, but with the help of his aging parents, Silas and Hester, who were by then also living in New Milford with Louis. In 1886, Walter’s father passed away at the age of 83 but his aging mother, Hester continued living with him. Thinking that his mother would not be living much longer, and being a relatively young man, in 1887 Walter married a second time to Cornelia Sutphin. Cornelia was from New Jersey, so I have no idea how they met. Walter was 35 at the time and Cornelia was 25. Walter and Cornelia had four children together over the next 7 years.
Meanwhile, Louis married in 1892 to Anna Pauline [Merchant]. They were both 20 at the time. Their first child, my grandfather Erskine, was born in 1894 in Sherman, a small village just to the west of New Milford. Since Walter and Cornelia were still having children, Erskine was actually older than a couple of his half-aunts/half-uncles. Louis and Anna continued having more children during the coming years.
Then in 1895, Walter passed away at the age of 43, followed by Cornelia passing away in 1897 at the age of 36. Walter’s children from his first marriage were by this time old enough to be on their own (the youngest being 17), and most of them were already married. But the children of Walter and Cornelia were between age 10 and 3. The oldest went to live with a family friend in Cornwall and the younger three were sent to a newly founded orphanage in Winsted, CT. I’ve written about that here. Defying Walter’s predictions, his mother Hester actually outlived both he and his second wife and did not pass away until 1898.
So, in the 1900 census we have Louis, his wife Anna, and four children (Erskine – 5, Linus – 4, Loretta – 2, and William – 6 months) living in Cornwall (the next town north of Kent up the Housatonic River Valley). Meanwhile, Louis’ siblings are living as follows:
· Mary, age 27 – location unknown, probably married
· Martha, age 26 – New Milford, married, 3 children (6, 4, 6 months)
· Charlotte, age 25 – New Milford, married, 2 children (5, 2)
· George, age 22 – New Milford, married but separated, boarding with Charlotte (Note that his wife was only 14 and she is still at home with her parents – this is too complicated to get into here, perhaps another story some other time)
· Gertrude, age 19 – Manchester, CT, married, 1 child (10 month)
· Earl, age 11 – Cornwall, boarding with a family while he attends school
· Silas, age 8 – Winsted orphanage
· James, age 6 – Winsted orphanage
· Edith, age 5 – Winsted orphanage
For reference, the relative population of the places mentioned above were (in 1900):
· New Milford – 4804 (by far the largest town in the upper Housatonic River Valley, although towns farther south or east were larger – such as Danbury (19,000), Torrington (12,000), and Winsted/Winchester (8,000))
· Sherman – 658
· Kent – 1220
· Cornwall – 1175
· Dover, NY – 1959
The Story of the Picture – 1900-1905
The next several years were no less tumultuous than the time prior to 1900. Louis and Anna had two more children, Allen (born in 1901), and Martha Pauline (known as Pauline after her mother) (born in 1903). Then, when Pauline was just four months old, Anna passed away. Louis was somewhat devastated. His mother had passed away at the age of 28, his step-mother at the age of 36, and now his wife also passed away at the age of just 32. His younger sister, Gertrude, had also passed away earlier that same year at age 22. He was only 32 himself, but he had six children under the age of 10 to raise – with no wife and no parents to give assistance. While he had a few married siblings living in New Milford, they all had families of their own (Martha had 3 and would go on to have 4 more; Charlotte had 3; George had 2 and would go on to have 2 more).
It appears that Louis kept the older three children (Erskine (9), Linus (7), and Loretta (6)) with him. But the younger three would need to have someone to watch over them. Thus, he found homes for them with other families in New Milford as follows:
William (3) was placed in the home of Samuel and Lillie Waldron. Samuel and Lillie were then in their early 40s and had no children of their own. Samuel was a first cousin of Louis’ father, Walter. William was listed in the 1910 census as an “adopted son”. He remained with Samuel and Lillie until he was old enough to strike out on his own. He then began working at a farm in New Milford where he eventually married the daughter of the farmer. He and his wife inherited her father’s farm and they lived there for the rest of their lives. They had two children, one of whom, named Allen after his late uncle, passed away at the age of just 2.
Allen (2) was placed in the home of Mary Potter in Gaylordsville section of New Milford. (There are two women by this name in that section of town, so I am not sure which one it is). Allen passed away in February 1905 at the age of 3 years and 10 months – yet a further blow to his father. Allen’s obituary notes, “Mrs. Potter was unremitting in her love and attention for the motherless little lad, and did all that anyone could do for the sufferer. Mr. Russell desires to return thanks to Mrs. Potter and to others in Gaylordsville for their many kindnesses.”
Pauline (4 months) was placed in the all-female home of Mary Jane [Madigan] Waldron (a widow age 55), her daughter Helen (age 35), and Helen’s three daughters. Helen had been married twice and was currently separated from her second husband. The three girls living with her were Lola [Pulver] (17), Eva [Pulver] (11), and Margaret [Waldron] (5). Mary Jane was an ex-wife of Lois [Cook] Russell’s cousin Henry Waldron. And Margaret was separated from Lewis Waldron, who was a second cousin of Louis. Thus, Louis placed Pauline in a home where there were multiple [former] relationships to him.
It was thus that on March 18, 1905 that Louis felt compelled to take a picture of himself with the three children who were still living with him at the time. It was only a few weeks after the latest loss in his life of the young Allen and he did not have pictures of himself with any of his children.
Context – After 1905
Over the next few years there were many other changes involving these individuals. William remained living with his adoptive parents in New Milford. Helen [Madigan] Waldron divorced the husband she was separated from (he remarried in 1908). Her daughters all left the home: Lola married in 1906; Eva and her boyfriend went to live with her older sister in Massachusetts and they then married in 1911; it is not known where Margaret went, but she eventually married in 1918.
Louis remained in New Milford. Although he only had a high school education, he had learned how to be a millwright from his father. He initially worked for the New England Lime and Cement Company, then trained to be an electrician for the Tucker Electrical Construction Company.
In 1910, he remarried – to Helen [Madigan] [Waldron], the woman who was taking care of his youngest daughter, Pauline. When the 1910 census was taken a few months later, he can be found in New Milford with Helen (his 2nd marriage, her 3rd) along with four of his children – Erskine (15), Linus (14), Loretta (12), and Pauline (6). Helen’s mother, Mary [Madigan] [Waldron] was then a widow of 63, living without family, but with a handyman to help with household duties.
When WWI broke out in 1914, the US was initially neutral, but we did supply those fighting against Germany with munitions. Nearly ¾ of the brass munitions were supplied by the various brass companies in Waterbury, CT, one of which was Scovill Manufacturing Company. When Russia entered the war, the wanted to have access to these same kinds of munitions. Czar Nicholas II paid Scovill to build a new power plant so they could increase their production. The Tucker Electrical Construction Company was selected to build this plant, so around 1914 Louis and his family moved to Waterbury to help build that plant. After it was built, Scovill hired him (on August 18, 1918) to help run the plant that he had helped build (see story here).
Thus, by the time of the 1920 census, Louis and his family (both children and step-children) can be found as follows:
· Louis (48) and Helen (53) – living in Waterbury
· Erskine (26) – living in Bridgeport with his wife and 1 child (and one-on-the-way (my father))
· Linus (22) – fought in WWI, injured by mustard gas, confined to a mental institution where he spent the remaining years of his life until passing away in 1948
· Loretta (21) – living with Louis and Helen in Waterbury
· William (20) – living in New Milford with his adoptive family
· Pauline (16) – living with Louis and Helen in Waterbury
· Lola (33) – whereabouts unknown, her family has broken up and children scattered among adoptive families. However, her youngest daughter, Juanita (6) is living with her grandparents, Louis and Helen, in Waterbury
· Eva (27) – living in Waterbury with her husband and 2 children
· Margaret (22) – living in New Milford with her husband and 1 child
There are a lot of complications in this story – early deaths, divorces, second (and third) marriages, children living with other families, etc. But it’s all part of the context that led Louis to absolutely desire this picture of he and three of his children. And it’s also part of the context of my father as in the next generation his parents (one being Erskine Russell above) married, separated, joined back for a short time, then divorced and both remarried, then my father left his mother and step-father and went to live with his grandfather (Louis) and step-grandmother (Helen). (I’ve told that story here.) With that context, it is amazing that he and my mother remained married for 60 years!