Saturday, September 5, 2015

Genealogy Story – Erskine Russell

I’ve written blogs about my father, Vernon Russell (see, and some about my great-grandfather, Louis Russell (see, but not about my grandfather, Erskine Russell. So I thought it was time to rectify this oversight.

Erskine was born on 12 Sep 1894 in Sherman, Connecticut, to Louis and Anna Pauline Russell. He was their first of six children. In 1903, when Erskine was only 9, Anna died. The three younger children were sent to live with relatives, but Erskine and the two other older children remained with their father. After finishing 8th grade, Erskine dropped out of school and began working as a farm laborer. In 1910, when he was 16, his father re-married. The family lived in New Milford.

In 1914, Erskine married a young lady, Vera Levy, who also lived in New Milford with her mother and sister. Vera’s father had been Jewish and she grew up in Brooklyn, NY with all her Jewish relatives. But when her father had died in 1910, her mother, who was not Jewish, left the Jewish community and moved to New Milford to be closer to her own family. As it was 1914 and the start of WWI, Erskine and Vera moved to a larger city, Bridgeport, and Erskine began working as a foundryman in a factory there. They had two children, Dorothy, born in 1916, and Vernon, born in 1920.

Meanwhile, Erskine’s father had also left New Milford. After a short time with the New England Lime and Cement Company, he worked for the Tucker Electric Construction Company and helped build the new Scovill Main Plant Power Station in Waterbury. When the power station was completed in 1918, he began working as an employee for Scovill as the operator of the big control board in the power station (a position he held for the next 27 years). For Erskine, things were not going well between him and Vera, and in 1922 he abandoned his family and moved to Waterbury, CT where he began living with his father and step-mother. His father got him a job working for Scovill – in the power station with his father as his supervisor.

After a few years of relative stability, Erskine and Vera decided to try to get back together and Vera moved to Waterbury where the family rented a house a few blocks from Erskine’s father and step-mother. They tried that for two years (mid-1926 to mid-1928), but it did not work out any better than before. They divorced – Vera moved back to Bridgeport with the children and Erskine, now age 34, moved back home with his father and step-mother. Erskine would not see his children again for 9+ years.

In 1933, Erskine married a second time, to Elizabeth Evans. Thus he was finally able to move out from his father’s home for the last time. Elizabeth had been born in Sheffield, England. Like Vera, her father had died when she was fairly young and she stopped schooling after 9th grade to begin working as a domestic servant and dressmaker. She had immigrated to the US in 1923 at the age of 38 to begin a new life with her uncle and aunt who lived in Waterbury. She arrived in the US with $60 and the promise of a place to live. When she married Erskine she was a 48-year old spinster. But Erskine, then 39, was not looking for a love match, he wanted someone to take care of him other than his father and step-mother who were then in their 60s.

In 1937, Erskine’s children, Dorothy and Vernon, also moved to Waterbury – Dorothy to a new job in the city, and Vernon to complete high school. They both lived with their grandfather, Erskine’s father, so even though Erskine was living on the other side of the city, he could finally see them again. The following year Dorothy married – to a man living only a block away, and Vernon graduated from high school and began working at Scovill (jobs were scarce, Scovill was only a few blocks away, and the company had a practice of hiring children and relatives). However he did not work in the power house with his father and grandfather, but in the drafting department.

In 1944, Vernon was drafted and went to war with the US Navy in the South Pacific. While he was away for two years much happened. In April of 1945, Erskine’s step-mother passed away. That fall his father, Louis, then age 74, retired from Scovill (after 27 years) and he passed away just a few months later. Erskine, finally freed from working under the supervision of his father, also left employment at Scovill (after 23 years) and began working as a security guard for Pinkerton – a job he held for the rest of his working life.

For the next few decades, things settled down and life moved on. Both of his children, Dorothy and Vernon, were married and had families. So Erskine and Elizabeth had a good time interacting with their grandchildren. And with grandchildren in common, Erskine even got to see his first wife, Vera, and her second husband from time to time.

In 1963, after several years of living in various mental institutions, Erskine’s first wife, Vera, died. Her second husband had passed away at the age of 93 a few years earlier. In January 1970, at the age of 75, Erskine passed away. He and Elizabeth had been married for 37 years. She died in August of that same year at the age of 85.

As I re-read the above, it is pretty factual and does not seem to have much emotion. But that is pretty representative of the relationship that I had with my grandfather. With my mother’s parents we had a lot of interaction. It was not uncommon that we would be left with them – either for a more planned event such as a Christmas party, or for the times that my mother was having another baby and we older children stayed with them for a few days. But visits with my father’s parents were strictly limited to formal visits. Generally the adults would have a short visit in their living room and the children were not included. My father might take us for a walk down into the gully in the woods behind their house to see the stream which flowed through the area, but I don’t recall that my grandfather ever accompanied us. He was only four years older than my mother’s father, but with Grampy Pierpont we would take walks, he even took me and my cousin Dave for a camping/hiking trip. But I can’t envision Grandpa Russell doing any of those kinds of things.

Since I never had the opportunity to know him as an adult (he died when I was in college), I’m not sure how much of it was due to both he and Vera having second marriages to people who were so much older (e.g. when I was 6, Grampy and Grammy Pierpont were each 56 but Grampa and Nana Russell were 60 and 69 and Grandma and Bampa Rogers were 59 and 89). Or maybe it was due to the somewhat unusual relationship that he had with his own father with whom he either lived or worked directly under until he was over 50 years old.

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