Friday, November 27, 2015

The James Walter Russell family (part 2) – Learning from my mistakes

About two weeks ago I posted a blog entitled “Disconnected Russells – The James Walter Russell Family.” As is my habit, whenever I post a blog I also post a link to it in my Facebook account. I will also often tag people who I think might be interested in it – in this case any of my Facebook friends who are descended from James Walter Russell. Since then I’ve gotten a number of replies, not only from these friends, but from other descendants of James Walter who saw it posted. In the process, I’ve had not one, not two, but three different mistakes pointed out to me. So I thought it would be interested to explore the “anatomy” of these mistakes, why I made them, and so to learn from them.

Mistake 1 – Not being careful

One of the first responses I got said, “Hi Alan, I’m Donald Russell’s second daughter, Donna Russell Todd. …” She was not one of my Facebook friends (but since then I’ve friended her), so I checked out to see where she was in my long document on all the descendants of Walter J Russell (our common ancestor). She was listed there, but to my dismay she was listed as the first daughter, not the second! My mistake! So, where did I go wrong? is a great source for finding information on ancestors, but it’s not designed for doing so for living individuals – so for that you often have to turn to other sources. One good source is obituaries. I had found the online obituary for Donald Russell, Donna’s father, from 2007. In it were listed the names of his children. Children are often listed in descending order by age, but that’s not always the case (for example, sometime the sons and daughters are in separate lists). So I generally check them out by using other sources that give the age of the individual. In this case, I was able to find three of Donald’s daughters but not the fourth (the root cause turned out to be that I had misspelled her married name as it was an unusual one). So I put the three whose ages I could verify in the proper order and put the other one at the end. As it turned out, the one I put at the end was the oldest, not the youngest.

That’s not a real big deal, except that the descendant chart that I use relies on birth order in order to assign a unique ID to each person. So I had to go back and renumber everyone in the subtree for Donald’s descendants.

Mistake 2 – Making assumptions

Donald’s obituary, as is common, did not list any one below his children, it only stated that he had “10 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren”. But in exploring whether any of them were passing on the Russell surname I made an assumption that the family would be using the patronymic naming convention that we generally use.

The patronymic naming convention is based on a male hierarchy. Thus, when individuals get married, the wife changes her last name to be the same as her husband’s. And, any children will also have the family name from the husband [and the wife]. Donald only had four daughters. I could see from the obituary that three of them were married and that all three had taken on the last name of their husbands. Thus, I felt pretty secure in assuming that any children would also have the last names of the men, and that none would have the Russell surname. However, that assumption proved to be incorrect!

One of the replies I got stated, “Alan, Laura Russell Donaldson, my mother-in-law, has a son who was given the Russell name. Should he and I have any children they will carry on the name. There’s still hope that it won’t disappear forever!” This reply was from Cody Elizabeth, someone whose name I didn’t recognize.

Further conversations with her uncovered the fact that this son was from a relationship that happened before Laura was married. Since there was no husband to name him after, Laura gave her son her family name, which was still Russell. I have since friended both the son, Chris Russell, and his wife, Cody Elizabeth [Russell].

Mistake 3 – Having a point of view

The final conversation came from a reply from Michele Russell, another of James Walter’s descendants. In my blog about his family I had called them the “missing branch” because of the combination of circumstances (primarily early deaths) that had caused them to lose connection with the rest of the “family tree”. But that presumed that I was part of the main tree and they were the “missing branch.” But Michele ended her conversation with me by stating, “And all this time we thought YOU guys were the lost branch, LOL!” And she was right.

In my blog on “Why I do what I do”, I noted that when my mother died in 2012, “I came to the conclusion that I was then the oldest living ‘Russell’ in our family tree” because I was not aware of any relatives from my great-grandfather on down who had the Russell name and who were older than I was. So only 3 years ago I was feeling like the “lost branch” and now I assign that label to someone else just because I had since discovered all the relationships by going further back up the family tree. How you feel about something depends on where you are and your point of view.

We will always make mistakes. But if we learn from them and try to avoid making the same mistakes again, then we can turn the negatives into positives. I’m thankful to Donna, Cory, and Michele for pointing out these mistakes to me.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Disconnected Russells – The James Walter Russell Family

My great-great-grandfather was Walter J. Russell. He was the first of my Russell ancestors to be in Connecticut – he was born in Dover, Dutchess County, NY in 1852 but moved to CT sometime shortly after the Civil War. He married his first wife, Lois Ann Cook, on May 29, 1870 in Kent, Litchfield County, CT when he was just 18. Their first child, my great-grandfather Louis Morgan Russell, was born on August 26, 1871.

Walter and Lois had six children together before Lois passed away in 1883 at the age of just 28. Walter married again a few years later to Cornelia Sutphin in 1885 in New Milford, CT. He and Cornelia had four children. One of these was James Walter Russell who was born in 1893. On September 27, 1895, Walter passed away at the age of 43. Just two years later Cornelia also passed away at the age of 39.

The children of Walter and his first wife Lois had either left home by then or were old enough to be on their own. But the four children of Walter and his second wife Cornelia were younger. The oldest of the four, Earl, was 7 and he was taken in by some family friends. But the youngest three, Silas, James, and Edith were placed in an orphanage in Winsted, CT. They were ages 6, 4, and 3 respectively. Because of both the age differences and the physical separation, the four young children of Walter and Cornelia rarely saw their older half-siblings again.

Three of these children, Earl, Silas, and Edith, lived into their eighties. Earl married but never had any children, Silas never married, and neither did Edith. James married in 1920 and he and his wife had three children, Donald born in 1922, Shirley born in 1924, and Robert born in 1926. James then passed away in 1927 at the age of just 33, leaving his wife to raise their three young preschoolers.

Donald married and had four children – all girls – so there are none to pass on the Russell family name (see correction in comments). Shirley married and also had four children, but they will not pass on the Russell family name either. Robert married and also had four children – three of them are girls and will not pass on the Russell family name, and the lone male offspring has no children and so he will not pass the Russell family name along either.

Thus it appeared to this portion of the greater Russell family that not only were they cut off from any of their Russell relatives, but that the Russell family name was going to die out with them. Donald, Shirley, and Robert never knew their father well as he died when they were so young. And the only two relatives from his side of the family who they knew at all well, Earl and Silas who lived in the area, had no offspring. And despite there being a total of twelve children born to the three children of James, none of them would be passing along the Russell name to the next generation!

My cousin George Russell had heard about this “missing branch” of the Russell family tree from his father and had visited Robert in CT about 20 years ago. And based on some information that I received from him I had done some genealogical research and filled in some of the above story. It was just three years ago that I contacted them and introduced myself. I have since friended many of the family on Facebook and have stayed in touch with them. Sometime in the next few weeks I will be making a trip to that part of CT and meeting face-to-face with my long-lost cousins. Robert is still living at age 89, although his memory is fading. Although he is younger than my father would be, he was a first cousin to my grandfather (because of the 20+ year difference in age between my great-grandfather Louis and Robert’s father James).

I can’t do anything about the dying out of the Russell family name in this branch of the family, but at least through my genealogical research I have been able to connect them back in to the larger Russell family. I’m looking forward to meeting my cousins!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tuna Fish and Headaches

25 years ago, there was a time when I was having fairly regular headaches - but only on Sunday mornings at church. Not all the time, but more often than not, and never during the week. And by Sunday evening I was fine again. Since I didn't think that church should be the cause of a physical ailment, I started looking for a cause. After a few months of trying to be conscious of when these headaches struck and when they did not and what was a common factor, I came to the conclusion that it was tuna.

A little explanation of my life at the time: I was working full-time and my normal lunch was a lunch meat sandwich - two slices of wheat bread, lightly spread with mayonnaise, and a piece or two (depending on thickness) of bologna, ham, or whatever else had been on sale the previous week. I have always liked tuna, but because of the higher amount of liquids (oil, water, mayonnaise) in the making, a tuna sandwich gets pretty soggy after sitting in a baggie for the 5-6 hours between making it and lunch time. So I would quite often "reward" myself by having a tuna sandwich on Saturday when I could make it and immediately consume it. We almost always bought tuna packed in water as it tended to be a higher quality tuna, but even without all the oil and a better taste, I got the headaches.

At any rate, having concluded that tuna was the culprit, I could check it out. If I had tuna on Saturday for lunch, then I would have a headache the next morning; if I had something else on Saturday, then no headache! I had an answer, but not one that I really liked. So, as much as I still liked tuna, I removed it from my Saturday routine for the next couple of years.

Whatever it was in the tuna (was it mercury, or was that it really wasn't tuna at all as this article states), after an extended time without it, my body naturally flushed out the level of toxin. I found that I could still have tuna on occasion - such as in something else (tuna casserole) - and not have any adverse effects. Now, a few decades later, I can even have an entire tuna sandwich (tuna sub from Subway anyone?) and not have any adverse effects from it. Keep it in moderation, certainly not every Saturday like I used to, and everything is okay.

Four learnings:
1 - I still like tuna, but now it’s an occasional reward only
2 - I have always preferred fish and poultry to red meats - not only are they generally better on our budget, but there is less environmental impact - typical beef raising consumes a lot of grain, occupies a lot of land, generates methanol, etc
3 - It is possible to self-diagnose some of our medical problems

4 - Moderation is nearly always better - too much of anything, be it food items such as tuna or carbonated beverages, or other life activities, are apt to be problems down the road.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Another Book Almost Ready for Publishing

Five weeks ago today I received an email from an elderly lady I didn’t know. But as she explained who she was I realized that I knew three of her cousins (two of whom have passed on in the last few years), and I also knew her mother who passed away in 1988. She had heard about me from her one cousin I knew who was still living and for whom I had helped publish a book a few years ago. She was interested in seeing if I could help her publish a book of devotions and memoirs that she had gathered.

The last five weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind as I took all the individual devotions and stories, gathered them and reformatted them into book format, scanned several pictures that she sent me, proofed everything, created a suitable cover based on the basic thought about what it should look like, and got everything ready for printing. Now I’m just waiting for a final review by her and I should be able to submit for printing by the end of this week.

That’s the beauty of the new tools that are available for self-publishing. No longer do you have to work with a publishing company and an editor, get their approval if they see a sufficient market for it. Everything is “print on demand”, i.e. your order through or some other outlet is what triggers the printing of just the number you order – usually within minutes of you submitting the order.

I have an account with a company by the name of CreateSpace which is a subsidiary of And I’ve done enough different books through them that I get a very good price for the printing. The copies of this new book, “Journeys with God” are about 140 pages and cost less than $2.50 per copy (plus shipping, which is pretty reasonable if I order any sizeable quantity, and taxes).

I have enjoyed working with Marilyn for the past five weeks and the joy on her face when I gave her a proof copy for her review earlier today makes the whole thing worthwhile. I don’t do this as a money-making venture, I just enjoy using the skills I have in a way that gives happiness to others.

This is my 13th book in the last six-and-half years. Total copies printed per book have ranged from just a few dozen to over a thousand. None of them will ever make the New York Times best seller list. But each one has made someone happy that the things they have written can be distributed to their family and friends and not just be a collection of papers in a box that will gather dust in someone’s basement or attic.