Friday, September 30, 2016

Genealogy Story – Russell Family Migration

While researching something else on behalf of a friend recently, I came across an interesting fact that I had not known before. That started me thinking on the topic of why people move from one area to another. I’ll mention the interesting fact later in this post, but I want to put it in the entire context of the migration of the Russell family from their origin about 1000 years ago until now.

Prior to coming to the US

As I have posted earlier, the Russell family name began in Normandy, France in about the year 1000. However, they were only there a short time. In 1066, the Baron Hugh de Rozel went to England with William the Conqueror’s army as they defeated the tribes there. After the defeat, the Russell family settled in the south of England in Dorset. They were there for 4-5 generations, then moved to Strensham in Worcestershire. They remained in that part of England for several hundred years until the late 1500’s, then briefly moved to Yorkshire. It was from Yorkshire that Robert Russell migrated to America, specifically Andover, MA, about 1640. So there were only a few moves of any consequence in the first 600+ years of the family.

Massachusetts to New York

It was only a few generations later that the Russell family began disbursing. Some of them headed north into New Hampshire, but my great*6-grandfather, Robert Russell (1722-1784) moved to Westchester County, NY in the mid-1700’s. Records are somewhat sparse from back then, but the Russell family were farmers and the stop in Westchester County was a brief one as he later moved to Putnam County, NY and then on to Dutchess County, NY.

Settling in Dutchess County, then a move to Connecticut

The Russell family stayed in Dutchess County for about 100 years and continued to farm. John Russell (1756-1820) was in the county by 1772, Caleb Russell (1780-) lived his entire life there, and Silas Russell (1803-1886) lived there until the late 1870’s. All were farmers and according to census records did not know how to read or write. Walter Russell (1852-1895) was also born in Dover, Dutchess County, but he decided to better himself and move on. By 1870 he had moved to Kent, CT, just a few miles to the east of Dover. By 1880 the family had moved a few miles to the south to New Milford, CT. There he learned how to be a millwright and not a farmer like his father.

Moving around Connecticut

My great-grandfather, Louis Russell (1871-1946), was born in Kent, but grew up in New Milford. He 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 and began working for the Tucker Electrical Construction Company.

Here’s where the interesting fact I learned comes into play. During WWI, Connecticut produced nearly ¾ of the brass munitions used by the US. There were a number of large brass mills in Waterbury, CT, one of which was Scovill Manufacturing Company. When Russia entered the war, they wanted to have access to these same sorts of brass munitions. Czar Nicholas II paid Scovill to build a new power plant so they could increase their production and sell this increase to him. The Tucker Electrical Construction Company was selected by Scovill to build this new power plant. So my great-grandfather moved his family to Waterbury during the war to help build this new power plant – a move that was funded by the Russians!

When the plant was finished, my great-grandfather was hired by Scovill to help run the plant that he had helped build. So on August 26, 1918, the Russell family began working for Scovill – a relationship that lasted for over 60 years.

My grandfather, Erskine Russell (1894-1970), had been born in Sherman, CT (just outside of New Milford). He married when the family still lived in New Milford in 1914, but when the US entered the war he and his wife moved to Bridgeport, CT where there was work available. My aunt and my father were born there. But my grandparents’ marriage was not going well and they separated in 1924. My grandmother remained in Bridgeport, but Erskine moved to Waterbury where he lived with his father, Louis, and step-mother. Louis got him a job working in the power plant. Erskine moved out (just a few blocks away) for a short time in 1928 as he attempted to reconcile with his wife, but that did not work out, so they divorced and he moved back to his father’s house. He got married a second time in 1933 and moved across town, but he continued to work with his father in the power plant.

My father, Vernon Russell (1920-2006) moved around quite a lot – being born in Bridgeport, then with his mother to Waterbury for a short time as mentioned above, then back to Bridgeport, then to New Milford, then to Danbury when his mother remarried a much older man (30 years older). In 1937 he moved to Waterbury to finish high school, living with his grandfather. After graduation he also began working for Scovill in 1939 where he worked until 1981.

There was a short break from that work in 1944-1946 when he was in the Navy in WWII. His grandfather finally retired from Scovill in 1945 and died just a few months later. Freed from the oversight of his father, Erskine also resigned from Scovill in 1945 and began working for Pinkerton as a security guard.

Meanwhile, my father returned from the war in 1946, lived briefly with his sister just mile or so away, then married and moved to the next town, Wolcott, where he lived until his passing in 2006.

Recent years

People are much more mobile these days. While I worked in CT for a few years after getting married, I got a job offer and moved to Pennsylvania in 1975 where I still live. My son was born here, worked in New Jersey, after graduating from college, for 15 years, then recently moved to Florida, but staying with the same company.

So – from France to England to Massachusetts to New York to Connecticut to Pennsylvania to Florida. Many moves and for a variety of reasons. But we are still all Russells and still all connected.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Famous and not-so-famous Russells

On a couple of occasions over the past few weeks I’ve felt challenged to see if someone with the Russell surname was related to me. Since I’ve been able to track my Russell ancestors back to the origin of the family name nearly 1000 years ago, this is just a matter of tracking the other person’s ancestry to see if it intersects with mine.

Sometimes it’s obvious that there is no easy connection. For example, the actresses Jane Russell and Roselind Russell both track their ancestry back to Ireland. I really would have liked to find a connection to Roselind Russell because she was born in Waterbury, CT – the same place that I was. But I have not yet been successful in finding connections between the Irish Russells and the English Russells that are in my family tree, so I wrote those off as something I don’t have the time for now.

Similarly, I have not tried to follow the family trees of individuals such as comedian Nipsey Russell or basketball great Bill Russell as I’m not sure how to follow the genealogy lines of African-Americans.

But in other searches I have been successful. I saw a quote that was attributed to the English philosopher Bertrand Russell and wondered about any connection. He is descended from a long line of English Royalty (Earls and Dukes) which is fairly well documented back into the 1400s. From that point I was able to refer to a resource that I have on the Tudor line of Russells and take his family tree back to the 1100s. It was finally there that it intersected my own family line. So I have now established that Bertrand Russell is my 17th cousin, 6 times removed – certainly not a close connection, but a connection nonetheless.

More recently, I had a meeting with a man in NY who said that he had a Russell connection in Dutchess County NY which is where my Russell ancestors lived from the late 1700s until the late 1870s. I thought surely that would be a great connection. I started by locating his father’s obituary which mentioned his Aunt Thelma Russell (her married name). I was then able to find another obituary for Thelma’s sister-in-law which gave the name of Thelma’s father-in-law, i.e. the Russell ancestry. From there it was simply a matter of tracing census records back through several generations. I thought I hit a snag in just a few generations when I found that the next generation back was born in NJ and he was married to someone from RI. So that line of Russells did not move to NY until after my relatives had left that area and moved to CT.

But I decided to continue on anyway and was rewarded when in the next generation I found that they had come from NH. At that point I was pretty sure that I would find a connection because I knew that my Russell ancestors who had come to America in the mid-1600s and lived in Andover, MA and some of them had moved just a few miles north to NH. I was able to eventually make a connection back in Andover, MA. So instead of this gentleman from NY having a connection to me in Dutchess County, NY, I found that his aunt (who is still living but has severe dementia) is my father’s 8th cousins. Again, not a real close connection like I hoped I would have found, but a connection nonetheless.

The study of genealogy and how it intersects with geography as people move and with history in terms of what was going on at the time is always very interesting to me.