Friday, December 29, 2017

Genealogy Story – Nana Rogers and Nana Russell

I’ve previously written about my mother’s parents, Harold and Sara Pierpont (, as well as my father’s father, Erskine Russell (, and step-father, Charles Rogers ( Although I had a few details about them in the story of my grandpa Russell, I need to complete the set of stories with writing about my father’s mother and step-mother.

We had different names for each of my three sets of grandparents. My mother’s parents were called “Grampy” and “Grammy”, my father’s father and step-mother were called “Grandpa” and “Grandma/Nana”, and my father’s mother and step-father were called “Nana” and “Bampa” (I was told that “Bampa” was because as a young child I wasn’t yet able to pronounce the “gr” sound and so said “Bampa” instead of “Grampa” and the name stuck.)

While those I have written about before all had deep roots in America, these two grandmothers on my dad’s side did not.

Vera [Levy] [Russell] Rogers

Vera was born in 1895 in Brooklyn, NY, the first of two daughters born to Maurice and Caroline [Northrop] Levy. Maurice was the son of Jewish immigrants and had been born in NY as well, but when he was only two his family had moved to the town of New Milford, CT. Caroline had been born in Lee, MA, but, like Maurice, her family had moved to New Milford when she was only two. While Maurice was two years older than Caroline, the two children would have known each other from an early age as the population of New Milford in the 1870s was only about 4000 people (the two children are only a few pages apart in the 1880 census). But the difference in religions apparently did not pose a hindrance to their friendship (see After their marriage in 1893, the young couple moved back to Brooklyn where Maurice had other relatives. He worked as a printer, an occupation related to his father’s occupation of being a stationer.

Maurice died at the age of only 40 in 1910 when Vera was only 15. Her mother made the decision to move back to New Milford to be closer to her family.

In 1914, and only two weeks after her 19th birthday, Vera married a young man, Erskine Russell, who was also only 19. With employment opportunities somewhat limited in the small town of New Milford, the two moved to Bridgeport, CT, were Erskine got a job working in a foundry. There they had two children, Dorothy, born in 1916, and my father, Vernon, born in 1920.

But things were not going well for Erskine and Vera, and in 1922 Erskine abandoned his family and moved to Waterbury, CT where he began living with his father and step-mother. Vera began supporting herself in a variety of sales-type positions. 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 moved back home with his father and step-mother. Erskine would not see his children again for 9+ years.

The next two years were ones of constantly moving and the family had six different addresses, all in Bridgeport.  Finally, in early June 1930, Vera married again, to Charles Rogers, a man 30 years her senior.  The family moved to Danbury which is where Charles lived, then the following summer moved to New Milford, Vera’s hometown.

The family stayed together for the next 4+ years, then my father and his sister moved to Waterbury to live with their paternal grandfather and his second wife.  Charles and Vera remained in New Milford – he then in his early 70’s and she in her early 40’s.  They were still living there in 1948 when I was born.  Sometime in the early 1950’s, being in his late 80’s, Charles moved into an assisted living home in Woodbury.  He had a small room to himself on one of the upper floors.  My grandmother, who was beginning to have mental problems, went into a separate nursing home elsewhere around the same time.

I’ve told the final chapter of Vera’s life before (, so I’ll not repeat that here. She died in a mental institution in the summer of 1963 at the relatively young age of 68. She had a rough life – parents of different religions; a father who died when she was a teenager; a rocky marriage with a separation, getting back together, then a divorce; having to support herself in the middle of the depression; her children moving away when they were only in high school; and dementia.

Perhaps she did have a few happy years when I was younger, but if so I do not have any memories of them. I mostly recall her constant complaining during her long downhill slide with dementia. But she was still my grandmother and I loved her anyway.

Elizabeth [Evans] Russell

“Nana” was an appropriate name for someone who had been born in England. Elizabeth was born in the north of England, in Sheffield, in 1885 to Daniel and Elizabeth [Gage] Evans. Sheffield back then was the center of a significant silver industry, and had been so since the 1740s ( She was one of a large family, having an older half-sister, Kate, two older sisters, Caroline and Lucy, an older brother, Thomas, and a younger sister, Harriet.

Daniel was a laborer in the iron works and sadly passed away when Elizabeth was a young girl. Her older sisters got married, and by 1901, it was Elizabeth (then only 15 and with only a 9th grade education) and her brother Thomas who were working in the silver industry to support the family. Thomas was “spoon and fork buffer” and Elizabeth was a “silver filer”. But this type of life was not to her liking. When she was old enough, she moved south to London and became a domestic servant and dressmaker.

In 1923, Lizzie (as she was then called), at the age of 38, immigrated to the US to begin a new life with her uncle and aunt, William and Florence Scholey, who lived in Waterbury, CT. She arrived with only $60 in her pocket. But she stayed with them only long enough to get established. Within a few years she had become a US citizen and was living in a nearby rooming house and making a living as a dressmaker.

When she married my grandfather, Erskine, in 1933, she was a 48-year old spinster. But Erskine, then 39, was not looking for a love match. He wanted to be able to move out of the house where he was living with his father and step-mother since divorcing his first wife several years earlier. Having someone to run the house and care for him appears to have been the reason for his second marriage. Although Erskine continued to see his father on a daily basis as they worked together in the power house at Scovill, Elizabeth no longer had to support herself – something that she had been doing since being a young girl. When Erskine’s parents finally died in the mid-1940s, Erskine also left that part of his life behind, got a new job as a security guard for Pinkerton, and he and Elizabeth moved into a small house in Prospect. They continued living there for the rest of their lives.

When I was growing up, we used to occasionally visit them in that little house (two rooms downstairs and two upstairs). The living/dining room was always a formal area with antimacassars on all the chairs and sofa. Since she was already in her mid-60s when I was born, I only remember her as a “old lady” and I never knew her as anything else, despite the many things that she had experienced in her life. My grandfather passed away while I was away in graduate school in January of 1970 at the age of 75 and Elizabeth, then called Bessie instead of Lizzie, passed away later that same year at the age of 85.

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