Monday, December 31, 2018

Russell Ancestral Lines

With my last name being Russell, one would think that this would be my primary connection to this historic name which originated in Normandy about 1000 years ago. But it turns out that I have multiple connections and my paternal line is the least able to be traced. So, let me examine each of these connections and what I have found about them.

Through My Father

As I have noted before, I’ve traced my father’s Russell ancestors back through Robert Russell who came to this country in the early 1700s into New York. This line is as follows:

Myself <- Vernon (1920-2006) <- Erskine (1894-1970) <- Louis (1871-1946) <- Walter (1852-1895) <- Silas (1803-1886) <- Caleb (1775-1830) <- John (1756-1833) <- Robert (c. 1730-1811)

Because Robert was an illiterate immigrant from Scotland (*1), I have not been able to trace that line further, except that the Russell clan was an armigerous clan who claim to be descended from the Russell line in England who go back to their Norman ancestors (*2). But there is no proof of this connection.

Through My Mother’s Father (Pierpont)

My great*6 grandfather, Joseph Pierpont, married Hannah Russell. Her father was Rev. Nodiah Russell. This line is as follows:

Myself <- Sylvia [Pierpont] Russell (1924-2012) <- Harold Pierpont (1898-1969) <- Wilson Pierpont (1955-1921) <- Charles Pierpont (1825-1884) <- Austin Pierpont (1791-1848) <- Ezra Pierpont (1757-1842) <- Joseph Pierpont (1730-1824) <- Hannah Russell (1706-1791) <- Nodiah Russell (1659-1713) <- William Russell (1612-1665) (from England to New Haven CT in 1639) <- William Russell (1558-1613) <- Francis Russell (1527-1585)

At this point we find that this line is part of the Russells who were among the Dukes of Bedford (*3). This family line is then traceable back to the original Baron du Rozel/Roussel who was from Normandy and can be traced back through the Scandinavian line (*4).

Through My Mother’s Mother (Blackman)

A final ancestral line is through my maternal grandmother. This line has a few more name changes, but is as follows:

Myself <- Sylvia [Pierpont] Russell (1924-2012) <- Sara [Blackman] Pierpont (1898-1979) <- Alice [Talmadge] Blackman (1870-1929) <- Stephen Talmadge (1842-1924) <- Anna [Sperry] Talmadge (1806-1888) <- Mary [Russell] Sperry (1786-1857) <- Riverius Russell (1756-1834) <- Nicholas (1734-1798) <- Nicholas Russell (1708-1741) <- William Russell (1685-1739) <- John Russell (1664-1723) <- Ralph Russell (1625-1679) <- William Russell (1605-1661) (immigrated from England to Cambridge, MA in 1636) <- Edward Russell (1572-1627) <- Francis Russell (1527-1585)

Here we merge with the line above of noble Russells.


I am happy to be able to document that I am more than just a Russell by my father’s line, but that I have that same DNA running through me in multiple ways. While my connection to the royal Russell line cannot be documented through one of those ways, it can through the other two and thus back to the origin of the family name and its Viking origins. Family trees can be quite complicated when you go back more than a few generations. Mine is no exception.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Genealogy Story – Phoebe Isaacs

I was watching an episode of “My Family Secrets” which is a UK-based show sponsored by that helps ordinary people uncover things in their family tree (as opposed to many similar shows which concentrate on celebrities). Since I haven’t written one of these genealogy stories for a while, I thought I’d do some further investigation about my Jewish roots, i.e. the ancestors of my grandmother, Vera [Levy] [Russell] Rogers. It’s been a fascinating day, and I’ve uncovered much more than I expected – so the below is broken up into four roughly related parts, all centering about my great-great-grandmother, Phoebe Isaacs.

Names the Same

I’ve written several times about my Jewish ancestors (*1, *2, *3, *4). But these have focused on my grandmother’s paternal line (Levy). I knew a lot about them. But my great-grandfather mother was Phoebe Isaacs and I didn’t know much about her. Thus, I started by looking at what I had captured in my previous research.

Phoebe was born in 1842 in England. Most of the family trees that others have built have her father as being Samuel Isaacs, and indeed Samuel did have a daughter by that name who was born in 1842 (see more on Samuel below). But was this the right person, or someone else by the same name? I had noted an inconsistency in my research because in the US census of 1900 Phoebe had said that she had been in the US for 48 years, meaning that she would have immigrated in 1852 when she was about 10 years old. But the 1861 UK census showed her still living in the UK with her father Samuel. Phoebe didn’t marry until about 1862, so that didn’t help. There seemed to be so much that pointed to Samuel being her father as only that one fact in the 1900 census was inconsistent. Could I resolve the inconsistency?

I then noted that Samuel’s daughter was sometimes listed as Phoebe Grace Isaacs, but in reading through Phoebe’s will (written by her), she has her name as Phoebe A. Isaacs. Yet another inconsistency. Finally, I was able to locate an entry in the 1855 New York Census which showed a 13yo Phoebe living with her family in NY. Thus, it appears that there are two Phoebe Isaacs, and all the other trees in have their facts wrong. By trying to find other of Phebe’s relatives from the 1855 census, I was able to build out a “correct” tree for her and I deleted all the erroneous information in my tree. I’ve had other instances of two individuals with the same name and similar dates of birth, but never before in my research in English records.

Why Bridgeport?

In exploring all the information about Phoebe, I read through all the details in her probated will. Phoebe died in 1910, just a few months before her son, my great-grandfather, Maurice Levy. She left everything to her husband, Alexander Levy, who did not pass on until 1918. However, while she and her husband had raised their children in Brooklyn, they had moved to Bridgeport, CT in their later years as both of them died in CT.

In Phoebe’s will, she listed herself as owner of three pieces of property. I used Google maps to see where these properties were located. As I pulled up the first, on Hanover St, I noted that that street was only a few blocks long and one of the intersecting streets was Norman Street. But that street name rang a bell as that was where my grandparents were living in the early years of their marriage when my father and his sister were born. Surely that could not be a coincidence!

I had noted in the story of my grandparents (*5), that they had met in New Milford, where they were both living at the time, but after their marriage they had moved to Bridgeport in 1914. In checking all the locations where they lived (at various rental properties on Norman St), the three pieces of property that Phoebe owned (Hanover St, Olive St, and Maplewood St), they were all in the same part of Bridgeport. In fact, my father spent several years attending the Maplewood Elementary School.

Thus, it may not have been a coincidence that this is where my grandparents decided to make their home in 1914. While they were leaving New Milford, where their families were living, they were moving to the same neighborhood where my grandmother’s aging grandfather was living. In addition, one of my grandmother’s uncles and two of her aunts were also living in the same several block area. With all those family members around them, it is not at all surprising that my grandparents made their home in Bridgeport. Even when the marriage broke up a few years later, my grandmother continued living in Bridgeport until she remarried and the family moved to Danbury. While Phoebe had passed away in 1910 and Alexander in 1918, the presence of three of my grandmother’s aunts/uncles meant that they were still closely connected to her family and my father was not as isolated as I previously thought.

PT Barnum Connection

In looking at Phoebe’s will, I noted that one of the boundaries of her property on Hanover St was “in part on the land of Estate of P.T.Barnum…” While this property may not have been the primary home of Levy family, nor the primary home of Barnum, the fact that they had neighboring properties was interesting. Barnum had passed away in 1891, and I’m not certain when Phoebe purchased this property, so it may not have even been contemporaneous.

Many of are, of course, familiar with Barnum being a noted showman and the owner of both many sideshow characters like Tom Thumb, but in doing my investigation into his Bridgeport connections (where he also died), I learned two new things about him that I did not know before (*6). First, he also served in the CT House of Representatives from 1866-1869. He also served as the Mayor of Bridgeport. A few of his non-showman accomplishments are: (1) he hired spies to get insider information on the New York and New Haven Railroads and foiled a secret that would have raised commutation fares by 20%; (2) he was the sponsor of the 1879 CT anti-contraception law; and (3) he founded the Bridgeport Hospital in 1878 and was its first president.

Jewish Support of the Confederacy

During my investigation into the true ancestry of Phoebe, I of course also looked at the individual who many had considered to be her father, Samuel Isaac. While I have now confirmed that he is NOT one of my ancestors, I learned some very interesting things about him.

Samuel was a Jewish entrepreneur. In the 1850s he founded the “commission house” of Isaac, Campbell & Co. in London. While initially they set up a shoe factory, then they became the main supplier of military goods to the British army. But when the US Civil War broke out in 1861, a Captain Caleb Huse, the Chief Purchasing Agent for the newly formed Ordnance Department for the Confederacy approached them. Isaac became the primary supplier of all kinds of military items for them – including uniforms, armament, etc (*7). Samuel, with his brother Saul, were the largest European supporters of the Confederacy (*8). Their ships, outward bound with military stores and freighted home with cotton, were the most enterprising of blockade-runners between 1861 and 1865.

This is an interesting note of history and makes me happy that I have now found that Samuel is not among my ancestors.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Family Gatherings

(The below is taken from my autobiography, “My Life”, available on

We had a lot of good activities which involved our extended family.  The entire Pierpont side of the family celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together.  For Thanksgiving the Christian Science church had a special morning service.  After church we went to Grammy and Grampy’s house on East Main Street.  All the other family members joined us there.  Grammy and Aunt Edna had been cooking all morning.  Everyone else brought the dessert (apple pie, chocolate cream pie, lemon meringue pie, and sometimes others).  They put all the leaves in the dining room table so that it filled the room.  The younger kids ate around a card table in the front hall (it was a big deal when you were old enough to join the adult table).

After lunch while the ladies all cleaned up, the guys were overcome by the tryptophan in the turkey and sacked out in the living room (we have a lot of pictures of my dad and uncles slumped over in various chairs/sofas).  But the kids were then in for a special treat – the annual trip to the Maple Hill Dairy with Grampy Pierpont.  It was just down the street and it’s where he used to get the milk for his deliveries when he was a milkman.  It was owned by a couple of his cousins, so we were allowed to go there every November.  We could look at the cows, in the milk room, and even walk around the outside of the cement pool in the front.  All of us cousins together with Grampy leading the way like a mother hen with all her chicks.

We also all got together at Christmas time, but in a different fashion.  The kids all were dropped off with Grammy and Grampy – the older ones taking some responsibility for the younger ones.  We had earlier drawn names, so each child got one gift from someone else in the family.  There was a dollar limit on the gifts, so each child got something of roughly equal value.  I think that Grammy and Grampy enjoyed having us there as much as we enjoyed being with them.  The adults had their own Christmas party – alternating the location at a different house each year.  They also did a gift exchange among themselves. 

Besides these holiday get-togethers, there were two other types of events that often drew us together.  The first was the annual Pierpont Family Association meeting in the summer.  This was for ALL Pierpont family members, including some very distantly related to us.  During my growing up years the descendants of Wilson Pierpont (Grampy Pierpont’s father) always won the award for the most family members in attendance.  And the years that my Aunt Alie was visiting from Arizona she won the distance trophy.  These were always held at different locations around the state.

The final opportunity had to do with Grampy Pierpont.  He was a long-time member of the Appalachian Mountain Club.  The AMC had a cabin right on the Appalachian Trail where it passed through the Northwest corner of Connecticut.  But they also had a cabin on Bantam Lake which was available for rent.  Grampy would often rent it for a weekend in the summer and all his descendants would gather there for a picnic and swim in the lake.  So while most of my swimming was in the various bodies of water in Wolcott, I also swam in Bantam Lake on a number of occasions.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Family vehicles

The below is a reprint of one section of my autobiography - but with pictures of the types of cars that our family had growing up. I've tried to find pictures that matched the color of the ones that we had.

 I can’t leave these writings about travel without a mention of all the vehicles that the family owned during my years in Connecticut.

When my parents married they had an older model pre-war Chevy.  I’ve seen pictures of it when I was still a babe-in-arms, but have no recollection of it.  The first car that I remember was a 1949 Ford sedan.  My father was a real Ford man in those days.  The license plate number (which he had continuously for nearly 60 years) was UL766.  The license plates were issued based on where you lived and the UL prefix was for Bridgeport, where he’d lived when he bought his first car.  It was the only UL plate I ever remember seeing in our part of CT.

Cars back then didn’t last as long as they do now, so we tended to replace them every four years or so.  In 1953 he traded in for a 1953 two-toned Ford sedan.  It was in that car when he was taking myself and my sister Beth somewhere one day that my sister pulled the handle and opened the door while we were traveling and nearly fell out (they didn’t have seat belts or child locks in those days).  She got a real scolding.

In 1957 it was time for an upgrade again, primarily because we now had four kids with number five on the way.  So this time we got a 1957 Ford Fairlane station wagon – red with white.

In the meantime my Grandma Rogers had stopped driving and we had gotten her old 1951 Chevy sedan – license plate BE4788.  We kept this for a while, then swapped it for a 1960 VW Beetle.  It was in this VW that I and my sister learned to drive.  My mother was the instructor and she wouldn’t let me pass until I could stop on an uphill grade and get going again without any rolling backwards.  In the days of manual transmissions and no “hill holder” clutch that was a challenge to coordinate all three pedals as well as the shift knob.  But we learned well.

My mother had her first (and only?) accident in the 1957 Ford.  We were on our way to my flute lesson in Waterbury and she didn’t see the car in front of us stop abruptly at the Route 69 intersection with Lakewood Road.  The accident caused the hood to fly up (on that car it was hinged at the front).  Since this was before cell phones, she had me hike down the road to the Exxon station across the street from the Pine Drive-in (another long-gone landmark) and call my dad at work to come and get us.

We replaced the 1957 Ford station wagon with another station wagon – a 1965 medium blue Ford.  This was the one that we went cross country in – my father didn’t think that the 1957 would hold up to that long a trip.  That was the last new car while I was still at home.  The replacement for the 1965 Ford was a non-Ford(!) Chrysler station wagon.  The VW was eventually replaced too – after my sister was in an accident with it in 1967 – with a newer VW Beetle.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas 2018

This was a milestone year as I turned 70 in August, joining Donna who became a septuagenarian last year. While 70 is just another number and is only one more than 69, there is something in becoming 70 that has some significance. Many people are still working when in their 60s, but few are in their 70s. And with the increasing number of “aches and pains” that accompany getting older, there is something about 70 that makes me begin to “feel” old as well.

Family – Chris went to Kuwait early in the year with the Florida Army Reserves. He is slated to come home sometime next month. Because he is overseas for less than a full year, he does not get any time off during the year for a “vacation.” But on the plus side he is in a place with good Internet connectivity and is able to have a video call with us each Sunday (afternoon his time but before church in the morning for us). We’ve been blessed to have a chat with him every week.

Our annual trip to Florida was a little bit different as well. We had arranged for Aryon to come and spend a month with us. But he’s not old enough to fly unaccompanied. So, around the end of April, Donna flew down for a few days and brought him back with her. Aryon spent most of his time watching his younger cousins (gaining experience in “adulting” instead of being a kid) so that Donna and I could get a few projects done. I also spent some time with him on educational topics so it was a learning experience. At the end of May, I flew back to Florida with him, not only spending time with our daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, but also visiting some long-time friends, Dick & Flo Gehman, and taking a trip to Lake Wales to visit some distant cousins – Laura and Alan Donaldson. You can read about my relationship with them here -

We still have full-time childcare duties. Three of Kim’s children are in school now – Ethan in 3rd, Isaiah in 1st, and Caleb in Kindergarten. That means that during the week we only have Asher to deal with. We are looking forward to having our days free next year!

Just a few weeks ago we had some new additions to our PA family. Caleb had been expressing interest in a dog. So for Christmas we found a 12wo Havanese puppy – now named Mocha Cappuccino. In addition, for the other boys we have added several Beta fish (in small individual containers). This to go along with our existing menagerie of cats and birds. Who says that life isn’t interesting!

Travels – Since we are tied down a bit with caring for grandchildren, we don’t get in much traveling right now.  Besides our split travel to Orlando and our usual week at Pinebrook in the Poconos with the entire family (minus Chris this year), we did very little traveling this year.

The only other trip was a day trip to Connecticut for the annual Pierpont Family Association reunion on Father’s Day weekend. As the co-historian of this group I did some research on one of our famous family members, James Lord Pierpont, the author of Jingle Bells. You can read my research here -

Health Update Getting older also seems to involve additional medical challenges. I was starting to make some good progress in the healing of the sore on the bottom of my right foot through the use of grafts of placenta tissue each week. Then in January I developed an infection under the graft and ended up with my second bout of sepsis (blood infection). This time I recognized the symptoms early on and so again called the ambulance for a ride to the ER where they opened up the infection and drained it (ouch!). Another several days in the ICU on multiple antibiotics then a few more days in critical care until the infection was under control. Left the hospital with a walker and instruction to not put any unnecessary weight on that foot while I had another two weeks of at-home IV antibiotics. Eventually “graduated” to a cane after learning how to walk on the heel of my right foot for a few months. When the healing stalled (again), I went to the wound care center for a soft cast for about a month until the wound was finally gone after a total of two years. In the meantime, I had my second colonoscopy and unlike the prior year when I had several polyps removed, this time there was only one small one so I’m cleared for another 10 years.

Another thing that I volunteered for was a study group for a new vaccine for C-diff. Here is a technical description of the study for those who are interested - I qualified for this study because of my hospitalization and multi-week IV therapy. But I’m happy to participate as if this new vaccine works then it will help untold numbers of people in the future as there is currently no vaccine available. I guess some good may come out of my January adventures.

Miscellaneous – This year we noticed that the ash borers which had infected all the ash trees in the area a few years ago had ended up killing nearly all the ash trees. While over the years we had removed most of the really tall trees around our house and trees dying in the wooded area are not an issue, the house across the street that we had purchased for Kim and family had about 20 dead/dying ash trees in the front yard. We are in the process of having them all removed – making us a bit sad and a little poorer, but it’s better than having the dead limbs/trees falling on the house and causing significant damage.

Hoping that all of you are doing well. Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

.Alan & Donna

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Stories on Aging

Today I’d like to relate three separate stories which are only loosely connected, but which have a common theme about aging.

Aunt Trudy

Last weekend my Aunt Trudy passed away (*1). While it’s been a few years since I’ve visited with her, I was close to her during my growing up years and for many years thereafter. So, like with many of my relatives, her passing will leave a hole in my life. Trudy (her legal name was Gertrude, but nobody called her that) was married to my mother’s younger brother, Richard (Dick). Since she was closest in age to him in their family of five children, that meant that she was also closest emotionally to him and they did many activities together.

Following WWII, in which my father and all my uncles served, my parents and both of my mother’s brothers married in the space of one year and began raising their families. We lived in the northern part of Wolcott, my Uncle Zeke and Aunt Babs just a few houses away, and Uncle Dick and Aunt Trudy in Prospect – about 10 miles away. My mother’s youngest sister, my Aunt Vi, later married and she and Uncle Tony lived in the southern part of Wolcott. Thus there was physical closeness as well as family connections between all these families, although the 10 mile trip to Prospect was a farther than to my other uncles/aunts. So going there was more of a “treat” than going to see my other relatives. In the days that I did a lot of bike riding, I once made the trip to Prospect, but with all the hills in that part of CT it probably took an hour and was hard on the legs on the uphill portions. In fact, I chose to take the “back way” along Plank Road instead of having to deal with the steep uphill portion of Summit Road at its northern end.

When my wife and I married we lived for a few months with my parents, then as we were looking for a place of our own, my Uncle Dick mentioned a house that had become available not far from where they lived where a widow lady had recently passed away. We rented that house for the next three and half years, and since we were now living in Prospect got to know Uncle Dick and Aunt Trudy even better.

That was over 40 years ago now, but the relationship we developed continued after we moved to PA in 1975 and we often stopped by Summit Road on our frequent trips to CT over the intervening years, with our last few visits being after Uncle Dick had moved to a nursing home not far away where he eventually passed in 2011. After Aunt Trudy moved out of her house and went to live with her daughter, my cousin Cindy, we did not see her again, especially since my mother passed away in 2012 and our visits to CT became less frequent.

But as I noted above, the passing of Aunt Trudy will still leave a hole in my life. She was the last of my aunt and uncles to pass away, so there is no one of that generation in my immediate family who is still alive. God Bless, Aunt Trudy – you can now enjoy being in the company of Uncle Dick, your siblings, and my cousin Pat. But we will miss you here on earth.

Ancestor Ages

I have noted before (*2) that for over 15 years I have kept a spreadsheet with all my relatives’ dates of birth, death, and age. When I started keeping this spreadsheet there were over 20 living individuals above me, i.e. older, in the list. This included not only my parents, but most of my uncles/aunts. But with the passing of my Aunt Trudy, there are now only six living individuals above me, and only one of them is of an older generation (my father’s cousin Gertrude Anderson who is still going strong at age 94!), no one else is more than ten years older.

This summer I reached the “ripe old age” of 70. While that is a number like any other, it seems to hold a lot more significance. Many people in their 60s are still working, but not that many in their 70s. Any while my hair is no more white than it was a year ago, I am suddenly in a new decade of my life and when you tell someone you are 70 they react differently. And, perhaps more importantly, I am beginning to “feel” older – I have a lot more aches and pains then I used to. As I said to someone recently, “I now have aches where I didn’t know I had muscles to ache.”

While I have a lot of relatives on my mother’s side of the family who lived into their 80s, here is a complete list of my relatives (great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins) who were born before me on my father’s side of the family:

·       74 – Louis Russell (great-grandfather)
·       32 – Anna [Merchant] Russell (great-grandmother)
o   75 – Erskine Russell (grandfather)
o   51 – Linus Russell (great-uncle)
o   88 – Loretta [Russell] McNaught (great-aunt)
o   83 – William Russell (great-uncle)
o     3 – Allen Russell (great-uncle)
o   89 – Pauline [Russell] Scott (great-aunt)

·       42 – Maurice Levy (great-grandfather)
·       63 – Caroline [Northrop] Levy (great-grandmother)
o   68 – Vera [Levy] [Russell] Rogers (grandmother)
o   81 – Irene Hartwell (great-aunt)

·       85 – Vernon Russell (father)

·       74 – Dorothy [Russell] Hill (aunt)
o   76 – Carolyn [Hill] Burns (cousin) – only one still living in this list
o   65 – Bobby Hill (cousin)

That’s 16 people and I’m already older than the age that 7 of them were when they passed away! And in the next few years I’ll pass another 3 of these. I guess I should be grateful that only half of my DNA is from this side of the family and that the other half is from where my mother and her four siblings lived to 88, 86, 85, 85 and 81.

Community Christmas Dinner

Yesterday our church had its annual Community Christmas Dinner. We invite those in the community, especially those from the local retirement communities, assisted living centers, etc. to join us for a meal, singing of a few Christmas songs, a short devotional, etc. It lasts about two hours – from 4 to 6. The church provides the food and we have lots of volunteers – setup, cooking, serving, table hosts, cleanup, etc. My wife and I always volunteer to host a table.

This year I was assigned to a group from one of the local assisted living centers who came in their small bus. I had three ladies at the table with me. One had some obvious physical and mental handicaps (used a 4-wheeled walker, required help to get into her chair), one was the bus driver from the group, and one was physically okay but as the driver told me, “I have to sit next to her so she won’t wander off.” It soon became obvious that she was dealing with some version of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.  We enjoyed our meal and singing together and I conversed with them as best I could.

Toward the end of the time there is an announcement made that the oldest person at each table would get to take home the centerpiece – a poinsettia plant with a candle in the center. I had already quietly managed to determine the ages of the ladies so I could help with this aspect of it. The one sitting next to me was only 53, and the driver was turning 60 in a few days. I asked the driver if she knew the age of the lady beside her, to which she replied, “I don’t know, and she might not either.” So she asked and the lady responded, “I’m in my 70’s.” They may or may not have been correct, but that’s all we could get from her. The bus driver decided that she would bring the centerpiece back to the assisted living center and put it on a table in their dayroom.

As the announcement was made, one of the servers who was standing next to our table, looked a me and pointed at the centerpiece and mouthed, “Is that yours, Al?” I gave an exaggerated frown as I replied, “Watch it!” in jest. But then I looked at it from his perspective. The first two ladies looked their age with their hair speckled with gray. The last lady had a nice soft gray color to her hair. But my hair, what there is of it, is all white. I know that he was joking with me, as the centerpiece is supposed to be for the guest, not for the host, but I really did look like the oldest person at the table! But at least I’m not living at an assisted living center!