Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Scottish Heritage

One of these days I hope I can afford a Scottish kilt made from Russell Tartan material. More than likely, used ones will not appear on eBay. I might just have to be satisfied with wrapping myself in a long piece of Tartan-like material as the Scottish Highlanders did generations ago. I tried this means of dress awhile back when I participated in the festivities at Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina. Then, I marched in the Parade of Tartans and carried a banner which my friend had painted with the words, "Russell Sept"- meaning the Russell family- in other words, not a full-fledged Clan.

There is an official Russell tartan which has been approved by Lord Lyon, King of Arms. His office, or his Court actually, is a branch of the Scottish judiciary which has taken on jurisdiction over tartans (Thank you Jon vonBriesen).

And there has been several attempts to form a Russell Clan in America, but so far, these attempts have largely failed probably because, historically, there never was a Russell Clan. If you browse through some of the more popular books on Scottish clans, for instance, Scottish Tartans with Historical Sketches of the Clans and Families of Scotland, by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Emeritus Lord Lyon of Arms, you will find that the Russell's are a sept (prounounce the "p") of Clan Cummings, also spelled Cummins or Comyn. Unfortunately, you will not find much more information on even the Russell Sept of Clan Cummings. Under the clan system a sept which is a term meaning family or blood kin was often less prominent and less powerful than the clan, and therefore, would often associate itself politically, economically and defensively with the neighboring clan. Thus, the sept is bound to the clan by territory rather than by blood, or in some cases, by marriage.

About 15 years ago, I contacted a Dr. Robert Russell of Plantation, Florida, who was collecting the names of individuals who were interested in forming a Clan Russell. He told me then he had obtained permission to incorporate such a Clan in America. Professor Robert Russell's address and intentions appeared in two popular Scottish newletters, The Scottish Banner and The Clansman. However, I have not heard any updates on Clan Russell in the last decade; so, I suppose the movement lost its momentum.

But for now, I write with pride that my great grandfather, Thomas W. Russell, was indeed born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in the parish of Bothwell, in the village of Holytown- about 10 miles east of Glasgow. It was all in his obituary. Far from being a clan chief or other sort of royalty, Thomas was a humble coal miner. But he was a proud Scotsman and enjoyed quoting by heart whole verses of Robert Burns' poetry.

My genealogical research uncovered that Thomas Russell had several siblings, some of whom immigrated to American in the 1880s, and several siblings whose whereabouts were unknown. Then, in the Spring of 2005, I received an email from a Geoffrey Parkinson in Australia who, after surfing onto my genealogical web site, suggested that we had common ancestors. Turns out Geoffrey's great grandmother was Janet Russell, younger sister of my Thomas W. Russell. We worked out several details in subsequent emails- the wonder of the Internet. Geoffrey told me that Janet Russell married a Thomas Parkinson and had a large family. Children in the first generation eventually immigrated to Australia, America, and some remained in the British Isles.

One family member of whom I became particularly enamored was Janet Russell Parkinson's youngest son Harry Parkinson. Harry migrated to Australia and died there, but early in his life, he remained loyal to England. During the First World War, he returned to northern England, CHANGED his surname to his mother's maiden surname of RUSSELL, and enlisted in the Tyneside Scottish Regiment (see picture above). He maintained the Russell surname the remainder of his life.

Now, on the left in the picture, your blogger is wearing an outfit which was quickly put together for the Alexandria Scottish Xmas Walk. I'm wearing a borrowed Glen Gerry and leisure pants with the "Black Watch" design. When you are old and on fixed income, you adjust. As my kilt-clad friend and I walked into that fine Scottish establishment- MacDonalds- for breakfast the next day, a clerk asked my friend where he found the "dress". He responded, "I'm not sure, but ask the guy in the pajamas".

Source for Harry Russell portrait: Goeffrey Parkinson, Port Macquarie, Australia.


Pye said...

I have your Janet Russell married to James Gibson and living in Wallsend, N.S.W., Australia! I wonder if your other correspondent made a mistake. I'm quite sure that I and other relatives on the Gibson line are not mistaken. Looking at Scottish naming traditions, Janet's children's names show she is definitely William & Isabella's daughter.

Bob Kramp said...

Hi Louise, thanks for your comment. I believe we are talking about two different family lines. You did not say where in England your Janet Russell came from. My Janet Russell was the daughter of Thomas Russell and Jame McNelley or McNally. She married Thomas Parkinson in 1873 in Co. Durham, England. Though Janet and Thomas Parkinson lived, died, and were buried in County Durham, their 11 children migrated world-wide to Australia (Thomas, William, Harry), America (Sarah Jane, John, Robert, Emma), and at least three children remained in England (Joseph, Elizabeth, Mary).