Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pont du Mont Blanc and an Early Earth Day Celebration

This is my first blog entry associated with a group of Genealogy bloggers (so called geneabloggers) who upload vintage postcards to their sites- usually with a certain theme in mind. This month's theme is "white" which could refer simply to a black and white postcard or something white in the context of the picture card.

Following, is a black and white postcard from my collection. It depicts the Pont du (bridge of) Mont Blanc in Geneva, Switzerland. Blanc is French for "white" and refers to the distant snow-covered mountains in the upper left of the picture. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps, about 15,700+ feet, and can be see from several points around the city of Geneva on a clear day. One can obain excellent views of Mont Blanc and The Alps by climbing to the top of the darker-colored mountain in the foreground which is called Le Saleve, and then, turn around and have spectacular views of Geneva and Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Mont Blanc is located on the border of France and Italy.

Image (click to enlarge): Vintage view of Pont du Mont Blanc (white mountains in upper left), with forested Ile de Rousseau on right. View looks south toward the old city of Geneva.

Image: Reverse of postcard

The bridge in the postcard crosses the Rhone River as it exits Lake Geneva (on left) and then continues on to France (on the right). The small island with trees in the middle of the river and to the right of the bridge is the Ile (Isle) de Rousseau. It is named for the philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau (1712-1778), who was born in Geneva and whose family lived there. Rousseau's "Discourse on the Origins and Basis of Inequality Among Men", published in 1755, is generally believed to have influenced the French Revolution. He dedicated the Discourse to his hometown of Geneva which he considered the most civil state in Europe.

The significance of this postcard is that it reminds me of the time my young family and I lived in Geneva for about two years between 1973 and 1975. I was on a post doctorate program researching diabetes at the University of Geneva. In our first month, my wife and our two young daughters, 4 and 6 years old, joined me in a walk to the edge of the city, and then we took a ride in a cable car to the top of Le Saleve. There was a little bit of snow on top and we threw a few snowballs.

Later in the Spring, the populace of the whole city celebrated Earth Day by abstaining from driving cars. Riding in the electric trams was OK. I rode my bicycle down to the Pont du Mont Blanc; the bridge was covered with bicyclists and pedestrians- and one very lonely taxi. Incidentally, Earth Day is celebrating its 40th anniversary next year, 2010. So the following pictures taken in 1974, were taken on about the 4th annual Earth Day.

Image: From a 35 mm Kodachrome of Pont du Mont Blanc on Earth Day, 1974. The end of the bridge runs into the old city of Geneva. La Seleve can be seen rising above the city in the distance. Only bicyclists and pedestrians are on bridge and a red-colored electric tram at far end of bridge. In warmer weather, colorful banners and flags were hung on the poles slanting over the bridge railings.

Image: All kinds of bikes were found on the bridge on Earth Day, 1974

Image: A lone taxi tries to negotiate a path through a disapproving crowd on Pont du Mont Blanc. The passengers were probably coming home from the airport. The lady inside appears to be smiling in good spirits.
If you got here from Therialt's Festival of Postcards, click here to return to the Festival.
Look up "Rousseau" and "Mont Blanc" on Wikipedia.
For more information on "Festival of Postcards" see Evelyn Theriault's "A Canadian Family" Blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Russell Cave, Jackson Co, Alabama

If you had Russell ancestors and passed a place called Russell Cave, wouldn't you want to know what was inside the cave? I did. So, on my way to my brother-in-law's for Thanksgiving, I took a short side-trip off Interstate 24 between Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, to travel just across the border into Alabama (Jackson County). It was early morning, sunny, and relatively warm for Fall. At the entrance to Russell Cave National Monument, I hauled out my tripod and took this picture. I was initially going to title this blog entry, "I feel a headache coming on". Actually, the spear which appears ready to pierce my scalp was an ancient improvement in the art of spear throwing. The Native American is using an "atlatl" to propel the spear with much more speed and accuracy than the old way of using solely arm power.

I took a short walk on a boardwalk behind the visitor center and arrived at the entrance to the cave. A good-sized creek ran right into and disappeared inside the cave. In the past, the creek would flood and eventually gouge out a larger cavity. The ceiling of the structure from time to time would split from the upper sandstone, causing a rockfall, which in turn created a raised floor in a large portion of the cave. Thus, Native Americans could live in the cave. It had natural air-conditioning and a ready water supply.

I noticed as I entered the cave that hundreds of large screws with plates had been driven into the ceiling to prevent any further rockfalls- or so the theory goes.

At the visiting center, I learned the unique feature of this cave is that various research groups had excavated artifacts which could demonstrate almost 10,000 years of habitation by Indians of several periods: Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian.

Image (above): The boardwalk begins behind the visitor center and enters the cave.
In relatively modern times, the cave and surrounding land were first owned by Captain John Woods who received the land grant for his service in the Revolutionary War (RW). Woods was a Cherokee Indian which was the first time I heard Indians served in the RW. He also built a stone house on the land which is the oldest house still in use in Jackson County, Alabama. Evidence of Woods' residency in the area eventually faded. The land was then owned for a while by another RW veteran who in turn sold it to his brother-in-law, Colonel THOMAS RUSSELL whose descendants kept it in the family until 1928. The last private owner was Oscar Ridley who allowed excavation of the cave by local, amateur archaeologists. Recognizing the value of these discoveries, the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Societies (NGS) became heavily involved. The latter purchased the cave and presented it to the American People which was sealed by the creation of this National Monument by President Kennedy in 1961.

Browsing in the gift shop after my tour of the cave, I found a copy of a substantial genealogy of a Russell family by Walter A. Russell. The park ranger told me that Walter often gives genealogy seminars at the center. Search the title at Amazondotcom and you will find the first 5 pages of the book including the statement, "... first progenitor of this lineage was Matthew Russell who was Scotch-Irish ... born around 1735." You can also view the Index with 7 pages of Russell surnames. I doubt if Matthews family lived in the cave, and the same goes for my Russell family- who didn't arrive in America until 1881.
However, there are some connections to my "Life's Journey".
1. The Russell Cave visitor center was dedicated to former NGS chairman, Gilbert H. Grosvenor, whose former home was in my "home" town of Bethesda, MD.
2. Matthew Russell, the progenitor, once resided in Mechlenburg Co, NC, and York Co, SC, near Revolutionary War sites, Kings Mountain and Cowpens, all located near my current residence.
3. Another book available in the visitor center, was "Selu, Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom" by former Tennessean poet laureate, Marilou Awiakta. She once inspired me to write about where I came from at an Appalachian Writer's workshop at Radford University. Search Amazon book store.
National Park Service web site for Russell cave:

Friday, November 27, 2009

One ... maybe ... two more chapters to the Russell Line

Hold the printing presses on the Genealogy of the Russell Family. More information has come to light resulting in substantial changes to the Russell Line. I realize that I have to stop somewhere and print The Book. But first, I wanted to identify the so called "unidentified Russell" in an early family portrait taken about 1885 at Kruger Studios in Houtzdale, PA. All of the other persons in that portrait have been identified- sometimes from additional pictures taken later in life.

Enlarge any image by clicking on it.

Image above: The "Russell Siblings" portrait taken at Kruger Studios, ca. 1885, in Houtzdale, Clearfield County, PA. One of the persons has not been identified, but there are two candidates who are being proposed in this blog entry. The lone sister is Alma Emma Russell (in right portrait only) who immigrated to America about 1885. She was married to Alexander Forsyth by January 1888. Incidentally, there were at least ten children in the first generation.

Image above: Four Russell siblings in the first generation- Thomas William, Robert, Alma Emma, and James Fredrich. James Russell was a step sibling to the others. Photo taken August 1920, in which Thomas and Robert of Pennsylvania traveled to Syracuse, NY, to visit Alma and James. Two Russell brothers had already passed: John Girabaldi (1914) and probably the "unidentified Russell" (1911).

There has been mostly hearsay evidence that the "unidentified Russell" might be called David and that he was a bachelor who worked as a secretary to the officers of the Berwind and White Coal Company. However, a David Russell was not enumerated in the UK census reports of the Russell family during the 30 years or so (1848-1881) they lived in northern England before emigrating to America. The progenitors were Thomas Russell and Jane McNELLEY/ McNALLY, both born in Scotland. They were given as the parents in christening records (Holy Trinity Anglican, Wingate, County Durham, England) and birth registrations (Easington District of Co. Durham) for all the accountable children of the family EXCEPT for a David Russell. Note that Thomas Russell, the Elder, was married twice, and he and his second wife, Jane McCALLUM, had only one child, James Fredrich Russell, who appears in the family portrait with his step siblings. In November 1880, the father of the family died, and a year later, two married sons and their families emigrated to Houtzdale, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, just missing the 1880 US census reports. The younger siblings came a few years later.

A family friend informed me that another immigrant family from Scotland appeared earlier in Houtzdale, PA, according to the 1880 US Census. The family was headed by Robert Russell who we have since identified as Robert McCALLUM Russell. Since his pronounced middle name was the same as the surname of Thomas Russell's second wife, a connection is suggested. Since Robert was in Houtzdale at least 5 years before the said portrait was taken, could he then be the "unidentified Russell"? More has been uncovered about Robert McCallum Russell and his family but the specific connection to the rest of the Russell family is yet to be defined. And thus far, no one can point to the Unidentified Russell in the portrait and say, "yes, that's Robert McCallum Russell".

To confuse the issue further, a second candidate for the Unidentified Russell has recently been discovered. A family genealogist should never make unsupported presumptions. I thought for sure that the oldest child of the first generation Russell family, that is William Russell, remained behind in England after the others came to America. Furthermore, I thought William's first, reconnaissance trip to America in 1879, which resulted in the death of his traveling companion, unnerved William from ever coming to America again. I knew that William married Mary Ann Laverick in January 1870, and that they had four children, all boys, as recorded in the UK census of 1881.

However, my family informant came through again and emailed me a reference indicating William Russell and his family were enumerated in the 1900 US census, in Paint Township, Somerset County, PA, as follows:

William Russell, head, 53, born Dec 1846, in Scotland of Scottish parents; married 28 years [m. about 1872], immigrated 1887, naturalized; coal miner; rents house.
Mary A, wife, 52, born Oct 1847 in England of English parents; bore 8 children of which 6 survive.
All children born in England of Scottish father and English mother:
Thomas Russell, son, 28, born Jan 1871; coal miner.
George Russell, son, 22, born Oct 1877; coal miner.
C A (sic, probably Charles Russell), 19, born Oct 1880; coal miner.
William Russell, son, 18, born Jan 1881, coal miner.
Ph ... (illegible), son, 16, born July 1883.
Jane A. Russell, dau, 14, born Aug. 1885.

Fortunately, the immigration year stated for the family head turned out to be accurate and I found the family on a passenger list at; they arrived 20 May 1887, at Castle Garden on SS City of Rome; departing from Liverpool, England, Passenger Nos. 515-522 (see cropped image below):

There was a discrepancy in that the "son" identified as "Ph ..." on the 1900 census is listed on the passenger list as a daughter named Phyllis (who wore the same given name as Mary Ann Laverick's mother).

So, all we have to do is find William Russell's family in more recent US census reports. Right? Wrong. I have searched and, so far, have come up empty handed.

Indeed, there is some evidence that William Russell might have died in 1911 according to a dated letter sent between two of William's brothers, Thomas W. and John Girabaldi. See a previous entry for full text of letter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Might have been Raised a Mid-Westerner

If THIS would have happened a bit differently, or this, or this and that, then I might have been raised in the mid-West, instead of Bethesda, Maryland. I am reminded of the Academy Award-acclaimed movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". In the plot, Brad Pitt's character, Benjamin, is born an old man and matures backwards towards being a young boy. The movie trailer makes the premise that: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards". Towards the end of the movie, Benjamin recalls in a series of flashbacks that if a number of events would have happened just a little differently, then his life-long partner in romance would not have broken her leg in five places and ended her career as a ballet dancer. Life changes.

But to explain my situation, I also need to go backwards in time. And, for my "flashbacks", I will use excerpts from my great grandfather's 19th Century Journal which he kept for several years before emigrating from County Durham, England, to America. I transcribe the journal entries of Thomas William Russell just as he penned them [words in brackets are mine]:

"April 4th, 1879. Wheatly Hill colliery [County Durham], page 6"
"On this day I thinking about my brother William. He is goin to set off for Amarica on the 8 of this month."
"Thompson Teasdal, Fountain County, Snodon Mill, Indianna North Amarica"

"April 8th 1879. Wheatley Hill Colliery, page 36"
"Dear Father Mother Brothers and Sisters. We landed in Liverpool about 5 oclock last night we went to the Inman office. But it was no go, we could not be on. There seams to be a understanding with all companys so we will be bord at oclock today with stem ship City of New York. It cost us L 8, 16s, 19d to a place thay call Attice in the state of Indinna. But if any should come, book with Humprey or some of the agents. It saved us nothinges coming to Liverpool. I can say I am prity well at present. Hoping this will find you all at present. You can let Brother Robert no [know]. I hope he is keeping his canch up and I hope it will not be long before we meet again. Excuse this writin so I remain your loving son and brother W.R. Russell"
"Hears is last night note. Make what you can of it. This is the end of the forst letter. Thos. Russell"

"May 26th 1879, page 54"
"Monday morning on this date the sad nues came to our place from our William relating the death of Robert Davison his mate how [who] was killied by his side on the 8th of May in a America"

"May 29th 1879. Wheatley Hill Colliery. page 54
"On this date my brother William returned from amarica. I was in back shift that day. If Robert Davison had been sperried [spared] to come back all would been well but the Lord thought fit to call him hench and may the Lord rest his soul".

In essence, these excerpts indicate that the oldest son of the Russell family, William, traveled to a coal mining region which, I later deduced, was near Snoddy's Mill, in Fountain County, Indiana. The county is located west of Indianapolis on the Illinois border. The Wabash River flows through the county. Apparently, William and his traveling companion, Robert Davison, were making a reconnaissance of the area to see if it was a suitable place for their families to start a new life in America as immigrant coal miners. Unfortunately, Davison, was killed, and I believe the event undoubtedly had a big impact on the Russell Family's intention to leave England for America. Nevertheless, about two years later, in September 1881, Thomas Russell and his brother, Robert, sailed for America, but instead of settling in Indiana, they went to Pennsylvania, and started to work the coal mines in Houtzdale, Clearfield County. Three younger siblings joined them in the mid-1880s. Brother William also immigrated to Pennsylvania but waited until 1887.

Thomas' daughter, Emily Russell, met and eventually married a German immigrant named Otto Streich. Their sixth-born child was my father, who, with a few more twists and turns, migrated to Alexandria, Virginia, where he met my mother.

Yet, I still wonder what it would have been like to pull big catfish out of the creek at Snoddy's Mill- if this or that would have turned out a bit differently.

I posted the transcription of my great grandfather's Journal on my father's branch, genealogical web site about ten years ago. A reader, named Lesa Epperson, emailed me that he and his family grew up in Fountain County, Indiana, around Wabash Township. Furthermore, Lesa wrote that Snoddy's Mill, rather than "Snodon Mill", had been demolished except for its rock foundation. It was located on Coal Creek and once stood in the midst of a coal mining area near Stringtown, which has been reduced to a few houses, and the former towns of Bunkertown and Vicksburg. He added, "One of my ancestors (William Cadman) came from England also to work in the mines. He settled just south of Snoddy's Mill about 1870"

I Googled "Snoddy's Mill" and found a great site for family historians who want to purchase or email vintage postcards depicting landmarks of their family's history. I presume the site gains a promotion. In any case, take a look at Snoddy's Mill below (click on image to enlarge):

Image: Vintage Postcard of Snoddy's Mill described on reverse: "Located in Fountain County, Indiana. First mill built 1828. Present mill built 1867-68 and operated until 1946. Owned by Mrs. Betty Hembrey and leased to Fountain County Historical Society for a museum. There are three covered bridges in Fountain County.

UPDATE, 24 Nov 2009:
William Russell mentioned the date and name of the ship on which he and Robert Davison sailed- see Thomas' Journal entry of 8 Apr 1879. I followed up these leads and made a search of Passenger Lists (

Arriving on the SS New York City at NY port on 21 Apr 1879; departing Liverpool, England, traveling in steerage; Francis S. Land, Ship Master:

"Wm Russell", 30 [born ~1849], mechanic, English; Passenger No. 149.
"Robt Davison", 26 [born ~1853], farmer, English, Passenger No. 150.

Thus, the words written in Thomas W. Russell's journal are validated.


Full transcript of Thomas W. Russell's 19th century Journal

String Town, Fountain Co., IN, on Wikipedia. This former town was described as rough and tumble and boasted of having 17 saloons. I wonder if Robert Davison might have been killed in bar room brawl.

More about "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Vintage postcards at cardcow

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day 2009. A Tribute to Our Family in Uniform

I'm going to try something new here. I started a subscription to an on-line photo album in which I could create slide shows from still photos and videos. The program is called PhotoShow by Roxio. I have been pleased with the program so far, and I believe it has potential to illustrate our family history. Several upgraded features of the program during the past year seemed to have improved the product. One nice feature is that I can embed the show here, or add a link from this blog to any one of my slide shows- I think. Of course I have to keep my subscription going or the link will be broken. I guess that is what Roxio is hoping for. In any case, here goes an experiment. Below is an embedded slide show which I have titled in short, "Family in Uniform". It features pictures all of my relatives who have served their country. You can expand the show full screen by clicking on the appropriate icon. Also, I have included names of the persons below the slide show so that they can be found using Internet search engines. (Captions embedded in slides can not be searched.

Those who served (in order of appearance in show): Jacob Imfang (Prussia), Friedrich Meier, Ernst Boehme, Verdan R. Thompson, Frank Austel, John Russell Dawson, Richard R. Dawson, Harry (Parkinson) Russell, Sons of George Haas & Bertha Hohnke, James Schofield Hoyt, Amil Kramp, Charles Joseph Gailliot, Joseph S. Bailey, Helen Rose Gailliot, Edward A. Gailliot, Cecil Austel, Donald Austel, Shewin Brothers: Mathew, William, Joseph, Thomas; Glenn Franck on US Trenton, Walter T. Hellyer, John T. Parke, Dorothy M. Kramp, William Lewis Kramp, John Albert Honadle, Norma J. Russell, Elwood Zimmerman, James Henderson, Henry Collins, Michael John Gailliot, David G. Gailliot, Robert Charles Kramp, Robert L. Gable, Phillip R. Franck.

Jacob Imfang, Prussian Soldier

One of my mother's uncles was Jacob Imfang. He immigrated to America arriving at Castle Gardens, New York, in Oct 1905 on the S.S. Finland. He came to Braddock, as suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and there, met Anna Austel. The Austel family had immigrated to Braddock from Canton Thurgau, Switzerland, about two years before Jacob arrived on the scene. Jacob and Anna were married at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Braddock in Oct 1909. They had three daughters: Margaret Ann, Martha Ann, and Elizabeth "Betty".

Several years ago, I tracked down Jacob and Anna's daughter, Martha, who was living in northern Pittsburgh. Martha's father, Jacob, was a professional carpenter and furniture maker; his cabinets were sold in Pittsburgh's well-known Department store, Joseph Horne Company. As Martha invited me into her house to see some of the fine furniture her father had made, I noticed a handsome portrait of Jacob in Military Uniform (see the first image below). I knew he was originally from Germany and I presumed he had served in the Prussian Military. Martha showed me a smaller, black and white, cabinet card of the same image. On the reverse, someone had written what looked like Jacob's regiment including a few numbers and symbols that I couldn't decipher. However, I wrote the information down in my journal like a good family historian. More recently, a friend referred me to a web site that had information on Prussian Regiments, and fortunately, I was able to identify Jacob's regiment. (Thank you, Jon von Briesen). Jacob served in:

"Grenadier Regiment Graf Kleist von Nollendorf, Nr. 6 (1. Westpreu├čisches)", and probably in the 10th Division. "Graf" is a title meaning count. How Jacob got from the Frankfurt area where he was born to being recruited in a Prussian regiment in Posen is still a mystery.

IMAGE: Jacob Imfang in Prussian military uniform. He is wearing his "Dunkelblau" (dark blue) tunic. On the side table, lies his Picklehaub (spiked helmet) with black-colored, parade plume made of horse hair. The epaulets on shoulder, the color and design of piping, the design of buttons and medallion on helmet, all identify Jacob's unit in the military. Darn, if I knew all that BEFORE I took the picture, it sure would have helped. Sorry about the reflection on the convex glass which covered the framed portrait.

Martha also showed me a newsclipping featuring Jacob and titled, "Native of Germany celebrates his 90th [birthday]. I folded the clipping to fit into the image below. The article did not mention Jacob's Prussian service, but it did tell about his interests in dancing and a men's singing group called a "Mannechor" in German, and his hobby working with wood. Also, it told about an incident in Jacob's childhood when he attended his neighborhood school with former President, Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1890s. Apparently, Roosevelt's parents thought it would be healthy for their son, who was afflicted with Polio, to spend several summers in Bad Nauheim, a health resort famous for its baths (Die Bad). I was wondering how I could confirm this family tradition- but see "References" below.

(click image to enlarge)

Sometimes we forget to realize that millions of German immigrants who came to America in the late 19th century, including my own ancestors, had to turn around in a generation or two and do battle with their former countrymen during two world wars. That is truely ironic.


Names of Prussian Regiments

Franklin D. Roosevelts summer visits to Bad Nauheim (in German)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Eckley Miners Village in the Snow

"Apple" made a comment on my last entry that she also enjoyed the Heritage sites scattered across Pennsylvania, in particular, one she had visited called Eckley Miners Village near Hazelton. That brought back memories for me. I was working at Susquehanna Nuclear Plant near Berwick, PA, in the Susquehanna River Valley, and on my day off, I drove a short distance to Eckley and took one of my favorite photos shown below.

From Life's Journey
Incidentally, my friend, Jon, recently re-acquainted me with the beauty of Black and White photos and Sepia-toned images- even for nature shots (and coal tipples).

What you are seeing here is a coal tipple. Coal was hauled to the top of the slanted conveyor belt and then dumped though giant sieves to "size" the crushed coal. Before the turn of the 20th century, boys were hired to cull the slate, which was a waste product, from the usable and more valuable coal. The teen aged, or even younger, boys were called "breaker boys".

Several years ago, a friend of my late father, told me that the smaller coal tipples around Ramey in Clearfield County, PA, made great "Jungle Gyms" in the old days. He told me that my Dad would take his waist belt off, loop it over one of the supporting steel cables of the tipple, and then, hanging onto the loose ends of the belt, slide and ride the cable all the way down to the ground. "He was a real dare devil" my Dad's friend recalled.

Muddy coal mine tipple, Muddy, Illinois. Song by Rocky Alvey. Youtube video

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Traces of coal mining in Fayette County, PA, along Youghiogheny River trail

Unfortunately, Blogspot will not allow me to place images where I want to in relation to the text. I hope the powers that be will someday fix this irritating glitch. But for now, we must push on and play by their rules.

(Click images to enlarge)

Earlier this Fall, I took a side trip on my way home from a family history gathering trip to Westmoreland and Fayette Counties in Pennsylvania. After a day of taking photos of tombstones at Mount Pleasant cemetery (see last entry), I camped that night at Ohiopyle State Park along the Youghiogheny River. The next morning, I took a bicycle ride on a portion of the Rail-Trail that follows the river from the state park all the way to McKeesport near Pittsburgh. The trail is part of the Great Allegheny Passage which stretches several hundred miles from Pittsburgh, PA, to Georgetown, Washington, DC. I met one bicyclist who was traveling the whole trail, end to end, and when he reached DC in few days, he was planning to box up his bike and take the Amtrack back to Pittsburgh. I thought that one day I would like to bicycle the same route and dedicate the ride to my mother's Gailliot Family Line who, in 1880, emigrated from Germany to Braddock, PA, to work in the steel mills, and then, in 1920, migrated to a farm in Alexandria, VA. No, they did not bike it.

At one point on my bike ride, I passed a cut in a steep cliff along the trail. There was an historic marker at the bottom of the cliff which gave a brief description of the coal mining era in the region. The text began by pointing to a vein of coal on the cliff high above me (directly above the dashed line, colored red, in image above). Also shown, was an enlarged copy of a vintage postcard depicting coal miners standing around a mine shaft in Connellsville, PA. Rail cars loaded with coal were being pulled by mules from the mine shaft.
I was reminded of the Russell family that I had just studied the day before in Mt. Pleasant. Some members of the family resided in a coal company town at the Royal Mine and Coke Works, according to census reports. Indeed, I found out later, that the funeral for Robert M. Russell was held at his married daughter's house in Royal. His daughter, Christine, was married to James Eaton. At a web site called The Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania there is a detailed description of the neighborhood where the Russell family once resided:
"Approximately ninety coal company built houses ... laid out along four parallel streets ... The bulk of the houses are semi-detached dwellings with their gable ends facing the streets. Of standard wood-frame construction, they are four-bay on the ground level and two-bay above; they rest on coursed-stone foundations. the houses have shed or hipped-roof front porches and their two interior brick chimneys are either on opposite sides of the roof ridge or piercing the ridge. ..."
Royal was later called Chestnut Ridge, but you will not find either town on a road map of Pennsylvania today. Most of these "Patch" company towns have been dismantled. I am glad that at least a description of the town survives.

Tombstones for Robert McCallum Russell Family at Mt. Pleasant, PA

(Click for larger view)
I had an epiphany of sorts a few weeks ago. I was trying to collect more information on the family of Robert McCallum Russell to see if I could link him to the "unidentified Russell" in a group photograph taken in Kruger Studio about 1885. The photo appears in one of my earlier blog entries. The studio was located in Houtzdale, Clearfield Co, PA, where Robert M. Russell was enumerated in the 1880 census. By 1900, Robert had moved his family further west to Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, PA. which was a rich coal mining area much like Houtzdale was in the 1880s. I had a tip that Robert might be buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This was confirmed in a compilation of cemetery inscriptions (by Della Reagan Fischer (Mrs. Frank C.), 1979, available at the Mt. Pleasant library. There were 10 inscriptions (names and dates) that matched the Russell family I was researching. I was a little daunted by Fischer's list of 4,000 transcriptions but I vowed to visit the cemetery, find the tombstones, and take pictures.

There was no problem finding the cemetery just north of town, but to my chagrin, there was no office. I called the phone number of the caretaker the library staff had given me. (Cell phones are such a boon to modern-day genealogists). The responder said he was now retired as caretaker but he gave me the new caretaker's number. In the meantime, I was driving around the extensive cemetery wondering how in the world I was going to find the memorials I was looking for out of the four thousand stones that I could see spread over the hillsides. I talked to the caretaker's wife who said her husband was very sick in bed. "But give me the names and call back tomorrow".

But, I was already here, and I wouldn't be here tomorrow, I thought silently.

So I drove up to the highest point of the cemetery and rode around the paved circle at the top. A flagpole and military cannons graced the highpoint. I pulled over and parked my van under a group of large oaks. Then, I got out and walked around to the opposite doors leading to the rear of the van to grab a snack from the ice box. And lo and behold (ready for the epiphany?), I walked right smack dab into an upright stone marking the THE Russell family plot. Talk to any genealogist and they will tell you of similar experiences.

In the image above, between the two trees, a line of four tombstones face a larger memorial inscribed "RUSSELL". The inscriptions on the flat faces of the smaller tombstones, left to right, are:

David T., 1875-1949

Robert M., 1845-1927

Mary T., 1848-1924

John T., 1883-1924

The next day, the caretaker phoned and gave me the specific burial dates and ages for three of the four individuals- there was no burial date for Robert's wife, Mary T., but there was a note in the mortuary records indicating she died at the age of 76 years. Robert M. Russell, was buried 20 June 1927, aged 82 years. Now that I had the specific dates, I could look for obituaries in the local paper, The Mount Pleasant Journal. It was published once a week back then. But that's another Life's Journey.

I did say I obtained ten inscriptions, and I have presented only four so far. The remaining six (I did not locate the tombstones) were:

Alexander T. Russell, 1888-1934, Father

Jennie W. Russell, 1893- [blank], Mother

Robert M. Russell, 1881-1926, Father

Magdalena D. Russell, 1880-1960, Mother

Robert C. Russell, 1905-1960, son

Billy Eugene Russell, 1920-1926, son

Monday, October 19, 2009

Re-thinking the identity of unknown male Russell, PART II.

Though the second wife of Thomas Russell, the elder, that is Jane McCallum, had a late child by Thomas, it is possible that she may have born children in a previous marriage. She bore James F. Russell in 1869, when she was 42 years old. If she did have other children, they could have been on their own before she re-married sometime between 1866 and 1869. Thomas Russell, Sr, died in 1880, and Jane (McCallum) Russell died in 1884; both were buried in Durham County, England.

The adult children of Thomas Russell and his FIRST wife, Jame McNelley/ McNally, who were Thomas W. and Robert Russell, immigrated through port of Boston to Houtzdale, Clearfield Co, PA, in Sep 1881. They were followed by James F. and Alma Emma in 1885, through the port of Philadephia, and John G. Russell came to Houtzdale in 1884 via Philadelphia according to his naturalization papers. Since these immigrations began in 1881, I paid little attention to any other Russell immigrants who showed up earlier in Clearfield County, but I was aware of them.

Recently, another family researcher called my attention to the 1880 census of Houtzdale in which another Russell family of Scottish immigrants was enumerated. They were Robert Russell, 33, born abt 1843, his wife Mary, 31, and their four children, Christina, Elizabeth, DAVID, and Alexander. My fellow researcher suggested that son, David, age 5, was my missing person. Incidentally, I posted a picture of a "David" Russell on my Genealogy web site for the past 9 years as a missing person. But, if son, David, was born in 1875, he would have been about 10 years old when the Kruger Studio portrait was taken in 1885 or thereabouts. Though the Kruger picture might have been taken a few years later, the unknown Russell seems to be much older than a teenager, and therefore, unlikely to be Robert's son called David. On the other hand, the father himself, that is Robert Russell, might be the unknown Russell. Moreover, my source found some unconfirmed data on Member Family Trees at indicating that Robert's full name was Robert McCallum Russell. And that does ring a bell even though it is slightly hollow at this point. Additional data on this family, particularly obituaries, might make the bell ring more clearly.

Oh yes, the 1900 census, indicates that Robert M. Russell and his son, David, were "Stationary Engineers". Does that not sound like a glorified term for "Secretary". Note that my unidentified, male Russell, who was featured in the last blog entry, was a SECRETARY for the Berwind and White Coal Company. According US censuses, Robert M. Russell migrated from Houtzdale, Clearfield Co., to Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland Co. (toward Pittsburgh), between 1880 and 1900. Robert and his wife were still in Mt. Pleasant in 1920. Robert's son, David, was still a bachelor by the 1930 census, aged 54 years.

Most of the time there are crumbs of truth in family tradition. It is up to the family historian to build these crumbs into a whole loaf of bread.

Re-thinking the identity of unknown RUSSELL, called David, Part I

PRIMARY IMAGE: The male Russell, traditionally identified as "David" in this circa 1885, Kruger Studio portrait, might be a case of mistaken identity. Indeed, "David" might be something other than a full blooded sibling to the others, and his name may not be David afterall. Thomas Russell, Sr, and Jane McNELLEY or McNALLY (considered to be one and the same female) are the known parents of John Girabaldi, Thomas William, Robert, and Alma Emma, according to birth registrations or parish records. James Fredrick Russell was the youngest child, born in 1869, the son of Thomas Russell, Sr, and his SECOND wife, Jane McCALLUM. Thus, James F. Russell is a half brother to the others. I have additional pictures of these persons which confirms their identity, however I have no other images of "David". This primary image is a digital scan of a photocopy in the hands of a distant cousin, Suzanne Forsythe, who I met in Spring, 1994. On the reverse of the original cabinet-card photograph someone had written in light pencil the identification of all persons, including a "David" Russell. Unfortunately, I have since lost contact with Ms. Forsythe, who then resided in Buffalo, New York- far from my home. Nevertheless, I was very excited to obtain even this poor quality likeness of my heavily bearded, great grandfather, Thomas William Russell, and his "siblings". Since I came upon the photocopy of these six related or presumably related members of the Russell family, I discovered another cabinet card which depicts all the Russell MALES taken by the same studio at the same time. However, Alma Emma Russell was apparently asked to step out of the group for the second picture shown below.

(Click on image to enlarge)
Therefore, I will refer to "David" as the "unidentified Russell", because presently, I am not certain of his true identity. None of my extended family can confirm this man's first name. Mrs. Gladys (Russell) Hilburt, a granddaughter of Robert Russell (front row, right) told me that the unidentified male- she could not recall his name- was a bachelor and that he worked as a secretary to the corporate officers of Berwind and White Coal Company. He attended them as they made their rounds of the company-owned, coal mines in western PA. Also, Gladys once had an ink well that was given to her father by this traveling "uncle" as she referred to him. Unfortunately, the ink well has disappeared.
One other piece of evidence survives regarding the unidentified Russell. John G. Russell wrote a letter (see below) to his brother, Thomas William Russell, regarding one of their brothers who had died recently, but unfortunately, he never mentioned the name of the deceased.
"December 29, 1911"
"Dear Brother:"
"You will no doubt think it strange at not receiving word from me since the death of our poor brother. My silence might indicate a want of feeling, but I can assure you that such is not the case. I have thought of him ever since his demise, and have been going to write you ever since I got the news of his death, but have had no heart."
"I am only sorry that I did not try to see him before he died, but it is too late now. I would have been at his funeral, but I got the news too late. I did not know of it until three o’clock on the Sunday afternoon following the day that he died, and then I did not have his address. It would have taken me ten hours to get there and then I did not know where to find them. I wish someone had sent and told me his condition and his address. However, he has just gone a step before us, and, "After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well". His life was not a bed of roses. And God knows best. ..."
"Remember me kindly to brother Bob and all your family, also Dawson and family."
"With Kindest regards to all, I am your brother, John. 601 Montgomery St, Syracuse, N.Y."
NOTE regarding letter: John requested that his regards be passed to brother, Bob (Robert), and also to the Dawson family. By elimination and considering the date of the letter, I speculate that the recently deceased brother was the unidentifed Russell, and he probably died in PA. John G. Russell, died in 1914 of stomach cancer, three years after penning this letter. The sister, Alma Emma Russell, died in 1951, and the half-brother, James F. Russell, died in 1957; both were buried in Syacuse, NY.
There were other children in the first generation: Mary, born 1950; Jane, 1951; Janet, 1956; and Sarah Rebecca, born 1864- all daughters. The final fate of Mary and Jane are not known. Sarah Rebecca, married Thomas Dawson; they had 5 children, but then, Sarah died aged 28 years in 1892; Janet Russell, married a Thomas Parkinson, and they had 11 children before she died in 1899, aged 43 years. Thus, at least four females in the first generation had married and probably remained behind in England when the others departed for America. The oldest in the first generation was William R. Russell. He was born in Scotland in 1845, about one year before Thomas William Russell. William married Mary Ann Laverick, and they had four children. William's family was enumerated in Tudhoe, Durham Co, in 1881, after which time they can not be found. One of William's children died within a year of birth. William Russell was not present in the 1885 Kruger Studio portrait and there is no evidence that he ever immigrated- at least to America.
Realize that all these children in the first generation and their own families can be followed in the censuses from 1851 through 1881 in County Durham, England. A few family members can be followed in England beyond 1881 as parents in the next generation.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Path of the Flood Trail- Conemaugh to Johnstown PA

Image: Staple Bend Tunnel is oldest railroad tunnel in America, built in early 1830s. It is part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad that transported goods and passengers over the Allegheny Mountain Range. If your ancestors traveled from Philadelphia to Pittsburg between 1834 -1854, they probably went through this tunnel- so did some of the famous- like author Charles Dickens, soprano Jenny Lind, PT Barnum, and even the body of President William H. Harrison. I trusted the stone work of the Irish and Welsh immigrants who dug this tunnel so that I didn't hesitate to ride my bike through. But nevertheless, I was glad to see the light again at the other end. The Little Conemaugh River running beside the trail is the same that carried the flood waters which destroyed Johnstown in 1889. And it's worth noting that my father's first cousin, Martha Strike, the only known daughter of Julius Strike, is buried in South Fork Cemetery, another town in the flood's path. Fortunately, She was born in November, 1904, about 15 years after The Flood.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Early Tuberculosis patient records found at Cresson

My biological paternal grandfather, Otto Strike, was the ice plant operator at Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitarium, PA, and died at the "San" from a heart attack in May 1946, according to his death certificate- and he was widowed.

I have been looking for Otto's 1930 census enumeration, but thus far, have not been able to find him. I browsed hundreds of doctors, nurses, employees, and patients who were enumerated at the San in 1930, but Otto was not among them. Maybe, he'll be in the 1940 census to be released to the public in 2012.

In the meantime, genealogists who are looking for FAMILY members who were patients at the San between 1924 and 1931, might consult an archived item at Cambria County Historical Society in Ebensburg, PA. Four boxes of index cards, ~9000 TB patient records were found in the attic of the Administration Building, State School No. 7, which is now a State Prison. The cards were turned over by the Superintendant to Cambria Co. Historical Society. In the image above, one of the boxes is held by Dave Huber of CCHS.

UPDATE: I just re-read Otto Strike's 1946 obituary, and it states that Otto worked at the Cresson Sanitarium for the previous 13 years; that is, 1933 to 1946. Thus, it seems that Otto had not started work at the Sanitarium by the 1930 census. The question remaines: where was Otto at that time?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Ghost Town Trail at Nanty Glo

One of my favorite Rail-Trails in PA is the Ghost Town R-T. Here, I can travel through the heritage and culture of my coal mining ancestors. Once, there were many well-populated coal mining towns, some set up by the patronizing coal companies themselves. The miners paid rent to the company and spent their script at the company store. All that is gone now. The former towns that once lined Black Lick Creek and the railroad which ran beside it are "ghosts" today. Here, the trail runs through Nan T Glo, or Nanty Glo, which in Welsh means "stream of coal". On far right, one can still see eroded mountains of slag or "boney" piles- waste from coal mining operations. The run-off from these acidic wastes taints the waters of BL Creek. Reclamation is underway, but the job is monumental. In 2005, Trail was extended 8 more miles to Ebensburg- county seat of Cambria.

"... It will form like a habit and seap in your soul/ Till the stream of your blood is as black as the coal". From "Dark as a Dungeon"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flight 93 temporary memorial Shanksville PA

A Park Volunteer "Ambassador" hangs a banner on the Flight 93 temporary memorial- donated today by "Endless Mountain Hog Chapter (motorcycle), Mansfield, PA. There are tens of thousands of personal remembrances at the site reflecting our history and culture- from plastic airplanes to service metals to clothing, like T-shirts, caps, & firemen's protective gear. A permanent memorial begins construction Fall 2009, for completion on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks 9-11-2011.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Genealogy camping bicycling- Trip Two 2009

Started off from Monroe, NC, Fri noon; first camp Sutten Lake, WV, off 219. Next day at Ligonier Scottish Games, PA. You can read or surf the Internet about it, or hear it live from this historian re-enacting a WWI soldier of Black Watch Regiment. The Glengerry (cap) was exchanged for a steel helmet during war. Argyle socks were replaced by canvas wrap, ~1916, two years after the war started. "RH" insignia on epulets stood for Royal Highlanders. See one of our own ancestors who changed his surname from Parkinson to Russell so that he could serve with a kilt-clad, Tyneside Regiment during WW I.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Scrapbooking Family History

Budding family historians (my grandchildren) put together a visual history of our existence. And they did such a great job- which I hope will be passed down to the next geneation of family historians. Click on picture to enlarge.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

August Carl HOHNKE 1882-1953

At Weis Library Methodist Church Cemetery, Fairview, near, Erie, PA: August Carl Hohnke, 1882-1953, and Cleo B. (Burkett), 1903-1977. Now I know when August died, and hopefully, I can obtain his obit. Actually the birth dates of the couple are from other sources; the tombstone inscription gave only the death year. August was the 5th of 6 children born to Julius Hohnke & Tillie Sunburg, both of Prussia. Family immigrated 1884 to PA when August was only two years old. Cleo was August's 2nd wife. They had one child, August, the Junior. The Old and New Churches are in background.

UPDATE: After I obtained the year of death for August C. Hohnke, I drove a short distance to the Blasco Public Library in Erie and looked up his obituary in the genealogy room. It is posted at my father's genealogy web site. Click on "August Carl Hohnke" in index.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It is time for music and dance in the old time way

Oh, about a decade or two ago, I spent months traveling around to Scottish Festivals and Fiddler's conventions in southwestern Virginia and North Carolina both learning and playing old time tunes on the banjo- claw hammer style. I also camped at "The Place", a hostel on the Appalachian Trail at Damascus, VA. Here is a sample of pictures and music from those days, led off by a couple of my ancestors who also played music. I am glad that some of my ancestors took the time and effort to learn how to play a musical instrument. I believe a lot of people would like to do the same, but they just do not have the time- or don't want to take the time.

Spring is just two days away, the sun is traveling north and warming things up, and the flowers are blooming. It's time to make up the Spring and early summer schedule for music and dance. You can type in "festivals" in the search bar of this blog and go to my previous entry in which I listed a few links to specific web sites of old time and bluegrass music festivals. But first, I want to emphasize a few nearby events that I will be writing on my own calendar- a sort of wish list. So, here we go.

May 22-24, 2009, Fiddler's Grove, at Union Grove, NC.

June 5-6, 2009, Mount Airy, NC.

Jul 29 to Aug 2, 2009, Appalachian String Band Festival "Clifftop" at Camp Washington Carver, West Virginia. I took a nice video of old time clogger- see at

Aug 3-8, 2009, 74th Old Time Fiddlers Convention, Galax, VA.

May 15-17, 2009, is Appalachian Trial Days at Damascus, VA. There is a contra dance Saturday night and FREE showers in the trailer behind the First Baptist Church yard. There are also several eating contests, dog shows, and seminars about the AT. Damascus is probably the most hiker-friendly place on the AT, and the "end to enders" who started out early Spring in Georgia might be arriving in town about the middle of May.

There is a whole lot of fiddling going on at Scottish Festivals, and the The Association of Scottish Games and Festivals has a list of Scottish festivals grouped by state on their web site.

Apr 17-19, 2009, Loch Norman Games at Rural Hill Farm, NC. Lake Norman is just north of Charlotte, NC.

Apr 25, 2009, Colonial Capital Scottish Festival, Newbern, NC. Newbern was indeed the capital of the North Carolina Colony

May 1 and 2, 2009, Triad Highland Games, Greensboro, NC.

May 8-9, 2009, Celtic Festival Highland Games at Historic Bethabara Park, Winston-Salem, NC.

July 8-12, 2009, Scottish Games at Grandfather Mountain, NC. Kinda pricey these days.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Father and me, a physical comparison at the same age

I've been obsessed over the last MONTH with efforts to create a Slide Show of my Kramp Line which I can burn to a DVD and see on Television- Ken Burns Style. I have about 600 images in the show at present. Some of the images have taken hours to create in software programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements or Microsoft's Power Point. One such image appears below- a comparison of my father and myself at about 1 or 2 years old. We seem to share many of the same genes, for example the eyes, mouth and chin. However, my father had a deep fold in his upper lip which I did not inherit. Incidentally, the chin was great for balancing a handle and broom, a feat of which we have demonstrated for many of our descendants. My Dad could also balance a kitchen chair by one of its legs, but I think he had thicker neck muscles than I did.

There is a story regarding the picture of me in this collage. The picture is one of seven in a series of different poses photographed by a Mr. Shaneyfelt. He lived in my parent's neighborhood at Auburn Garden Apartments, Del Ray, VA. The year was 1943, and the country was in the middle of WW II. Money was very tight, and there was little work for Mr. Shaneyfelt who was a professional photographer. So, for the love of his craft and his profession, Mr. Shaneyfelt took the pictures of me and practically donated them to my mother. Wouldn't it be neat if one Mr. Shaneyfelt's kin searched his name on Google and wound up here on this site and then contacted me. I would have to tell them that the donations of Mr. Shaneyfelt's photographs to my family were priceless.

Now, I must return to my Slide Show project. Sometimes you have to put everything aside for the time being in order to reach a particular goal. I apologize to my former friends and correspondents who used to know me. But, I am almost there, just a few more days, and then I will be back to my normal activities such as eating, bathing, sleeping, and of course- blogging.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Could you carrot for me Valentine, whoever you may be?

You probably don’t think that an old guy like me can recall a time way back in 4th grade, or vividly remember a romantic moment. However, I can very well remember one particular time my heart was all a flutter. The desks in our classroom were arranged into two semi-circular rows and there was this little girl- well, she was a big girl then- who sat directly across the room from me. I noticed after several days, SHE would be staring at me whenever I glanced her way. I remember her stare was so intense that I felt my face burn a little hotter, and then, my eyes would shy away to the front of the room. It seemed like she stared at me for hours. But it was OK, because she was really beautiful and I was flattered. Then one day I got the courage to stare right back at her. I wondered which one would back down first. Tick ... tick ... tick. I don’t know why I did it, but spontaneously, I wiggled my ears. This is an absolute talent that I don’t think everybody possesses, sort of similar to rolling one’s tongue. In any case, she smiled. No giggle, no laugh, just a big beautiful smile. Then she looked away. I won. I am surprised that the teacher didn’t notice- maybe she did, but I don’t remember that part. But I do remember there was a very nice Valentine card that came to me from our classroom Valentine box- the one decorated with red and white crepe paper with the red hearts glued on. Then summer vacation came and I never saw her again.

Junior High school: we had a two week dance class during Gym. It was the only Gym class we didn’t have to don white shorts, shirts, and socks. The boys lined up around the outside boundary of the basketball court. The girls came in from their locker room, walked around the line of boys, and stopped at the boy she decided to choose for a partner. I’m glad that the choosing process wasn’t reversed so that boys had to chose the girls. I think I’d still be circling. In any case, SHE stopped in front of me, blinking a pair of pretty, big brown eyes. And she chose me again and again for the next two weeks. We learned to jitterbug, waltz, Samba, and a few other forgettable dance steps. This was in the days before “dirty dancing” of course. Then summer vacation came again, but the close of summer was different this time.

I went to a new school in our district when school started in the Fall. And unbelievably, there SHE was, my old dance partner from the previous year. I thought with certainty from Heaven above that this was fate. We didn’t have any classes together but gossip traveled easily among our classmates and soon we were a couple. She had to take the school bus home, but I lived close enough to ride my bicycle. I would chase after her bus and she would obligingly sit by the rear window so we could have that last look for about 5 to 10 minutes depending how fast I could pedal that day. Together, over the next year school year, we had our first dance, first chaperoned date, and first serious kiss. And first heartbreak. The details aren’t so important to recall now, as I am sure most others have been down the same road. I can’t say whether or not ours could be classified as a “puppy love”, but apparently the puppy grew into a shaggy dog and ran away.

I could describe other loves in my life, but these earliest two were my favorites, probably because they didn’t grow to adult proportions. I loved the woman I married and had children with. And I also loved the woman of my second marriage. These were serious, hard-working relationships in which we really got to know one another and adapted to the good and the bad in our partnerships. Obviously, they did not last. So, do not tell me that love never dies. It does- in some cases at least. But I still believe that the DREAM of romance must always endure.

I went to my mail box today, Valentine’s Day. Inside it was dark and cold and empty.