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