Russell Family

1854 - circa 1935

Russell is an English, Scottish, and Irish surname from Rousel, a common Anglo-Norman French nickname for someone with red hair. The vast majority of Russell families came from Ireland and England and settled in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Missouri.

Our Russell family originated from Ireland, some say from County Cork but post-1921 records suggest Northern Ireland instead, since Northern Ireland was not actually established until 1921, which was well after our family had left the area. At the time of their emigration, it was better known as Ulster. The majority of people living in this area were descendants of Protestant British colonists (particularly Scottish) who had settled in the area going as far back as the last 16th century and wanted the area to remain a part of the United Kingdom. However, a significant minority were of Catholic Irish descent and held centuries of resentment towards the British over the colonization of Ulster and therefore wanted a united Ireland separate from British rule. This conflict was the root of the Irish War of Independence and lead to decades more of violence known as The Troubles even after the ceasefire was agreed to in 1921. Though our Russell family had emigrated earlier, in the mid 19th century, given that the conflict had been ongoing for centuries, they probably would have had strong feelings on the matter depending on which group they were descended from.

Robert C. Russell was born June 5, 1854 to parents George Russell and Sarah Jane Hunter and immigrated to the United States around 1872 or 1873 when he was about 18 or 19 years old. It is unknown whether his parents immigrated as well or not. One of the biggest periods for Irish immigration was much earlier during the Irish Potato Famine which lasted from 1845 to 1852 but the Famine had less impact in the north of Ireland, which was more industrialized and less dependent on the potato. Not knowing where exactly in Northern Ireland Robert was from, it’s difficult to say how much influence the Famine had on his family. Even so, history may be reflected in Robert’s birth year as around the time the Famine was coming to an end and the Irish were beginning to bring life into the world again. Given that Sarah’s surname of Hunter is primarily Scottish, English, and northern Irish, it suggests that her heritage, and therefore probably Robert’s as well, was probably Protestant British, not Irish Catholic.

Robert’s early years in America are a mystery; it’s not known where he lived at first but sometime before 1882, he married a Pennsylvania born woman named Catharine White. This suggests Robert was in Pennsylvania during his missing years. They settled in Allegheny (now Pittsburgh) where Robert worked as a laborer and had one known child there:

  1. Anna Jane (b. November 16, 1882)

Catharine probably died sometime before 1889, the year Robert remarried a woman called Anna Fleming or “Annie”. They had at least two children together:

  1. Ester (b. 1890)
  2. Thomas C. (b. 1892)

By 1898, the Russell family was living on 4 Bird Street (or Alley?), which is now PNC Park (the baseball stadium). A year later in 1899, they found themselves renting a house from August Bauer on 4 Faulkner Alley (later changed to 1440 Faulkner Alley and now Faulsey Way) in Allegheny City. The house itself is no longer in existence but the property outline and many of the original surrounding houses remain. Before long, Robert’s daughter Anna Jane had married August’s son, Edward William Bauer on November 28, 1899. To read more about their life together, read the Bauer Family Chapter. The Bauers were Protestant which supports the idea that the Russells probably weren’t Catholic, and that would place Robert firmly on the side of the British government in the Irish conflicts.

Robert and his family continued to live on Faulkner Alley until at least 1903. By 1910, they had moved to Bellevue, a borough just north of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River. Robert owned their house worth $9,000 on 502 Summit Street but this specific address is no longer in existence (though the street remains). Robert had been a laborer for most of his life until moving to Bellevue where he became first a night watchman for a street car company and then a “packer”. By 1930, he was 78 years old and had no occupation which may have been due to retirement or the Great Depression which had begun in 1929 with the stock crash. Fortunately, he is not listed on the unemployment schedule so he was probably retired.

Robert’s son Thomas (Anna Jane’s half-brother) married and divorced an unknown woman before returning to live with Robert, bringing his two children, one named for his father and the other for his sister, Esther. He later remarried in 1937 to Ruby C. Phillips, a daughter of one of our other ancestors, Bertha May Ramsey and her first husband, George Phillips. Probably, Thomas and Ruby met through their half-relatives: Ruby’s half sister Jennie Lee Pike, who was married to Thomas’ half-nephew, James Edward Bauer (the son of Thomas’ half-sister, Anna Jane Russell). This means it’s likely that these families kept in touch with their half-relations.

Robert died on May 22, 1933 of a brain hemorrhage and is buried in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. His second wife survived him but he had outlived his daughter Anna Jane when she died of acute alcoholism in 1913. Evidence suggests that they were estranged, see the Bauer Family Chapter for more on this. Robert’s burial location supports the idea that he was not Catholic, further suggesting that he was of Protestant British (possibly Scots-Irish) descent instead of Irish Catholic.

© Robin Bauer 2010-2013

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