Sunday, December 24, 2017

Three weddings (but no funeral this time)

by Jerome

 Genealogical researchers in Britain are well and truly spoiled for resources when compared with other countries. Civil registration (where the State took over officially from the Church) was introduced in 1837. Theoretically, all births, marriages and deaths (hatched, matched and dispatched) have been centrally recorded and readily available in Britain since 1837. As for marriages, Hardwick’s marriage act of 1753 laid down a legal framework for marriages in England and Wales (sending some couples scurrying to Scotland) which at least gave standardisation and a better preservation of records.

In such a new and diverse country as the United States, this level of record keeping was not achieved in some places until the start of the 20th century. This can make research difficult. Once you go back into the 19th century (and beyond) in America you are generally at the mercy of ecclesiastical records. This presumes that scribes of yesteryear were both literate and conscientious, that damp and mice didn’t then destroy their handiwork, and when the churches in question disappeared that their records didn’t just disappear with them due to incompetence or disinterest. We have the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and their teaching of vicarious baptism to thank for so many records being scanned and preserved for the benefit of all researchers. But even so, there are so many gaps. Maybe more records will be discovered and scanned. Maybe. But the further back in history you go, if we haven’t already got the material on sites like Family Search and Ancestry, then the chances are that the records – assuming they even properly existed originally – have gone for good.

This preamble is necessary because we are going to look at three marriages involving Charles Taze Russell’s family in the 19th century. As yet we have no official surviving official records for any of them. So this article presents some detective work using other resources to establish within a few months when each event happened. However, it is acknowledged that words like “assuming” and “assumption” occur rather a lot in what follows.

Joseph Lytel (or Lytle) Russell and Ann Eliza Birney

CTR's parents both came from Ireland originally, and the Watchtower Society's history video Faith in Action part 1 (Out of Darkness) suggested that they came over as a couple in 1845. The commentary states "it was in 1845 that Joseph and Ann Eliza Russell emigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania, USA."

This is likely based on Joseph Lytle’s 1897 obituary which indeed says he came to America “about 1845.” However, obituaries have one built-in problem when it comes to accurate information - the one person who can verify the details is not there to do so. Many years ago in the pre-Internet age I found Joseph L’s naturalization record in the Society of Genealogists’ library in London. It was dated 1848. Obtaining a copy of the original document from the Prothonotary’s office in Pittsburgh, it plainly showed that Joseph swore an oath to the effect that he had been in the country for at least five years. Assuming he told the truth, that pushes his immigration back to at least 1843.

You may need to enlarge this graphic to read it properly. I have reproduced it here, even though the quality is poor, because the microfilmed rolls of naturalization records for Pennsylvania on the Ancestry website appear to omit this document. It is not there with all the other swearings held on 26 October 1848 and neither does it show up in the Ancestry index. But it exists, because here it is.

As for Ann Eliza, the Birney family was in America in the 1840s, although her brother’s obituary in 1899 is somewhat garbled, suggesting that Thomas came to America in 1821, which is actually his birth year. It also states that he joined the 2nd Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh in 1845. A naturalization record exists for a Thomas Birney in Allegheny Co., Penn. dated 8 October 1855, which might tie in with the baptism of OUR Thomas’ children from 1857 onwards in 2nd Presbyterian. Thomas married Mary Ann Covell and they had six children baptised between 1857 and 1872, including one named after Ann Eliza.

The above facts about Joseph L Russell and Ann Eliza Birney would give a wide leeway for a marriage.     However, we can fix the date down to just a couple of months due to other records, although even here some assumptions are made. The Pittsburgh Post carried a regular feature listing the names of people who should visit the post office to collect mail. A E Birney turns up in 1848. More significantly Miss A E Birney turns up again in March 1849. The cutting below comes from the Pittsburgh Daily Post for Wednesday, April 4, 1849, page 2.

So Ann Eliza is in Pittsburgh and still single in March/April 1849 – although this assumes that her correspondent wasn’t someone ignorant of a marriage that had already taken place. But taking this at face value, Joseph L and Ann E travelled to America as singles and were not married until after March 1849.

Let’s now approach it from another angle. The 1850 census finds Joseph L and Ann E married with one child, T(homas), who is aged 5/12. Here is the entry below.

The rule for the 1850 census was that it should be a snapshot of how people were on June 1 that year. Assuming the enumerator followed this rule, if Thomas was five months old on June 1 then he was born either late December or early January. So he was conceived back in April/May, 1849, which was not long after Miss A E Birney was told to collect her mail from the post office. Maybe it related to an impending wedding.

There are several assumptions in the above calculations, but absent a baptism record it is the best we have.

Because Ann Eliza’s brother, Thomas, was a member of the 2nd Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh (according to his obituary) it was thought that the newly married Russells were also members there.  A check of available church records only has one mention of Joseph L Russell – the sessions minutes have him being given a certificate of dismission on December 1, 1849. See the image below.

This entry suggests that he was an ex-member of 2nd Presbyterian who had gone back for a certificate to use as an introduction to a new place of worship. For whatever reason, JLR changed churches, so it is not surprising that no subsequent baptisms of his children are found in the 2nd Presbyterian records. But neither is there any record of him joining that church or his marriage. However, although as noted above, Thomas Birney was a member and had six children baptised there, the actual marriage of Thomas and Mary Ann is not in the 2nd Presbyterian register either.

(Note: Subsequent research with the help of the Presbyterian Historical Society shows that the graphic above actually relates to Joseph Lytle JOINING the 2nd Presbyterian Church having previously been a member of the 3rd Presbyterian. There are still no records of his marriage or baptism of children in extant records of either church. For details see more recent article on PITTSBURGH PRESBYTERIANS)

Charles Taze Russell and Maria Frances Ackley

Our second marriage is far easier to establish, in spite of an equal paucity of records. There is no register available with the details of CTR’s marriage to Maria Frances Ackley. However, on this occasion it was mentioned in the newspaper. From the Pittsburgh Daily Post for Saturday, March 15, 1879:

That meant the marriage took place on Thursday, March 13, 1879. The same announcement appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette for Friday, March 14, 1879, which added the information that the wedding was conducted by Eld. J H Paton of Almont, Michigan.

Joseph Lytle Russell and Emma Hammond Ackley

CTR’s mother died in 1861. His father was to re-marry, and what would complicate family relations later in time, married CTR’s wife’s sister, Emma. Emma Ackley once she became Emma Russell was both CTR’s sister-in-law and step-mother.

Although there are a few missing issues, a careful check of Pittsburgh newspapers did not yield any announcement of this union. And there are no known extant records giving a date. So again we have to narrow events down by other evidence.

The 1880 census was designed to provide a snapshot of events on or of June 1 that year. Below is the relevant entry for the Russell household, actually dated June 14, and well over a year after CTR and Maria were married.

It is not the clearest of writing but it shows four people living together in Cedar Avenue.

Russel (sic) C.T.          Aged 28                                 
Married           Occupation: merchant
Maria F                        Aged 29          Wife               
Married           Occupation: Keeps house
J L                               Aged 60          Father             
Widowed        Occupation: merchant
Ackley E.H.                Aged 26          Sister (*)         
Single              Occupation: at home

*This is difficult to read. It looks a bit like Sister (step) but the correct relationship to the head of the household, CTR, should be Sister (in law).

Joseph L has shaved a few years off his age. He was approaching 68 at this point, but only admits to 60.

According to this census return, at the beginning of June 1880 Joseph L and Emma are living at the same address but are still not married.  So their marriage would have to be after the date of the census.

Again let us approach it from another angle. Joseph L and Emma had one child named Mabel. Her direct birth record has not been found, but when she married Richard Packard on June 30, 1903, she provided a partial birth date. I say partial, if you check the graphic below you can see what I mean.

Mabel does not give the day – just a line and then September 1881.

 A search on Ancestry gives the date September 16, 1881.  But on close checking everyone seems to be copying everyone else on this and no-one can provide a primary source for the information. It might just be on her death certificate (from 1962), but even then who is to say this is accurate, given that she appeared not to be sure when alive in 1903?

So personally, I would prefer to stick with the information we know Mabel supplied, “sometime” in September 1881. So let’s do the math again. If born in September 1881, she must have been conceived around December 1880. So we can assume her mother, Emma, was married sometime between the census of June 1880 and November/December 1880. With Joseph and Emma living under the same roof in the snapshot of June 1880, I would suspect that the marriage took place quite soon after that census was taken.

It would of course have been so much easier for researchers had they all got married in Britain or had just waited until the 20th century in America.

However, that might have been a bit problematic for Joseph Lytle since he died in 1897…


Gary said...

Great article Jerome, I really enjoyed this. But just as I was lolled into a false sense of security by your title (no funeral this time) you ended the article with the statement "that might have been a bit problematic for Joseph Lytle since he died in 1897…" so there must have been a funeral, surely?

All good wishes,

P.S. Me, pedantic? Never!

Bernhard Brabenec said...

Really great!! Thanks for your research.

roberto said...

Hi Jerome, tanks for the article. A good historian should be able to research, able to distinguish between evidence, proof, imagine, perception, fakes, able to harmonize and to summarize. How hard. In this blog we have a university.
Thanks for the great article.

Chris G. said...

Hello Jerome and another huge thank you for this most interesting article.
I visited the last known residence & grave of Maria Russell in St.Petersburg, FL in 2008 and have had questions about this since then. Thank you for filling in the gaps. Have you ever known of any photos existing of Joseph (besides his common portrait photo)? photos of Emma? or am I correct that there exists none?

jerome said...

I have only ever seen the one photograph of JLR. There is a photograph around of Emma as an old lady, but I would like to confirm its provenance. Emma's one daughter, Mabel, married Richard Packard and they had three children. You would need to find a modern descendant named Packard (or Speel because Mildred Packard married Robert Speel) who has a family album of photographs to be sure.

jerome said...

An eagle-eyed correspondent spotted an error in the original article, where I changed Mabel's birth date of September 1881 (as confirmed in her marriage certificate) to July 1881... I have no idea how that happened, and it just illustrates the pitfalls of proof reading your own stuff! The article has now been corrected. But if anyone spots anything else, then please do say.