Saturday, March 10, 2018


by Jerome

This I believe is new research, which I sent to Bruce and Rachael a few weeks’ ago.

Many of those from Scots-Irish stock who immigrated to America belonged to the Presbyterian Church. The Russell family were no exception.

The first known to make the journey was Charles Tays Russell, Uncle of our CTR. His obituary notes that he came to America in 1823 and set up business in Pittsburgh in 1831.  In fact, we now know that he joined the Presbyterian Church there in 1834.

The 3rd Presbyterian Church Pittsburgh was established in 1834, and as members joined they were given a number. In the very first year of operation, Charles T Russell, became a member, and was given the number 47. Here is his entry in the church register.

The entry states he was admitted on January 22, 1834, by certificate, which means he came from another Presbyterian Church – somewhere – with a letter of introduction.

The right hand column details what eventually happened to these members. For Charles T the entry reads “suspended.”  If he’d misbehaved in some way and been expelled the entry would have specified this. If he’d resigned and transferred to another church, the entry would have read “dismissed” – which in modern language can give the wrong impression. In the case of Charles T the entry “suspended” must mean something else. I suspect it simply means that his membership lapsed as he stopped supporting the church by attendance or contribution.

Nine years later, CTR’s father Joseph Lytle Russell entered the picture. His obituary suggests he came to America in 1845. However, his application for naturalization in 1848 stated that he had been in America for at least five years. Assuming his application was truthful that would pre-date 1845. However, it may be that he reached Pittsburgh in 1845, because early in that year he, like his older brother before him, chose to join the 3rd Presbyterian Church. His number was 551. Here is his entry in the church register.

He was admitted on March 7, 1845, by certificate, which means he had come from another Presbyterian Church – somewhere. I cannot quite picture Joseph L travelling across the Atlantic clutching a letter of introduction, so he likely belonged to another American church before joining the 3rd Presbyterian Pittsburgh. But where that was is unknown.

The right hand column states he was “dismissed” which, as noted above, simply means he transferred to another church.

Church session minutes give us the date when this happened, December 1, 1849.

As to where he went, the answer is found in the church session minutes for the 2nd Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. This confirms that he had previously been with the 3rd Presbyterian.

It was an interesting time for Joseph L to change churches. He was not long married and his first child Thomas was on the way. The most logical reason for the transfer was him relocating within the city.

Existing church records do not mention his wife, Ann Eliza Birney. There is no record discovered as yet of the actual marriage of Joseph L and Ann Eliza, and neither are any of their children in the baptism registers of 2nd Presbyterian. Yet, a few years later, Ann Eliza’s brother, Thomas, has at least six children baptised in this church. But Thomas’ marriage is not in the register either.

Records of around 40 different Presbyterian churches in Pittsburgh are now available to researchers, and I have personally checked them all. That wasn’t as difficult as it sounds – many were outside the time frame which narrowed the search down considerably. But these are the only results found for the Russell and Birney families. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – it may be that more records will surface in the future to fill missing pieces in the jigsaw.

I have a theory that maybe Ann Eliza was affiliated with a Philadelphian Presbyterian Church. We know that later in her marriage she and Joseph lived in Philadelphia. We know that she had business interests there (after his own business failed Joseph ended up as her “agent in Philadelphia” in her will). And near the end of her life Ann and Joseph were mentioned in a Philadelphian register (as detailed in Separate Identity volume 1). The trouble is that while Pittsburgh had 40 odd Presbyterian Churches, Philadelphia appears to have had far more. If an Ancestry index doesn’t throw up any information, it would take a very long time to search them all. A VERY LONG TIME. Sometimes, life is just too short.


For the benefit of fellow researchers who read this site, how was the above information discovered? Remarkably easily, and basically in the reverse order to the way the above article is presented.

Using Ancestry I did a search for Ann Eliza Birney, CTR’s mother. Almost immediately a birth came up in this name from 1855, in the records of the 2nd Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. It turned out to be the daughter of Thomas and Mary Ann Birney. Thomas was Joseph Lytle Russell’s brother-in-law. They had simply named one of their children after her aunt. The 2nd Presbyterian records showed that Thomas and May Ann had six children baptised there, although there are no extant records of their marriage. Still, here was definite proof that one branch of the family had been 2nd Presbyterian. With a little help from the Presbyterian Historical Society the church sessions records showed Joseph Lytle joining this church in 1849, and crucially that he had transferred from the 3rd Presbyterian Church. All the extant records for 3rd Presbyterian are online, and conveniently past church members had compiled a rough alphabetical list of all members past and present. There were several Russells on the list – some obviously no connection - but two were. There was Joseph, who joined in 1845, and the extra big surprise, the original Charles T(ays) Russell who joined in 1834, the year the church opened. I still visually checked the complete listing of members in date order just in case the compilers had omitted a stray Russell, but they hadn’t.


Andrew Martin said...

Fascinating. Thanks both for the research, and the suggestions as to how to go about similar research ourselves.

Chris G. said...

very nice and thank you for continuing to post, in spite of Rachel's unfortunate illness. I hope she is doing better!

Gary said...

Thank you Jerome. More fine research.