Russell: A Hat Above the Rest

You have one, probably more. We all do, even if we try and avoid it: the dreaded common surname. Oh, my family has Hansen, Parker, and Thomas – no Smith yet! – but the surname that really gives me a headache is (and no, it’s not Rzepczynski)………Russell.

My Russell of interest lived in Chicago roughly from the early 1900’s until the 1940’s. Do you know how many Russell’s are in Chicago then? Let me tell you – a lot. Despite my misfortune with a common surname in one of the biggest cities in the country, I am incredibly fortunate, because my ancestor has that fantastic gift that we all hope and pray for – a unique first and middle name.

Meet Fenton Harvey Russell, my great-grandfather. Born in Toronto in 1883, he immigrated to the United States in 1909, settling in Chicago. Here is Fenton in May 1919 at a local Chicago park.

Fenton H. Russell, Chicago, 1919.

I’d like to think he’s reading the sports page, dissecting the White Sox box score, or perhaps looking at the Marshall Field’s ad for men’s hats. Most images of Fenton that I have show him wearing some stylish hat, and this photograph is no exception; he certainly wears it well.

Fenton joined the Masonic fraternity soon after he arrived in Chicago (Garden City Lodge No. 141), trained as an architect by profession, and became a U.S. citizen in 1922. He died in 1947 and is buried in the family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Chicago.

Here is another picture of Fenton, taken while still a youngster in Toronto. His distinctive face really stands out, as does the nice hat. He wears the hat well here, too, even as a young boy. I love this picture, one of my favorites.

Fenton H. Russell, fashionable since 1883.

In my research on Fenton, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Despite living in one of the biggest cities in the United States, there is only one – and a stylish one, at that – Fenton Harvey Russell. If I ever need a reminder how challenging and frustrating those common surnames can be, I need to look no further than Fenton’s own parents – Henry and Mary Russell. Unique first names, they are not…..


2 thoughts on “Russell: A Hat Above the Rest

  1. Love this article, Kris! I have Russell’s in my family also and I know how hard they can be to find. At least yours had an unusual first name, Fenton. I’m dealing with names like William, John, and Charles in New England, no less!!! You give me hope, though, that I’ll sort them all out.

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