Select Russell Surname Genealogy

Russell derived from the Old French rousel meaning "red" and was originally descriptive of someone with red hair.  The surname first appeared as Rousel in the early 12th century.  The alternative Russel spelling still exists.   Other derivations of the name are possible.

Select Russell Resources on The Internet

England.  Early sightings of Russell as a surname were in the west country, in Worcestershire and Devon.

The Worcestershire Russells were first recorded at Strensham near Pershore in 1283.  A branch of the family appeared in Herefordshire in the early 1400’s.  Sir William Russell was the Royalist governor of Worcester at the time of the Civil War.  The last male representative of these Russells died in 1705.  But the Strensham manor remained with his descendants until 1817.

Sir John Russell was reported in 1211 as the storer of the King’s wine barrels and was granted the royal manor of Kingston Russell near Weymouth in Devon.  His descendants held the Yaverland estate on the Isle of Wight and, in the 17th century, Chippenham Park in Cambridgeshire (which was subsequently acquired by Admiral Edward Russell).

Whether Sir John was the forebear of the famous Russell family from Dorset is unproven as no link has ever been established.  However, so convinced were these Russells of the connection that they purchased the Kingston Russell estate in 1560.

Their earliest traced ancestor was Stephen Russell who represented Weymouth in Parliament in 1394.  His descendants were wine merchants.    John Russell made a name for himself in 1506 when he was able to look after the Archduke Phillip of Austria and his wife and escort them to London after their ship had been caught in a storm off Weymouth.  This Russell was subsequently ennobled as the Earl of Bedford.  He acquired Chenies Manor in Buckinghamshire in 1526, which became the family home.

These Russells were to establish themselves as one of Britain's leading Whig families and participated in every great political event from the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the Great Reform Act of 1832:

  • during the 17th and 18th centuries the Russells left their mark on London by their development of Covent Garden and Bloomsbury.
  • during the 18th century, the Bedfordites – led by John Russell, the fourth Duke of Bedford - were an important political faction in the country.
  • during the mid-19th century, Lord John Russell of this family served as both British Prime Minister and its Foreign Secretary.
  • and the family also produced the philosopher Bertrand Russell. 
The Russell name did appear in the north of England.  William Russell, a banker in Sunderland, acquired the Brancepeth estate in Durham in 1796.  By chance, he had also acquired land with rich coal seams.  This was to make him and his son Matthew two of the richest men in the north of England in their day.

By the late 19th century, however, the largest number of Russells in England was to be found in London and the southeast.

Scotland.  Around the year 1600 Alexander Russel was Provost of Elgin in Morayshire.  His Russell descendants were subsequently the lairds of Moncoffer in Banffshire and Aden in Aberdeenshire.  John Russel was an early 19th century Elgin merchant who had come from a Moray family that had farmed at Alves for several generations. 

The Russells of Ashiesteel were a prominent family in Selkirkshire, many of whom distinguished themselves in military service in India in the 18th and 19th centuries.  By the late 19th century, the largest number of Russells in Scotland was living in and around Glasgow.

Ireland.  The Russell name started to appear in Ireland soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion when Robert de Russell was granted lands in county Down. 

The main branch of this family was the Russells of Killough.  They remained Catholic over the 17th and 18th centuries and experienced persecution for their beliefs and confiscation of their lands.  Their numbers included Henry Russell, the famous explorer of the Pyrenees, who had been born of an Irish father escaping Catholic persecution at home and a French mother.

Also in the 19th century, from the cadet Killowen branch, came:

  • Dr, Charles W. Russell, a prodigious Catholic scholar at Maynooth
  • and Charles A. Russell, one of the leading lawyers of his time who became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1884.
Another old Russell family in Ireland was the one based at Seatown north of Dublin.  They too were Catholic and lost most of their estates in the 17th century.  Their home, Drynam House, remained with them until the 1920’s.

The Russell name has also been long associated with Limerick, with references to the name there as early as 1272.  However, the main recorded presence post-dates the year 1650 when Cromwell laid siege to the town.  Nathaniel Russell, a soldier in Cromwell’s army who died during the siege, was probably the forebear of later Russells.  Russells were prominent merchants in Limerick in the 18th and 19th centuries, contributing to its commercial expansion and often serving as Mayor.  Ted Russell, a more recent Limerick politician from this family, died in 2004.

  There were two notable Joseph Russells in early New England history.

Joseph Russell of New Bedford was a descendant of John Russell who had come to Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1661.  Born in 1719, he is considered the founder of the New Bedford whaling industry.

There was another Joseph Russell, this time of Rhode Island, and another John Russell immigrant, this time to Newbury around 1650.  These Russells got to Rhode Island via Cape Cod.  Joseph Russell trained and worked as a silversmith (some of his pieces have survived) and later served as Chief Justice of Rhode Island.  His home in Providence, built in 1772, is still standing; as is the home of his son Nathaniel, a merchant, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Thomas Russell, from a Birmingham family of ironmasters, came to Maryland in 1720 to set up Principio Ironworks, the first iron blast furnace in the country.  He subsequently returned to England.  But his son Thomas arrived in 1764 and
produced cannonballs there for the American army during the Revolutionary War.

William Russell, born in 1735, was a prominent citizen of SW Virginia at the time of the Revolutionary War. Many of his descendants lived in Russell county, Virginia which was named after him.   His son William was an early settler in Kentucky and Russell county in Kentucky was named after him

Canada.  Joseph Russell came to New Brunswick from Clackmannan in Scotland in 1819 and became a successful shipbuilder there.  He and his family converted to Mormonism in 1840 and they migrated to Utah two years before Joseph’s death there in 1855. 

William and Hannah Russell migrated from Kent with their nine children to Canada in 1857, first settling in Brockville on the St. Lawrence river and, then, seven years later, moving by boat to Elk Rapids on Lake Michigan.  They lived there for just on a hundred years.  A family Bible showed their line of descent. 

New Zealand
.  Thomas and Mary Russell from Ireland were early migrants to New Zealand, arriving in 1840.  Thomas tired his luck in the Californian goldfields a decade later, but then returned.  His son J.B. Russell became a prominent Auckland lawyer

Select Russell Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Russell Names

Lord John Russell was twice Prime Minister of England in the mid 19th century.
Jack Russell, known as the Sporting Parson, was a founding member of the Kennel Club.  The Jack Russell terrier was named after him.
Dr. Charles Russell was a prominent Catholic scholar of the 19th century at Maynooth in Ireland.
Bertrand Russell was an eminent British philosopher, writer and, in his later years, a campaigner for nuclear disarmament.
Bill Russell
was the leader of the great Boston Celtic basketball teams of the 1950's and 1960's.
Willy Russell from a working class Liverpool background was the author of popular plays such as Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.

Select Russells Today

  • 83,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 84,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 59,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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