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.

Russell Resources on

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
of Kingston
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
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.

earliest traced ancestor was Stephen Russell who represented Weymouth
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
in Buckinghamshire in 1526, which became the

These Russells were to establish themselves as one of
Britain’s leading Whig
families and participated in every great political event from the
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
    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
    Prime Minister and its Foreign Secretary.
  • and the family also produced the
    philosopher Bertrand Russell.

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

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

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.
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
themselves in military service in India in the 18th and 19th
By the late 19th century, the largest number of Russells in Scotland
was living
in and around Glasgow.

The Russell name started to appear in Ireland soon after the
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
, 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.

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
town. Nathaniel Russell, a soldier in
Cromwell’s army who died during the siege, was probably the forebear of
Russells. Russells were prominent
merchants in Limerick
in the 18th and 19th centuries,
contributing to
commercial expansion and often serving as Mayor. Ted
Russell, a more recent Limerick
politician from this family, died in 2004.

America. 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
1661. Born in 1719, he is considered the
founder of the New
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
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
in 1720 to set up Principio Ironworks, the first iron blast furnace in
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.

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.

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

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.

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

Russell Miscellany

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

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
Bill Russell
was the leader of the great Boston Celtic
teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
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)






Return to Main Page

Leave a Reply