The Hunt for Albert Russ

Keen students of the family tree will know that, when Carolyn started the tree, she had information about 11 of Pater’s children and contacts for the 9 who did not die young. Missing were Ernest and Albert. After the first cousins’ gathering at Henley, a research meeting included both on the agenda; the website also announced the agenda and within days Ernest was solved: his son David and grandson Robin attended the research meeting and we were given a box of Ernest’s old photo albums and other material. Albert is now resolved. At least, we now have a link and probably as much information as there is available. The start was Mater’s daybook; the Albert entries can be seen here.

Research in the Royal Horticultural Society library confirmed that Albert had been a member of the Society and that J Rigg was in business as a nurseryman florist in Caversham Oxfordshire. The 1901 Census confirmed that Albert was a boarder apprentice to a Thomas Rigg at 1 Bagshot Villas, South View Ave Caversham. At that point the trail went cold; hunting through the registers of births, death and marriages produced no record of any such events linked to Albert Russ. But Ernest’s photo album then threw up a tantalising clue. Ernest developed and printed his own photos, stuck them in albums, usually wrote captions and frequently removed a photo later and [presumably] put it elsewhere.

On one page Carolyn and I noticed a caption to a missing photo ‘Alan and Mr and Mrs Albert Russ’; this evidence that Albert was married sent me back to the Family Record Centre in Islington to re-search the registers. This time either I was more careful in my scrutiny or les tired through lifting dozens of heavy volumes from the shelf. On 28 October 1907 at The Register Office in the District of St Pancras in the County of London Albert - age 23 Bachelor - Florist of 53 London Street [which runs into Paddington Station] - Father Charles Russ (deceased) Furrier – married Maude Lucy Eager - age 27 Spinster - of 42 London Street - father William Eager (deceased) China Merchant before witnesses Naomi Eager (her mother) and August Raab (a tailor, who lived in Charlotte St W 1- parallel to Tottenham Court Road, who was perhaps a close friend).

Further searching produced a birth certificate for a son Kenneth Albert born on 26 April 1915 in Aspley Guise Bedford to Albert Russ Draper (Master) and Maud [sic] Lucy Russ formerly Eager. This evidence confirmed the statement in Dean King’s biography of Patrick O’Brian that Albert was a draper [which had seemed odd if he was apprenticed to a nurseryman florist]. But no sign of a death certificate for Albert or Maude; no marriage of Kenneth Albert. Persistence paid off though; I finally found a record of Kenneth’s death. I obtained a copy of the death certificate, which showed his death on 5 August 1998 in the Royal Hampshire County Hospital Winchester. I had hoped this would give a lead to his next of kin – but it was the Deputy Coroner who was shown as registering the death after an inquest concluding that he died form natural causes. A letter to the Coroners Office finally produce an answer, after the Coroner’s Clerk had kindly contacted the next of kin, to check that she was happy to have contact made. This I duly did, sending on all that we knew about Albert.

On Friday 16 September 2005, Carolyn and I met Anna Paulina Russ [née Schober – known as Ann] in Eastleigh [north of Southampton]. She was born in Vienna on 26 Jun 1922 and met Kenneth Albert [always known as Bert] in Vienna in 1953 , when he was part of the Army of Occupation; she had been married and divorced, with a small son. She and Bert had a civil marriage in Vienna [which explains why there was no record in the England and Wales registers] and came back to England shortly after. Bert was in the Royal Engineers throughout the war, serving in India, and stayed on until shortly after his marriage. On leaving the Royal Engineers, he worked for British Rail at Eastleigh as an electrician. Anna’s son Ronald they adopted, so there was another generation named Russ but he died without having children.

Anna knew very little of Albert; he had died before she met her husband – probably before 1950 - and he never talked about his family: indeed our contact provided the first information she had about the German origins of the Russ family – a bit of a shock to her, as an Austrian who had been through the German Anschluss and the need for her parents to prove pure Aryan descent. She knew there had been a strong horticultural interest – and provided a connection with Peacehaven: Emil – Albert’s brother – had settled there on his return from India and Albert had bought [or built] a chalet there, which he had clearly used after his own marriage: indeed his son was educated at a boarding school in Brighton – and we know that Alan Russell “won much applause for his singing” at a concert organised by the Moulsecombe [a suburb of Brighton] School of Music: this might be a connection to follow up. Bert inherited the chalet after his father’s death and rented it out until he sold it in the 1970s. And that was about all she could tell us; she recalled that Albert had travelled a lot and that his wife was buried in St Pancras churchyard – and remebered having met one of Bert’s uncles, who was so unpleasant that they left after a couple of hours. Any guesses who that might have been??

She did, however, have one photo of Albert’s wife, taken in a studio in Brighton wearing a lovely fur which – it is nice to think – might have been a Russ fur but, more likely, was a studio prop, one of Albert and three of her husband: two of these were taken at a wedding – I wonder if anyone can identify the occasion!