Thursday, September 4, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #35 Russell George Johnson

One of my favorite family photos is this lovely wedding photo from 1938. Russell George Johnson was united in marriage with Bernice Dorothy Nyquist at the First Swedish M.E. Church of Chicago, on April 20th.

Quick drop page from Our Wedding by Digital Scrapper, 2010

Cousin Bernice allowed me to scan this photo when I visited her in the Chicago area shortly before her death. She and her son also told me the story of Russell and how he came to be raised by his maternal grandmother.

Russell George Johnson was born in Chicago on November 23, 1913, to Esther Ekstrom Johnson and George Walter Johnson. Esther died a short ten years later, leaving George a single father.

As you think about Chicago in the 1920s, one name should immediately come to mind: Al Capone. George Johnson was a Chicago policeman. One day he took young Russell to his grandparents, Agnes Fors Ekstrom and Gustaf Ekstrom. That was the last Russell saw of his father for many years.

When the family reconnected, they learned that George had received threats from the Chicago organized crime families. He had moved to Dayton, Ohio, and changed his name to Walter Hayes. He remarried and raised more children, but never sent for Russell.

As the 1920s progressed, Russell lost his grandfather and the family lost the income from his tailor shop. The Great Depression devastated the family real estate holdings, leaving Agnes and her grandsons in financial difficulty. Russell and his cousin Warren took jobs delivering telegrams for Western Union after school.

Russell and Bernice lived and raised their son in the Chicago area. Russell died in 1997 and Bernice died in 2005. They are buried together in Memorial Park in Skokie.

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