Inventor of Russell Soundex System
Robert C. Russell was the inventor of the Russell Soundex System that was used to index many census, immigration and naturalization records for the United States government, as well as many commercial records. The purpose of Soundex is to group surnames together using a phonetic code in order to eliminate spelling errors in indexes. Names, which are pronounced alike, but spelled differently, are grouped together. For instance, the name Meyer can be spelled numerous different ways but will be grouped with all its variations.
Mr. Russell was born in 1861, the son of Robert C. and Harriet Russell of Danville, PA, Montour County. He married Florida Parker in Williamsport in 1868. Along with their three sons, James Parker, Joseph Clifford and Robert Paul, they moved to Pittsburgh in 1908 or 1909.
Mr. Russell was the founder of the Russell Index Company of Pittsburgh which became well known for its indexing systems including those used by Allegheny County. A Patent was filed in 1901 and issued in 1903 for a Grantor/Grantee indexing system that was later installed in the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds office after being commissioned by the Bar Association. Other patents were issued around 1915 with Soundex being the hallmark in 1917 or 1918. Mr. Russell held seven patents on indexing systems considered to be relevant to the Soundex encoding and filing system…one of which was reissued later in a modified form. Mr. Russell licensed the patents to The Library Bureau of Massachusetts in 1925. The Library Bureau was soon acquired by Remington Rand Inc. which installed the system in many insurance companies, credit bureaus, hospitals and utilities. Remington was also involved in the various installations of the system for the United States government.
Soundex is still widely in use and has been credited as a precursor of the search engines of the 21st century which makes Robert C. Russell a pioneer who provided one of the many “bricks” in the foundation of the field of digital technology. Mr. Russell was still active in his company at his death in 1938.