Over the forty-plus years, I have been researching my Bell ancestors I have located and corresponded with ‘cousins’ all over the world.
As well as tracing my direct line back to Medieval times, I have spent many hours researching other branches of the family to show kinship and help others find their roots.
On a trip to England in 2004, we met with Joan W and Ivy P who were descended from John Bell (b.1780), the eldest brother of my Great-Great-Grandfather Thomas Bell (b.1782), whose sons James and George Bell emigrated to Australia in 1837.
One afternoon while sharing photographs Ivy showed us one of her father, Edward Bell, taken with two ‘uncles’, reputed to have emigrated to America. She said her father had been in the Royal Navy and had visited the United States during World War II, and she believed that was when the photograph had been taken. In recent years her family had often wondered what had happened to these ‘uncles’, and if they had married and had a family.
The above mentioned John Bell (b.1780) had married Mary Kemp in 1801 and had remained in Mereworth, Kent. They had five children all born at Mereworth. Their grandson, George Bell (b.1833) married Harriet Collins at Mereworth in 1861 and had a family of ten children before Harriet Bell died in 1878. George Bell then married Sarah Ann Woofe and had further children.
When researching this family years before, I had come across parish records that had a notation beside sons,George Bell (b.1868) and Harry Bell (b.1871) that said, “Emigrated”, although there was no date or place recorded. Now with this photograph perhaps we had another clue.
Family of George and Harriet Bell(nee Collins), Mereworth, (England) in the 1871 Census
[Image accessed from Findmypast,19 March 2017
Family of George and Harriet Bell (nee Collins), Mereworth,Kent,England in the 1881 Census.
[Image accessed from Findmypast,19 March 2017
I had another Bell cousin,Glenda B. in Idaho, USA, whose mother had emigrated from Australia as a War Bride after World War II. Glenda and I had shared family research by ‘snail-mail’,for many years, long before the Internet. I explained the problem of the ‘uncles’ to her and asked if she could help.
Using the Golden Rule with family research,Glenda began with the 1930 USA Census. At that time it was not indexed and was filed in State,County and Ward order only. As we had no idea where to start, she started with the eastern states and worked westward. After much searching over several days, Glenda with the assistance of her husband, Jim, was able to track through many thousands of records to finally find them in Owosso, Michigan.
From there,Glenda searched through earlier Census for further information on these two men and their families. In the 1900 Census she found that George Bell had his brother, Edward Charles Bell living with him.
I had previously purchased from Maidstone, Kent, the birth certificate of Edward Charles Bell, who was the youngest son of George and Harriet Bell(nee Collins). His mother had died soon after his birth.
It was at this stage Glenda contacted the Owosso City Library and the Shiawassee County Library for assistance in tracing cemetery records, funeral homes, death and funeral notices and obituaries in local records and newspapers. She also looked at city trade directories. Glenda shared this material with me and I, in turn, was able to share with Joan and Ivy,who were delighted we had not only found these men but had been able to put together so much information about them.
Glenda then mailed personal letters of inquiry to all the people, on the then-current voting rolls in the Owosso area, who had the ‘Bell’ surname. To our delight, some of her letters were answered. She found grandchildren of the three brothers, who had emigrated to the United States in the 1890s.
Glenda put an enormous amount of time and effort to trace and help this branch of our Bell family to find their roots, for which we are very grateful. Much of the material she collected is still not on the Internet and is not easily available even today, which makes her dedicated work even more valuable to the family. Glenda passed away in 2014.
The wonderful outcome of all this research was that Ivy’s family was able to contact and then meet and visit with some of their American ‘cousins’. They found the ‘family likenesses’ quite unbelievable.
Ivy and Joan were granddaughters of John Bell (b.1861) the eldest brother of George, Harry and Edward Charles Bell, who emigrated to America, and so these men were true ‘Uncles’ to Ivy and Joan’s fathers.
What a wonderful conclusion to a little family mystery.