In a previous blog I wrote about George, Harry and Edward Charles Bell, sons of George and Harriet Bell (nee Collins) of Mereworth, Kent, England, who had immigrated to the United States of America between 1890 and 1909.
I also acknowledged the incredible work my Bell ‘cousin’, Glenda B. of Idaho, had undertaken to help to solve the immigration riddle of George, Harry and Edward Charles Bell and find their families.
We know that Harry and Edward Bell went to Owossa, Michigan because their elder brother George Bell and his family had settled there.
The question then arose to the reason George Bell had immigrated there in 1890. There seemed to be no obvious reason, however, when we studied the pattern of immigration of the Bell families to Australia, we found that family nearly always went to family, already established there.
If a similar pattern was present in the USA, what family did George Bell go out to in Owossa, Michigan in 1890?
Glenda was to team up with me again to try and solve this intriguing question.
While researching George, Harry and Edward Charles Bell, Glenda had collected information on all persons with the Bell surname, particularly in the Owossa area. One person who seemed to stand out and claimed our interest was a ‘John Bell’. From various USA Census Returns we knew he had come from England. His wife Elizabeth, a son John, and daughters Elizabeth and Mary Ann Bell were also listed as having been born in England. However, the youngest daughter, Harriet, was claimed to have been born in Michigan about 1859. This gave us an approximate time span for the family’s emigration to Michigan.
Glenda was able to use indexes and files in the Michigan State, City and University Libraries as well as employ the services of local historians to gather a large collection of cemetery, funeral home, census and newspapers records for this family. From those records she put together a detailed biography and timeline for John Bell and his family.
Glenda shared this material with me and I was able to use it along with other documents I held, to gain further clues for research back in England. I then purchased marriage, birth and death certificates from the Maidstone Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which confirmed my hypothesis for this family.
We were finally able to establish that John Bell (b.1822), the youngest son of John and Mary Bell (nee Kemp), of Mereworth, Kent, a carpenter by trade was living at Staplehurst, Kent, when he married Harriet Hatcher on 8 September 1851. Their children were John (b.1851); Elizabeth (b.1853) and Mary Ann (b.1855). At that time, life in Kent was difficult, with little employment and no opportunities.
Staplehurst Parish Church – Copyright, Nola Mackey,2004
John and Harriet Bell decided to immigrate to the United States of America. John Bell travelled to London where he bought a steerage passage on the Palestine which sailed for New York. He arrived there on 12 May 1857. He is believed to have immediately gained employment and sent the money home for Harriet to purchased a passage for herself and the children on the Palestine the following year. This ship left London and sailed to the German port of Bremen where several German immigrants came on board before sailing for New York. The Palestine arrived in New York on 29 May 1858.
Soon afterwards John and Harriet Bell joined many other families on a wagon train west to Michigan and settled in the frontier town of Saginsaw. Harriet Bell died soon after arrival, at the birth of their youngest daughter. She was named Harriet in memory of her mother. John Bell needed someone to care for his young family and married Elizabeth Parkinson at Oakland on 21 March 1860.
The family moved on to Owosso, where John Bell later bought a block of land. After much hard work and perseverance John and Elizabeth Bell built up a large market garden of more than ten acres. John sold the produce in town from a cart and was well known and respected in the community.
Their children married and lived in Michigan.
John Bell (b.1851) married Mary Conklin in 1888, but had no family. He died in a rail accident in 1895.
Elizabeth Bell (b.1853) married Andrew Case in 1871 and had a number of children: Edward George,b.1872; Selina Lillian, b.1873; Bert Lee, b.1876; John Henry, b. 1878; Chester, b.1882; Theodore Leonard, b.1884; Lawrence Andrew, b.1888; William Nelson, b.1895 and Harlan I, b.1899.
Mary Ann Bell (b.1855) married William Clark Munro and had two sons: Francis Eugene, b. 1877 and Chester William, b.1887.
Harriet Bell (b.1859) married Byron Le Clear and had a son John, b. 1887.
Glenda was again able to trace and contact descendants of these families. They had been interested in family history and had done a lot of research in USA, but had not been able to find where the family originated in England.
Imagine their surprise when we contacted them and were not only able to show them where the family came from, but also where they fitted into this huge ‘family tree’, which reached back to the 16th Century.
Although these families were not on our Bell Family line, Glenda and I believed it right we should share our knowledge and research with other family members.
In recent years these families have put considerable material on-line about their families.
John Bell (b.1822) was the younger brother of George Bell’s Grandfather, Thomas Bell (b.1803), and therefore a Great-uncle to George Bell. We believe this is the family George Bell went out to Ossowo, Michigan in 1890. John Bell died in 1895 a few years after George’s arrival.
However,were John and Harriet Bell the first in our Bell family to emigrate from Kent to the United States of America, or had they also gone out to family?