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I love participating in the weekly SNGF posts from Genea-Musings. You can view the original post here. This week’s prompt is:

Who is one of your relatives (ancestor or not) who behaved poorly during his or her life?   It can be any time period.”

I would say my most ‘badly behaved’ relative would be my great-grandfather, Walter Howard Bell. I have started but never finished several posts about him. He has been quite a mystery to me and I have worked a lot on him. There were no stories passed down about him because he died when my grandmother was very young. Everything I know about him came from research!

Walter was born in Illinois in 1881. His family moved around quite a bit during his childhood before settling in Helena, Montana, where Walter’s father Charles was awarded a contract as an architect for the Montana state capitol building. He spent his young adult years working as a bank clerk before moving to Minneapolis in 1906 where he worked as a sales agent for a local quarry.

This is when his “bad boy” days began.

bell-1907-newspaper-walter-anna-hertel-10-jan-anaconda-standard-news-mt-th_an_st-1907_01_10-0011-copy

From the Anaconda Standard (MT) 10 Jan 1907

I gather from city directories that Walter met his wife via her sister, who worked as a receptionist at the quarry. Although his fiance, Anna Hertel, was over the age of majority her parents disapproved of the match. Anna suffered from tuberculosis and spent long periods of time away from home in places that would ‘improve her health.’ Using this to their advantage Walter and Anna concocted a ruse. They convinced her doctor to recommend a visit to Montana. Walter and Anna left on separate trains and reunited in Great Falls, MT. The next day January 7, 1907 they married and returned home, accompanied by Walter’s brother who had been married the same day.

11 months later they welcomed a baby girl but the marriage deteriorated soon after that and 1909 is the last time he is listed in a Minneapolis city directory. Anna returned to live with her mother and her official status became “widow ” on all records. She wasn’t listed as “divorced” until her death while residing in a sanatorium 10 years later. Meanwhile Walter has moved to New York. He is living in a rooming house in New Jersey and working out of New York City as a traveling rep for an oil company. On the 1910 census it says he has been married to a woman named Genieve for 2 years (during which time he was still with his first wife) and that this is his first marriage. No other records of her have been located.

In 1911 he marries a woman named Leda Curtis from New York and they move to Chicago where he is working as a traveling rep for another oil company. On the marriage license he lists himself as never married. They have one son together and remain in Chicago for 10 years. In 1921 they move to Dayton, Ohio when Walter gets a job with Gerkin Oil and later with a gas pump company. Within a year Leda and Curtis have returned to Chicago and she, too, lists herself as “widowed” until she remarries.

Grace McKee & Marilynn Bell 1944

Grace and Marilynn, 1943

Walter then married my grandmother, Grace McKee, around 1923. Walter and Grace have one daughter, my grandmother, Marilynn Bell. They live together in Dayton for 10 years before Walter gets a job as a statewide manager for Ohio Oil and the family relocates to Findlay, Ohio. In 1934 Walter dies suddenly and his widow and daughter return home to Dayton.

A traveling salesman married at least 4 times with at least 3 children and possibly some of those marriages overlapping? I’d say that qualifies for ‘poorly behaved’!

 

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I love participating in the SNGF series from Genea-Musings. You can see the original post about this week’s topic here.

This week’s prompt is:

1) What was your best research achievement in 2016? Tell us – show us a document, or tell us a story, or display a photograph. Brag a bit! You’ve earned it!

My best research achievement this year was a breakthrough on the details of the life of my great-grandfather Walter Howard Bell (1881-1934). Walter has been a mysterious character. His ancestors were easy enough to trace back very far (thank you Quaker records) but his own life was murky. He was a traveling rep for an oil company and lived everywhere from Illinois to Montana to Minneapolis to New York to Ohio. I was aware from early in my research that Walter was married more than once. I had found a little information about his first wife but that was it. This year I really set out one weekend to follow Walter wherever he took me. After browsing 50+ city directories, using a free trial of Newspaper.com and ordering some vital records I discovered a lot of new information about Walter’s life!

I already knew Walter was born in Illinois and moved with his family to Kansas then to Helena, Montana. Walter’s father was an architect who won a contest to design the state capitol building in Montana. As a young man Walter had worked as a clerk in a bank in town and in 1906 he ventured away from home to Minneapolis (not Chicago like the city directory said!)

  • Walter met his first wife, Anna Hertel, daughter of German immigrants, while working for a quarry ibell-1907-newspaper-walter-anna-hertel-10-jan-anaconda-standard-news-mt-th_an_st-1907_01_10-0011-copyn Minneapolis. From the city directories I learned that his wife’s sister was a secretary at the company and I’m assuming that is how they met. Walter and Anna eloped in Montana in 1907 with the help of a doctor who convinced Anna’s parents she needed some “fresh Montana air” for her health. Walter’s brother and fiance met them there, had a double wedding and returned to Minneapolis together the next day! I confirmed this by locating marriage licenses for both couples. Walter and Anna had a daughter, Claudia Margaret/Marguerite. I later learned that Anna suffered with tuberculosis most of her life. She and Walter separated/divorced in 1908 and about 10 years later she died in a tuberculosis hospital in Minneapolis. I also finally found her burial location thanks to her death certificate and within days a kind volunteer had shared a photo on FindAGrave.
  • In addition to learning about his first wife, I was able to track more of the rest of his life, including a possible second marriage to a woman in New Jersey, where he was living when later that year he married his third wife, Leda Curtis. Walter spent a few years living in New Jersey while he worked in New York City, which is where the oil company’s headquarters were. Together they moved to Chicago and had a son. Shortly thereafter they moved to Ohio and within a year they had separated. Interestingly the wife returned to Chicago after the separation and she remarried. I was able to find a photo of her and their son on Ancestry.

I already knew this information, but to end the story: Soon after the separation from his third wife Walter married my grandmother, Grace McKee. (I have yet to find a record of an actual marriage though.) They were married for 10 years and had just moved across the state for Walter’s new job as a regional manager for another oil company when he suddenly passed away in 1934.

2) We all have elusive ancestors. What research problem do you want to work on in 2017? Tell us where you want to research and what you hope to find.

After the discoveries above I’m still hoping to learn more about Walter H. Bell. I want to confirm Walter’s possible 2nd marriage and locate a record of his 4th marriage. I am also very interested in identifying and making contact with possible descendants of his other children in order to confirm the relationships with DNA. I would love to hear if any stories have been passed down from the other perspective, since there were certainly none from my family. My primary lead for this is a cousin who possibly has the information or knows where to find it. I have struggled to locate the daughter after her mother passed away and I cannot locate a marriage of the son but I hear he did get married.

I also can’t talk about research problems without hoping I’ll break through my brick wall and locate the birth date, birthplace, death date, death place and parents names of my ancestor John H. McKee! I mostly ignored him in 2016, but maybe 2017 will be the year I finally figure him out!

I can dream, anyway.

I love participating in Randy Seaver’s SNGF series! You can find a link to the original post here if you want to participate. This week’s prompt is:

What goals do you have for your genealogy research, education and writing during 2017?

Research

  • Complete the entire 2017 Genealogy Do Over program from Thomas MacEntee. As I have indicated in a few posts I am participating in the do-over as a way to clean up my genealogical research and get back on the right track. I have already completed months 1 & 2, now I need to keep it up!
  • Visit the National Archives and scan a few pension files. I have a spring break trip planned in that direction to visit family and I really want to visit NARA while I’m there!
  • Administer more DNA tests. On the same trip I will be taking along 3 DNA kits to administer to family members. My mom, while not a genealogist, seems already eager to purchase even more kits for other family members to take the tests! I am hoping to get some relatives on my dad’s side to test as well but that will require getting in touch with people that haven’t been in contact in 30+ years.
  • Put DNA results to use! I had my parents and grandfather complete DNA tests in the last 18 months but I have not really pursued the matches. After joining the Central Indiana DNA Group I think I have gathered most of the necessary skills to follow up on the matches and learn from them. I have already begin doing so a little and I plan to do more this year.

Education

  • Attend RootsTech 2017 in February to learn even more techniques I can apply to my research. I am so beyond excited and grateful that Roots Tech offered a student discount that made it feasible for me to attend the conference. I can’t wait to get on that plane in 3 weeks!
  • Stay up to date on podcasts and videos I subscribe to.
  • Pay attention to opportunities for free webinars.
  • Join #genchat on twitter! I have been so bad about remembering to log in for these. And if I don’t forget then I’m busy that night. I need to add these to my calendar so I remember to participate!
  • Attend as many local events as possible. In 2016 I was able to attend 2 one-day conferences at local societies and I hope to attend more this year. I have joined my local genealogy society and I’m trying to attend events as often as I can but most fall during the week when I have classes. I am also attending the local Central Indiana DNA Group when I am able.
  • For Christmas I received a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I look forward to familiarizing myself with citation formats so I can write better citations for my sources as I’m researching this year.

Writing

  • My goal this year is to publish at least one blog post a week. I didn’t do very well at that last year, but it’s a new year, time to start fresh!
  • I am really interested in learning how to write my ancestors’ stories this year. To that end I have signed up for a lab at Roots Tech and for Christmas I received a copy of Personal Historian 2. I hope to put these two opportunities to use this year. I have a few ancestors in mind that I would like to start with and I hope to accomplished at least one ancestor’s personal history this year.

I didn’t realize I had so many goals until I started typing them! Hopefully I am able to accomplish some of these. I don’t have a good track record with genealogy goals, but that might be a side effect of attending graduate school full time.

I hope you accomplish your goals in 2017!

Surnames

Anderson, Bell, McKee, Hartzell, Cather, Straughen/Straughn, Barbour, Coleman, Fisher, Leppert, Shimp

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