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 in 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.