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.
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.
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’!
This is a fascinating story. What tipped you off to look for the other three wives? I would have assumed the one that I was descended from was the only one unless I saw a record that indicated I should dig deeper. Great job in finding all this out about Walter.