Saturday, May 16, 2015

How I Made Contact with Cousin Bruce Bell Today

Saddleback Valley Trails
South Orange County California Genealogical Society
Vol. 11 No. 12 Editor: Mary Jo McQueen December 2004

by Herb Abrams

This is the story of a very old photo album that was brought to the November [2004?] meeting:
A neighbor of Ruth Sheean’s was about to throw out an old photo album she had picked up at a garage sale about 30 years ago. Ruth thought she might be able to find the owner so she brought it to the SOCCGS genealogy library. Shirley Fraser suggested to her that “maybe Herb Abrams could find a home for it, since he was a pretty good genealogy detective” - so that is how I got involved.
It is a beautifully bound album with an ornate cover and hinged metal fasteners. Inside were photographs, some of which were labeled with names, mostly of a Bell family. On the inside of the front and back covers were obituaries of family members.
One of them read: "Died, at Big Pine, Inyo County, Cal., June 7, 1879, Thomas E. Bell, aged 57 years. The circumstances of Mr. Bell's death were peculiarly sad. That morning he had gone to his work plowing among his vines and trees, apparently in his usual health. About 9 o'clock he came to the house for some purpose, and in his talk with his wife and children, seemed unusually bouyant and happy. Less than an hour after he had returned to the plow, his young son saw that the team was standing still in the field and wonderingly went to see what was the cause; the child found his father lying motionless on the ground near the plow. Running to the house, some three hundred yards distant, with the dreadful news. Mrs. Bell called some Indians at work in the garden "to come!" and ran to where her husband was lying. With the help of the Indians and the children she carried him to the shade of a tree close at hand, and did everything in her power to bring him back to life, but all in vain. No doubt is entertained but something like heart disease was the cause of death.
“The deceased was a native of the state of North Carolina but has passed the greater part of his life in this State, landing in San Francisco in June 1850, just twenty-nine years prior to the day of his death. For thirteen years he has been a resident of this valley. Besides a wife and 5 small children, for whom he lived to love and cherish in unbounded affection, deceased leaves two brothers, of which he was the youngest, to mourn his loss. These brothers, James and Andrew N. Bell, are prominent and much respected citizens of Tuolomne and Inyo counties respectively.
“Thomas E. Bell, the deceased, though by nature perfectly unobtrusive upon public attention, was widely known; and by all acknowledged to be a man absolutely above reproach. No man has ever questioned his perfect integrity in his dealings between man and man. His highly moral and temperate habits and domestic taste, won for him the respect of all who knew him. He was industrious and enterprising almost to a fault.
“So passes away the loved and loving husband, father, brother, friend; another of California's Argonauts; another of that brave band of Owens Valley pioneers; another from among our noblest men! So closes the earthly labor of a man whose strong heart never tired in doing the work of a good man. "While yet in love with life, and rapture with the world, he passed to silence and pathetic dust." He had reached the stone in life's highway which marks the highest point, when his name is read from the Grand Roll, and he is called to lay his burden down. Though the night of death crept upon him without scarce a moment's warning, we can but believe so good a man met it without dread of its darkness, or a pang of regret, save for the sorrows of the loved ones left behind."
This nice obituary provided a lot of information. I was able to find the Thomas E. Bell family in the 1870 census of Bishop Creek, Inyo Co., California. It listed his wife Sarah and children Andrew J. age 2 years, and 2 month old Henry. In the 1910 census of Bishop Township, Inyo Co., California, I found Henry J. Bell, age 39 with wife Henrietta, age 35 and children Rollin O., age 14; Marvin A., age 4 and Henry R., 11 months old. In the 1930 census of Burlingame, San Mateo, California, I found Rollin Bell, age 34 with wife Gwendolyn, age 28 and child Bruce, age 3 years 11 months.
Now, I thought, maybe Bruce was still alive - so I checked the phone listings at for a Bruce Bell in California. I found 23 of them and one of them lived in Bishop, Inyo Co., California. I called him and he told me that his father was Rollin Bell, his grandfather was Henry Bell and his great grandfather was Thomas E. Bell. Bingo! He assured me that he would love to have the photo album and I promised to send it to him. The album has found its way home! Case closed - a fun search and a happy ending.

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