Another family mystery

J Frank Bell J. Frank Bell

My mother’s parents were from Norfolk, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland. From a grandchild’s perspective, they were Southerners, but as I grew up and became interested in genealogy, I noticed another strain: my grandfather’s mother and grandmother’s father were natives of Ohio, and it turned out that the Jacksons and Gliddens had New England forebears. A more recent insight, I blush to say, is that both my maternal grandfather and his father married women from Indianapolis, and at the end of his life my grandfather’s companion (a native of Boston) had Indianapolis connections as well.

As I’ve mentioned, my great-grandfather J. Frank Bell (1878–1944) married Margaret Feller Stegall in 1936. A bit of poking around reveals that Margaret A. Feller first married Will F. Glickert in 1903, but this marriage did not last, and she reverted to her maiden name professionally and socially. Yet when she married Jesse Gordon Stegall in 1916, the announcement in the Indianapolis papers called her Miss Margaret A. Feller, while the records of Washington, D.C., listed the bride as Margaret F. Glickert. By the time her marriage to my great-grandfather was announced in the Virginia Beach papers, she was Margaret Feller Stegall, and after their marriage she went by Mrs. J. Frank Bell or Margaret Feller Bell.

(By the way, was my grandmother’s dislike of the name Margaret not just anti-Teutonic prejudice, but a visceral dislike for her stepmother-in-law?)

So did Margaret Feller Glickert Stegall Bell know my grandfather’s second wife, Lelia Blanche (Cook) Noggle (1890–1983)? Like Margaret, Aunt Lelia was a native of Indianapolis, and like Margaret she married her second husband in Washington, D.C. The Fellers – Margaret, her mother, her brother and sister-in-law – left Indianapolis in the 1910s for Norfolk, while Aunt Lelia and her first husband, Dr. Earl Orestus Noggle, lived in and around Indianapolis into the 1940s. Later, Aunt Lelia and her mother Nora Salmon Cook moved to the District, where Mrs. Cook was buried in 1964. I never heard my grandfather mention any connection between Aunt Lelia and his stepmother, but then he consistently misremembered Margaret’s name as Marjorie.

After Aunt Lelia’s death, my grandfather lived with Catherine Elizabeth Lapenta (1909–2000), whose family had been friends with the Noggles in Indianapolis: when Catherine came to Washington, D.C., she looked up Aunt Lelia and my grandfather, and the three of them became friends. Catherine was born in Boston and grew up in Indiana; after a peripatetic life she died in Florida several years after my grandfather.

All of which adds up to coincidence, I suppose. Margaret Feller left Indianapolis for Norfolk, where she met my great-grandfather; Lelia Noggle met my grandfather in Washington, D.C., thirty years later; Catherine Lapenta, a friend of Aunt Lelia’s from Indianapolis, befriended my grandfather sometime thereafter. Yet there is also that common thread of origins in Indiana, so perhaps Margaret and Lelia (like Lelia and Catherine) were aware of one another years before they married into the Bell family of Virginia.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward