Far-flung relations

My great-great-grandfather John Francis Bell (1839–1905)[1] is largely a mystery: he appears unheralded in Richmond, Virginia, in the mid-nineteenth century; his son’s 1915–37 journal makes no reference that I can find to any family on the Bell side. (My great-great-grandmother, known after her marriage as Bell Bell, was Isabella J. Phillips, of a large family centered in Henrico County; I have yet to see any mention of her cousins, some of whom my grandfather knew well.)

Almost all references to family in J. Frank Bell’s journal, then, are to his wife, his children,[2] or to members of the extended Jackson and Eggleston families to which my great-grandmother’s parents belonged. In late 1921, for example, Frank notes “Estelle’s cousin Mr. Randolph spent the afternoon with us.”[3] One is again struck by the formality of a century ago, since Frank is speaking of a younger contemporary and first cousin by marriage: Herman Hollister “Harry” Randolph (1880­–?), president of the Superior Thacher Coal Company in Williamson, West Virginia, in 1918.

Click on the images to expand them.

It would appear that my great-grandmother Estelle (Jackson) Bell was close to her first cousin Nellie Virginia Randolph (1883–1956),[4] who married Dr. Henry Reginald Fairfax in 1907, since Frank and Estelle’s younger child, my great-aunt Nancy, was born Frances Fairfax Bell in 1909.[5] I will return to Frank’s diary next time, but in the course of researching the Randolph cousins I stumbled upon the wedding announcement illustrated here. It gives me quite a lot of information about a family I thought I understood, but I now see that one of Nellie’s older half-sisters was married in 1907 and that Avery Randolph was a sister, not a brother![6]

Harry, Nellie, and Avery (sometimes Annie) Randolph were the children of Marion Orland Randolph and Effie Virginia Jackson, the elder of the two sisters of my great-great-grandfather Oliver Doddridge Jackson (Frank Bell’s father-in-law). Effie Jackson married, first, Clarence G. Brown, with whom she had two daughters, Luella and Flora. As so often, it looks like M. O. Randolph, who would become a coal mine owner, helped his brother-in-law O. D. Jackson – a canny operator in his own right – to get his foot on the ladder. The two families lived for a time in Columbus, Ohio, before the Randolphs moved to Mingo County, West Virginia, and the Jacksons settled in Norfolk, Virginia.

My great-grandmother was between Flora Brown Schaal and Nellie Randolph in age, but they were evidently close. So why, then, in June 1907, were my great-grandparents not among the very small family party at Nell’s marriage to Dr. Fairfax? And who was Miss Mabel Rathbun of California, a “cousin of the bride”?

Nellie’s parents were present, along with her sister Avery, but where was Harry Randolph, her elder brother? The other identifiable family member present was Mary Levina “Vita” Jackson (1858–1944), the younger sister of O. D. Jackson and Effie Randolph. She was the widow of George W. DeVore in 1907, and about a year later she married Lucius Albert Whitmore (1858–1928).

I’ve opened a can of worms with this family, I can see, as my great-grandmother’s first cousin Avery’s husband was, it turns out, Dr. Thomas Longworth, the uncle (of the half-blood) of Nicholas Longworth, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and son-in-law of President Theodore Roosevelt, a relationship which the Jackson family of a century ago would have well-understood![7]

To be continued.


[1] John Francis Bell’s Findagrave entry includes an obituary notice (new to me) that describes his recent arrival in Beaufort Co., N.C.; at his son’s request, his body was sent to his former home in Richmond.

[2] J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944) was married to Minnie Estelle Jackson 1902–35 and to Margaret Feller Stegall in 1936. Frank and Estelle’s children were Frederick Jackson Bell (1903–1994) and Frances Fairfax Bell (1909–1997).

[3] Entry for 3 November 1921.

[4] The author, with Helen Allen Ripley (under the pseudonym of Helen Randolph), of a series of young adult novels.

[5] This name, to which my family has no genealogical claim at all, was also given to my mother and my sister!

[6] Note, too, the modern source of this clipping from The Democrat-Sentinel (Logan, Ohio), 27 June 1907, p. 8.

[7] As so often, on both sides of my family, I have never heard reference to such a kinship…

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