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.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. 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.

8 thoughts on “Another family mystery

  1. Scott, After reading your post, I am wondering if there was not a school or an almuni connection between these folks. Such relationships do not seem to generally occur by chance, although they certainly can, but rather by circumstances in common that somehow bind people – through the past, or in coming together at a later date. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that some or all of them had gone to school together.

    Question too: Was your grandmother necessarily anti-teutonic on all levels? I’m no expert here, but it seems there was a lot of that going around those days. In my own family, I think the name “Margaret” reveberates through from the Palatinates of the Mowhawk Valley. We did not know any better!

    Best regards,


  2. Jeff, I think the school idea is intriguing. Aunt Lelia’s husband and Catherine’s father were doctors, so that is I think the connection, but Margaret was only six years older than Lelia, so some connection like that is certainly possible.

    The irony about my grandmother is that she herself was a quarter German — but preferred to think of the Bouchers as French. She was also educated in Belgium just after the end of the First World War, so that probably colored her view as well!

  3. Interesting — At least Frank Bell did not end-up ‘ . . his own granpaw . . . ” as the old song goes. 😉

  4. Scott I just thought I would share a little. I was raised in Indiana and the nick name used for Margaret was sometime Marg or Marjorie. Maybe that is why your grandfather referred to her in that way. You might also be interested to know there is a book called The Bells of Indiana. I believe it is available through the library genealogy department in Sullivan, Indiana or Indianapolis, Indiana. I found information on line at one time but not sure what the website was. We are related to the Bell family of Indiana. Since I am up in years myself I can only tell you how it used to be. Today they may not use names the way they did back then and it makes it harder for our younger generations to understand our old peculiar ways. . I found your story very interesting.

    1. Dear Patricia: Thanks! That would make sense — and is one reason why it took so long to actually identify her. Her name was also a bit of a moving target, as she is listed as Marguerite Bell in the 1940 Census.

  5. What was the push and pull of this migration pattern ? My own grandparents, as well, relocated to Norfolk Virginia about this time period. Mother and her family from Maine (11 generation Mainers) and my Dad’s family from New Jersey …. after recently migrating from the UK. The push and pull was simply that neither Maine (still true ) or New Jersey offered the same opportunities that Norfolk did at that time: the area was a mecca in maritime, transportation and public health initiatives. Unlike New England, tidewater citizens liked the French and associated this nation with the British defeat at Yorktown. Hence it is still very common for tidewater children to have French middle names. While born in Virginia, I would say that I never adopted the negative values of the area: racism, bigotry but I did adopt the positive ones — basic civility and a love of colonial history.

  6. If you have any residence addresses in Indiana, maybe the neighbors or older townspeople would remember these families?

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