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16 August 2017

Margery Jean Howe Bell, 1946–2017

Enock and Marge Bell, June 2017

by Janice M. Sellers

Margery Howe was born June 8, 1946 in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, to parents Richard and Jean Howe and grew up in the nearby towns of Ulysses and Mansfield. She graduated from Mansfield High School and went on to earn a nursing degree from the Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City. Her specialty was pediatric intensive care. She married Enoch Bell on July 23, 1966. They lived in upstate New York, Virginia, Oregon, and Montana before settling in Moraga, California in 1983.

Even in the genealogy world, probably not a lot of people outside the San Francisco Bay area knew Marge. But in the Bay Area, she was well known and appreciated for her contributions and knowledge. She had been on staff at the Oakland FamilySearch Library for many years, and we all relied on her. She and Enoch were Saturday supervisors for two years, and then Marge moved to an Assistant Director position at the library. One of her great accomplishments was cataloguing not only the entire holdings of the Oakland library but also the collections of several of the smaller Family History Centers in the San Francisco area. She often taught genealogy classes, did indexing for FamilySearch, and organized everything within her reach.

Marge had been researching her own family history for years, and her research was of the highest caliber. She deplored the state of online family trees, whether on Ancestry, FamilySearch, or anywhere else. She was particularly aggravated when FamilySearch began its collaborative tree, which allowed others to "correct" your information. Marge had meticulously researched her tree, and she knew that any information she posted was accurate. (Once it was even copied by a Ph.D. student who didn't bother to give her credit.) While everyone else (multiple times over) had her distant female ancestor's father as one man, she was the apparently the first (and only) person who made the effort to search through the unindexed loose probate documents for the county to find that the father was a totally different man.

Marge was my genealogy mentor. She tricked me into teaching my first genealogy class, on online newspapers, but she gave me advice and feedback throughout the time I was creating the presentation. She came to that first class and let me know what went well and what could use some work. Her recommendations always improved my work and made my talks better. I can't imagine where I would be without the benefit of years of her advice and support.

Marge was also wonderful to brainstorm with. She could offer a different perspective and new insights on difficult research problems that had me stumped. Sometimes I was even able to return the favor, especially when she wanted to know if some book in the library actually could be useful for genealogy research. We enjoyed bouncing ideas off of each other.

Marge announced she was moving to Utah about the same time I had begun to make my plans to move to Oregon. She warned me that just because we each were moving didn't mean I wasn't going to hear from her when she had a question or wanted a second opinion. Unfortunately, I won't be receiving any more messages from her.

Marge had just barely moved to Utah when her health took a turn for the worse, one from which she was unable to recover. She died on July 20, 2017, surrounded by family members. The genealogy community, especially that of the Bay area and the Oakland FamilySearch Library, has lost a tremendous resource and a dear, loving friend.

Marge is survived by her husband, Enoch Bell; her children, Jonathan and Catherine; eight grandchildren; and her sisters, Joanne Horne, Carolyn Barrett, and Laurie Corbett.  Her memorial service was held in Moraga on August 12.


Photo Credit: Wade Olofson


Copyright © 2017 by California Genealogical Society

2 comments:

Cathy said...

I am so glad that I attended some of the courses she taught, and I enjoyed reading your article.

Chris Pattillo, FASLA said...

Janice, Thank you for writing this post about Marge Bell. I've heard her name many times but never met her in person. It is nice to learn more about her. Chris