Monday, January 25, 2010

A peal of Bells

There's no such thing as plain sailing in family history research. It's not an ideal pursuit for the perfectionist, as research never ends and there will always be gaps and brick walls to contend with. There may be unexpected complications, too. For example, I found that the surname Bell occurs in my maternal and paternal lines. William Bell the mariner (see picture left) was my paternal great great grandfather, but there was a whole raft of other Bells who cropped up in my maternal ancestry.

Bell is a commonly-found name in UK: according to some sources it occurs 1669 times per million people (in the British Isles). It is prevalent in Cumberland, which was William Bell's place of origin. However, there are thousands of Scottish Bells, too, and that's where the Bells of my maternal line originate.

Some recent members of this line were keen to establish a connection with Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone (among other things). Trying to trace forward from a famous individual in the hope of linking him/her with your own family tree is an endeavour doomed from the start. Far better to plod backwards, beginning with yourself (the known), through each generation establishing as much documentary evidence as possible for every individual. So far, I have found no such evidence that my maternal Bells are related to Alexander Graham Bell - though I am keeping an open mind.

Exploring the meaning and etymology of a surname can be rewarding, as well as giving clues as to a family's geographical origins. I've found Reaney and Wilson's Dictionary of English Surnames very useful.

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