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Martha McFarlane McGee Bell

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In honor of women’s history month, we will look at some articles about women from NCpedia as examples of how to trace your female ancestors. This post will focus on verifying the marriages of Martha McFarlane McGee Bell, born around 1735 and died about 1820.


Martha first married John McGee about 1759. According to published memoirs about Martha (see source list below), John had been previously married with two children of his own. John left a will in 1774. At the time of John’s decease, there were five children. A few years later around 1779, Martha married William Bell. Martha died in 1820 while William died in 1821.


Although there are multiple sources that share information about her, few of them cite documentation to prove any of it. In the absence of reliable sources to back up the information, it is necessary to verify as much as possible through original records.


The first step I took to verify marriage information was to look for marriage bonds. There is no existing marriage record for either marriage. This is a common problem with marriages in North Carolina during the 1700s and early 1800s. Although there were marriage bonds, some were done by crying the banns at their church rather than recording them with the county. Another possibility is that the records are missing. Only one-third of the counties in North Carolina have no missing records. Although I cannot verify dates, there are still ways to indirectly verify the fact they were married. The key to proving the dates may be in the family papers in the Randolph County Public Library in Asheboro, NC.

Next step to verify marriage was to look for wills for her first husband (that would name her as his wife) and also for her second husband (she would not be named, but her children might be. I did find a will for the first husband, but it is very faded and hard to read. We have a book in our collection by J. Bryan Grimes Abstract of North Carolina Wills that includes John McGee’s will. It lists his wife Martha and 5 children (Samuel, John, Andrew, William, Jean, and Susanah). Martha was also executrix of his will. In addition, I found Matha mentioned in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina in volume 17, page 722. She is listed as Martha Bell and filed a petition regarding John Bell, but the entry does not say what the petition was for. I cannot find a date, but that volume was for records dated 1781-1785.

There was no will for William Bell, but there was an estate record. It doesn’t give direct proof they were married, but it does give indirect proof as William, John, and Samuel McGee are all listed as heirs of William Bell. The fact that her children were listed as heirs of her second husband insinuates they were married, even if it doesn’t prove it.

This case study of Martha McFarlane McGee Bell is just one example of how to trace a female ancestor. This is a good example of how sometimes you will not be able to find concrete proof of marriage, but the search may still yield clues.


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