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Cemeteries’ secrets reveal family history

POSTED: November 8, 2009 1:00 a.m.

The Bell family has been prominent in North Georgia history for generations, producing farmers, politicians, athletes, coaches, educators and other professional and business men and women.

Ancestors are scattered in cemeteries throughout Hall and surrounding counties.

The community of Belmont near the Hall-Jackson counties line derives its name from a small mountain near one of the Bell family’s home, according to late historian Sybil McRay.

Two ancient cemeteries on Ellison Farm Road in south Hall County contain Bell ancestors. One is surrounded by a fence protecting it from a subdivision that sprang up around it several years ago. Although descendants and others tidy it up occasionally, it quickly becomes overgrown, hiding graves marked by nameless rocks.

Engraved tombstones, however, help tell some of the stories of the Bell family in what has been called the old Bell cemetery or Mount Carmel Cemetery. The other cemetery a short distance away is known as Old Liberty Methodist Cemetery.

Bell researchers say Mount Carmel Baptist Church originally was at the site of the cemetery by that name and that it moved in 1887 to what is now Winder Highway and became Chestnut Mountain Baptist Church, now Chestnut Mountain Church, in 1892.

Numerous family members have researched their ancestors, answering many questions, but often turning up other questions that have gone unanswered.

Emory Bell and Christine Bell Perdue attended church together for years, but discovered at a Bell reunion they were kin to each other. Both have considerable information on their families.

One of the mysteries is the location of the grave of Francis Cicero Bell, Emory’s great-great-great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran who moved from North Carolina to the Belmont area in 1803. Emory believes he is buried inside the Old Liberty Methodist cemetery or just outside it. There is a marker with his name on it in the Mount Carmel/Bell cemetery, but Emory said a descendant placed it there even though he isn’t buried there.

Francis’s son, James Montgomery Bell, is buried in the Mount Carmel cemetery, along with his wife and a son, who also was named Francis Cicero.

Emory Bell said most of those buried in the Old Liberty Methodist cemetery are Bell descendants or relatives.

Christine Bell Perdue is a descendant of Francis Cicero Bell Sr. and Arizona A. Merritt Bell. She recalled one family story that a rift developed between Anna Merritt and her daughter, nicknamed "Aria," when her daughter announced she would marry Francis Cicero Bell. There already were too many Bells in the family, she is said to have told her daughter. The Bell and Merritt families produced at least three married couples.

Another story told at a Bell reunion was that Francis Bell lost a hand in a sorghum mill accident. Afterward he continued to feel a phantom pain as if his hand were still attached. A doctor told the family to put the severed hand in a shoebox with the palm facing up and bury it in the family cemetery. Later they would dig up the shoebox and face the hand palm down, and the pain would disappear. So they did, and it did.

When he died from blood poisoning from a scratch from a poisonous plant, Francis is said to have been buried next to the shoebox.

Francis Bell and his wife lived on what is now Ellison Farm Road off Tanners Mill Road near the site of the old Tanners Mill. Lucy Merritt cared for Francis in his last days. He wanted her to have $40 he had saved because of her nursing. But when she told the story to other relatives when the estate was settled, the executors decided to divide the money among all the heirs.

Lucy might have bought a sewing machine had she gotten the $40; instead she sold butter and eggs long enough to save for a machine she used the rest of her life.

McEvers, Pirkles, Skeltons, Kilgores, Hudgins, Porters, Browns, Veals and Boggs are buried in the Old Liberty Methodist and Mount Carmel/Bell cemeteries on Ellison Farm Road, according to Emory Bell. Many of those families married into the Bell families.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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