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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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A penchant for genealogical pursuits

By Barry Schrader.................................September 29, 2009

Mary Bell, like thousand of others, has pursued her family tree back to the early days of the United States, even before it gained its independence. But she has gone so far as to write and publish two sizable volumes on one branch of her family in the past six years, each one containing more than 500 pages, hardbound in red leather. Even though the two books overlap telling much of the same history, between the first and second editions there were many additions—seven new family units, 52 marriages and 104 deaths. Out of the 1,365 descendants of her forebearer Robert Tevis she was able to trace 91 percent of them throughout their lives.

Author Mary Bell perusing her latest volume on Tevis family history

Seventy-four Tevis sons and daughters are still living as the second book was published this year.
These two volumes are a culmination of 20 years of research centered around three week trips to several states each summer as the NIU professor of physical education, now retired, carried out her pursuit. She visited courthouses, funeral homes, cemeteries, and distant relatives. She did it all in longhand and then hired a typist to put it in final form before being mailed to the publisher.
Bell had previously published a book in her career field “Women’s Basketball” and taught athletics at Northern from 1957 to 1988. As Director of the intercollegiate athletics program for women she coached several sports and took her women’s basketball team to the National Championships in 1972. A member of the NIU and Illinois State University (where she got her undergraduate degree) Halls of Fame, she also formed a town team in women’s softball called the DeKalb Merchants that competed around northern Illinois.
In retirement she finally found the time to complete the two genealogical books, but said her quest for more family history will never end. Her first foray into genealogy occurred during 8th grade when her teacher told her charges to “write down your family’s background.” Living with a grandfather at the time Bell was able to collect stories from him and write them down. She still has those notes to this day. Then in her sophomore year in high school another teacher urged students to look into their family tree and this time she queried her father. He gave her the name of an aunt still living in England at the time and Bell exchanged several letters with her, learning much about life over there during World War II. Many years later she took part in a genealogy workshop in England and got to visit the County of York where she located more of her father’s people.
Back stateside she had traced down the earliest of the Tevis family homes, built in 1836 and still standing today. Named Sleepy Hollow the homestead is located in Madison County, Kentucky and has several additions to the original farmhouse, which is pictured in her books. She has ancestors who fought in wars in France and Italy, even before the Civil War, and one who was a prisoner at the notorious Andersonville. Another ancestor was a prominent Californian and has a horse race named after him—the Tevis Cup, which involves a 24-hour marathon by horseback each year.
Bell didn’t find any horse thieves in her lineage, but did uncover a couple of curious deaths.. One involved the death of a wife when handing a gun through the fence to her husband and allegedly accidentally discharged. The son didn’t buy the accidental shooting and went to the authorities to have his father arrested. Another case was a suicide by a family member who was apparently being investigated by the FBI. It was never reported the reason for the feds’ interest in him.
Relatives and others with an interest in her family have written to commend her for the work she did, especially a complete index at the back of the second volume. One satisfied customer wrote “to express my appreciation for your outstanding work… It is well documented, thoroughly readable and formatted in a way which is indeed user friendly.” He added, “many thanks for a life’s work well done. Your Tevis genealogy can serve as a standard for genealogists everywhere; it is a significant addition to the profession.”
Bell has other interests in history as well. She serves as historian for DeKalb’s United Methodist Church.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115