On April 21, 1784, a woman named Irene Bell married my fifth great grandfather, David Wait (b. May 20, 1754).
Who was Irene Bell, born on October 20, 1764, and a resident of Perth Amboy, NJ? What was her background? Who were her parents? The few clues I have about her have been gleaned from a biographical sketch on her son James (b. 1824) that appeared in a book, Biographical and portrait cyclopedia of the Third congressional district of New Jersey (p. 500-502), and that is that she and David were active in the Perth Amboy Presbyterian Church and parents to nearly a dozen children. I found a separate source stating she was born in Connecticut (FamilySearch™ Ancestral File v4.19, AFN: 9TX4-0G), but no evidence was provided to substantiate that.
Irene died in Perth Amboy on May 31, 1804, at age 39, her last child having been born in 1801. David’s will, written in 1810 and mentioned in the last post, contains the name of Andrew Bell. I decided to research this Andrew to see whether he was in any way related to Irene.
I discovered an Andrew Bell who had been a loyalist and served in the NYC office of the British commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War. After the war his loyalist ties did not have the impact on his future life that they may have had otherwise, likely because Andrew’s sister, Cornelia Bell, was married to William Paterson, a prominent patriot and attorney-general for New Jersey. Eventually Paterson served in the senate, as governor, and as a member of the Supreme Court. Andrew Bell, who had studied law in Perth Amboy before the war, returned to Perth Amboy after the war and began a new chapter in his life as a successful merchant. The NJ Historical Society’s biographical note describes him as having been appointed the collector of Perth Amboy’s port in 1800 for the final year of John Adams’ presidency. During this time period, he was also the deputy surveyor general of the East Jersey Proprietors and for approximately thirty-five years, ca. 1806-1842, served as the surveyor general. The Historical Society has in its archives a fascinating collection of his personal papers, land surveys, financial records, maps, and letters.
So, I was intrigued; could Cornelia and Andrew have had a sister named Irene? Well, I discovered the answer unfortunately was “no”. Cornelia is listed in a 1997 book on famous NJ women (**Burstyn, p. 33-35) and it is stated that she was the oldest child and only daughter of NJ landowner John Bell and his wife. So while I think this Andrew Bell may very well have been a witness to David Wait’s will, he was not Irene’s brother. Could Irene have been related to him in some other way? A cousin, perhaps?
Another angle that occurred to me was that perhaps Irene was the daughter of German or Dutch immigrants who had changed their name from Behl, Bale, or Bel. The reason that crossed my mind is because in the Wait family Bible, daughter Margaret Wait’s name is not spelled “Margaret”; its spelling looks more like “Margratha,” and Irene’s own name does not appear to be spelled as “Irene.” It looks more like “Rinea” or “Irinea.” Could Irene have been an Americanized version?
I’ve searched every way possible on Family Search and have come up empty handed. I’ve searched the trees on World Connect to no avail. A lead came up with the Bel surname, but upon further investigation, those Bels, members of the Dutch Reformed Church in Hackensack, NJ, had no daughters named Irene or anything approximate to Irene. Their one son also had no daughters by that name.
I have also searched New Jersey Marriage Records, 1665-1800, and early Connecticut Marriages, and come up with nothing. Bell was a prominent family name in early Connecticut history, but I could find no record of an Irene. Perhaps they were married in a different state? I tried early Pennsylvania records as that is where Andrew Bell was from, but found nothing there.
The next best step appears to be to try to access burial records for the Alpine Cemetery in Perth Amboy. The First Presbyterian Church yard does not appear to have any grave sites; I suspect if it ever had a graveyard, it was moved to Alpine to make way for encroaching city growth. In any case, Irene Bell Wait is my brick wall. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!
For Update (2019) visit this post.