Raymond Martin Bell (1907-1999)
click here for the Raymond Martin Bell Anthology transcribed on this site
click here for list of books authored by Raymond Martin Bell


Raymond Martin Bell was born March 21, 1907, the son of a Methodist minister.  He was always very active in the church at the local, conference, and national level.  For many years, he was the historian of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church, but he also served the church in many other ways.  He served as a lay circuit minister for 4 months in 1927 at the age of 20, walking for up to 20 miles between the four churches he served in central Pennsylvania.

He was a pioneer in the technical aspects of radio and television.  He and his cousin, a central Pennsylvania dairy farmer, built a working television set from spare parts before the first commercial television broadcasts began.  He was an amateur radio operator and communicated with persons around the world by two-way “ham” radio.

Raymond Martin Bell was a professor of physics at Washington and Jefferson College from 1937 until his retirement in 1975.  As chairman of the department, he taught the most advanced physics courses, but he also taught basic physics to most of the many premedical students at W. & J.  One of his most accomplished students was the early astronaut Joe Walker, the son of a Washington County apple grower.  At one time, Joe simultaneously held the world records for both speed and altitude.

Next to his wife Lillian and their family, his greatest love was genealogy.  He did it for fun, never for profit.  He published most of his research himself.  He typed the manuscripts on a typewriter and produced copies of his publications with a mimeograph machine and, in later years, by photocopying them.  He sold them to other genealogists for a few dollars, just enough to cover the photocopying and postage.  He was a very good genealogist and often gave others helpful tips that got their own searches unblocked and back on track.  He also received similar help from others.  He had a very large number of correspondents and collaborators, many of whom he had never met in person.  He spent many happy hours in libraries, courthouse attics, and cemeteries, looking for information.  I did not realize it at the time, but I now know that our family vacation trips were sometimes routed to pass through towns where he thought he could gather new information.  He managed to trace both his parents’ families to their early 18th century origins in Europe without ever traveling there for that purpose.  He somehow found contacts in Scotland and Germany and engaged them to help him and send him materials that were available only in those locales.  He managed to obtain photographs of the Bell family church in Middlebie, Scotland and the Seibert church in Wolfersweiler, Saarland.  The Middlebie church was photographed by a Bell relative, Maj. Gen. John Bell, USAF, who used the surveillance camera on his fighter jet to photograph the churchyard from high altitude and at very high speed.

Raymond Martin Bell's Looking Up My Pennsylvania Ancestors  recounts:

I started early and was fortunate to have parents who were interested. They helped and encouraged me. The Bells were of Ulster-
Scot descent. My father had a chart. So did my mother, who was a Seibert. This traced the line to Wolfersweiler, Saarland. My ancestor's letter of recommendation had been preserved. My son visited the German village. There were still Seiberts living there.

The www.oclc.org website lists 349 publications authored by Raymond Martin Bell.  (Ask your librarian for assistance in searching OCLC - Online Computer Library Catalog.) Many books were sent to the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and, in later years, to Allen County Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  The topics of his publications included the Bell and Seibert families, the ancestry of Richard Nixon (he stumbled onto this from another family he was researching), Centre County (Pa) Families (Cowher, Gates, Kelly, Merryman, Sharer, Whippo, Woodring, Woomer), and the history of Methodism and important Methodist families in central and western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.


He took quiet pleasure in the fact that he circulated in several unconnected worlds – physics, the Methodist church, radio and television, and genealogy.  He took pleasure and pride in writing things down, keeping records of important family events. He kept a diary for more than 80 years, writing on one line the important events of each day.

Raymond Martin Bell passed away in 1999.

Raymond Martin Bell's Looking Up My Pennsylvania Ancestors offers timeless words of wisdom:

When the genealogical bug hits you, you are done for. My three rules are:
      Fish with a big net.
      Never give up.