The J.F. Bell Funeral Home Records

About the Project About the J.F. Bell Funeral Home and Family About the African-American Genealogy Group
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Marker for James Gordon

J.F. Bell Funeral Home marker for James Gordon in Piedmont Baptist Church Cemetery, Albemarle County

About the Project

Since 1917 the J.F. Bell Funeral Home has served the community of central Virginia. When members of the community and of local families want to learn about people and places of the community's past, the Bell family helps them. In the summer of 2001, the Bell family decided to collaborate with the local African-American Genealogy Group to make it easier to provide information about earlier generations. As part of the effort records of the people buried by the Bell Funeral Home before 1970 were located, reorganized, and the burial information compiled into an electronic database.

About the J.F. Bell Funeral Home and family

J.F. Bell

John Ferris Bell (Jan. 14,1890-Oct.10,1959) was born and educated in Petersburg, Virginia. Following his graduation from Hampton Institute, he taught tailoring for four years at Lincoln Institute, Jefferson City, Missouri. He then trained as a Funeral Director and Mortician in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. John A. Jackson, his cousin from Petersburg who had become a dentist in Charlottesville, pointed out the city's need for a mortician. Mr. Bell moved from Chicago to organize the J.F. Bell Funeral Home which continues today as the oldest family run funeral home in Central Virginia and the area's oldest existing business owned by people of color.

Initially the business was located on Vinegar Hill at 275 West Main Street in a two-story brick building that was shared with the Messenger Printing Company operated by John G. Shelton. While a bachelor John F. Bell lived across the street at 278 West Main Street in a wooden boarding house run by relatives of the locally well-known Inge family. After his marriage to Maude Lee of Charlottesville (married April 3, 1919 in Chicago), the couple moved to Mrs. Fagans' boarding house on Preston Avenue. Maude Lee Bell assisted her new husband and later became a Funeral Director. Their business prospered, and around 1925 a local contractor, Charles Coles, built the J.F. Bell Funeral Home with an upstairs apartment for the family. It remains as the main part of the funeral home at 108 6th Street N.W.

The Bell's had four children. Rosamond Bell Jemison taught at Jefferson School in Charlottesville for many years. John F. Bell, Jr. trained as a mortician in Boston, Massachusetts then apprenticed with his father in the family business. After some years he and his wife, a nurse, settled in her home town of Cleveland where it was easier for her to find work. While in Ohio John F. Bell, Jr. became an accountant. In later years he returned to Charlottesville to rejoin the family business. The Bell's two youngest children were twin sons Henry H. Bell and Raymond L. Bell. Like his older brother, Henry studied in Boston and then apprenticed to his father and became an expert mortician. As active entrepreneurs, Henry and his wife Verlease owned a retail store on Vinegar Hill that they later moved to 5th Street S.W. With an initial fleet of three cabs, Henry and Verlease Bell are also credited with starting the areas first black-owned local Taxi company. In the early 1950s Raymond left his studies as a graduate student at Boston University to work as a Funeral Director with his father and his twin. In recent years the third generation of the family has entered the business. One of Henry's daughters, Deborah Bell Burks, and her husband Martin Burks III are now actively involved in the Bell Funeral Home.

Consistent through the generations has been a Bell family tradition of contributing to the community. All of the men of the family served in the U.S. Armed Forces. John F. Bell served in World War I, his three sons in World War II and his grandson-by-marriage is a retired Lt. Colonel. Both J.F. Bell and J.F. Bell, Jr. were active in the Masons, Henry with his church and Ray with the local NAACP. As their Public Relations chairman during the desegregation of local schools, Ray took a vital role in keeping policies clear. His skillful handling of the national press, such as reporters from the N.Y. Times and a young Mike Wallace, earned him wide respect. After some persuasion, Ray became the first African-American to serve on the Charlottesville School Board.

About the African American Genealogy Group

The African American Genealogy Group of Charlottesville and Albemarle County first met in November 1995 at the offices of the Region Ten Community Services then on Market Street in Charlottesville. Twelve people attended the initial organizational meeting. Its co-founders, Julian Burke and Caruso Brown, continue to encourage members working on stories of their immediate and extended families. Since 1996 the group has presented exhibits which celebrate our heritage and helps encourage people to recall family and friends. These exhibits are displayed at the annual AfricanAmerican Cultural Arts Festival, at libraries, schools, community centers, and other gathering places. As in this work, the group also assists with other projects that add to community understanding.

As an informal group the African American Genealogy Group supports its efforts by occasional fund raising, dues, or donations.

Copies of some of the group's research efforts have been placed in a section of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Historical Collection located in the Albemarle Historical Society's building at 200 2nd St. NE.

About the Database

The following information about people buried from the Bell Funeral Home has been collected from copies of death certificates (sometimes typed and other times handwritten) and/or from transportation of corpse forms that accompanied remains shipped from one place to another. By general agreement information on cause of death, specific address of deceased, occupation or financial information has been omitted.As with transcription from any handwritten documents judgments had to be made in reading. When a name spelling error was known to the transcribers, the information was nonetheless entered as given on the original papers.

Transportation forms typically included only name, date and place of death although some were nearly as complete as a death certificate. Transportation forms could be one of several varieties. Shipment: from another state or other Virginia locations to Charlottesville/ Albemarle; from Charlottesville to Albemarle; or from Charlottesville to other Virginia locations. In many instances bodies were brought to Charlottesville without the precise place of burial given.

As much of the following information that was available has been recorded in the database.

Last Name

First Name (followed by middle name if other than maiden name)

Date of Birth (given in the format month/day/year)

Place of Birth

Parents' Name(s)

Maiden Name; name of Mother before marriage

Date of death (given in the format month/day/year). In a few instances when the date of death was missing but the date of burial provided the missing death date was calculated from the date of burial minus two days.

Place of Death (given as fully as possible). Some hospital names reveal the cause of death so they have not been included. The main of example of this is the large number of deaths from tuberculosis sanatoriums. Those who died at University of Virginia Hospital are noted as dying in Charlottesville.

Place of Burial. Precision on the papers varied from the name of the Church cemetery, family cemetery, community name, or transported to Charlottesville (see above).

Other information. Includes information to help identify the individual, such as spouse's name, approximate age at death, Social Security Number or note of service in World War I.