The Wayne County Outlook

Features

December 12, 2012

Photo of girl inspires search for her story

12-12-12 —  An 8-by-10 picture of a pretty girl with sparkling eyes was on the last page of the McElhaney family album. Her name—Anna Margaret Bell— was written under the photo. But the girl in the picture was not a member of the family. Who was she?

    When she was growing up in Lincoln, Juanita (McElhaney) Paulis was naturally curious about that picture. She asked her father, Ernest McElhaney, about it, but he seemed reluctant to answer. Juanita's mother, Emily, didn't say anything. But Juanita persisted until she got a brief answer from her dad.

    "Dad said it was a girl he knew from Monticello, Ky.," says Juanita.  

"That's about all he said. He was not really up front about the information."

    Ernest died in 1995. His wife kept the picture of the pretty girl on the last page of the family album.

    She would have remained a mystery if not for Juanita's new found interest in genealogy. While tracing her family history, she signed up on Ancestry.com. She began researching her own family, but then she remembered that picture of Anna Margaret Bell.

    "You can find a lot of information on Ancestry.com," says Juanita.  

"So I thought I'd put her name in there. When I did that, I got information on her."

    That is because in Virginia, Robin McNeny had also signed up for Ancestry.com and was researching her family tree. It was she who entered Anna Margaret Bell's name.

    "I sent her an email," says Juanita. "It said I have this picture of a lady, Anna Margaret Bell, who grew up in Monticello, Ky. Would this be a relative of yours?"

    Oh yes, Robin, replied, that is my mother.

    That initial email was followed by phone calls and letters. Robin had never seen the photograph of her mother that Juanita had in the album. And, of course, they were curious about the backstory. Anna Margaret and Ernest had both been raised in Monticello. Were they boyfriend-girlfriend or neighbors or classmates? There was five years' difference in their ages.

    Robin wasn't surprised that her mother had made such an impression on Ernest McElhaney that he kept her picture for 50 years.

    "My mother was a stunningly beautiful woman," says Robin. "She had bright, green eyes, auburn hair, porcelain skin and perfect teeth.  

She was slender and tall and very willowy. And she knew she was pretty. She knocked the socks off men.

    "She was a character, very sassy and outspoken. People said if you went to a party where there were couples, my mother always talked to the men. She didn't want to talk about babies. She wanted to talk about the stock market."

    Monticello being a small town, there is no surprise that Anna Margaret and Ernest knew each other. They left Kentucky in the 1940s.  

Ernest settled in southern Illinois, where he worked in the oil fields and met Emily, who had grown up in Morton. They married in 1944.

    Anna Margaret left Monticello and joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WACs) in World War II. She got married in 1942 or 1943 in Richmond, Va.

    Anna Margaret was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1950s.  

She died in 1985 of complications from MS. Robin does not remember her mother ever mentioning Ernest McElhaney. But she remembers her aunt talking about the McElhaney family from Monticello.

    Over the past few months, the connection between Juanita and Robin has grown. The two don't think Anna Margaret and Ernest ever saw each other again after leaving Monticello.

    "He must have had a terrible crush on her," says Juanita. "But why did Mom keep her picture in the album all those years? The name wasn't on the picture, but when my mom put it in the photo album, she wrote her name under the picture."

    "There must have been some connection between my mother and her father for him to hold on to her picture all those years," says Robin. "I think it's a sweet story."

    Juanita sent the original photo of Anna Margaret to Robin. Robin has no idea when it was taken, but thinks it might have been soon after her mother graduated from high school in Monticello.

    Though the story is still a mystery of sorts, one happy result of it is that Juanita and Robin have gotten to know each other. "It's like we're sisters," says Juanita, a sentiment with which Robin enthusiastically agrees.

    Wouldn't Ernest and Anna Margaret be surprised?

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