#17 Marna Bell – Marine Corp. Nurse

Lt. Marna Bell, US Marine NurseMarna Gertrude Bell
12/29/1907 San Jose, Santa Clara, CA
8/1972 San Francisco, CA

Father: Alfred Buhrman Bell
Mother: Lona C Sherburne
Husband: Herbert Sydney Stewart

With Memorial Day just around the corner I am going to pay tribute to my maternal grandmother who served in World War II as a Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corp. That’s right women in the military. Sometimes we all forget that women played a vital role in the military during war time. My grandmother, Marna G. Bell was a Nurse, stationed a Marine Hospital on the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco, California during World War II. The picture above is with her Marine Corp Cape as she poses on the grounds of the base.

My grandmother was born in 1907 San Jose, California to Alfred Buhrman Bell and Lona C Sherburne. She graduated San Jose High School in 1925 and then attended Santa Clara County Nursing School and graduating September 14, 1927. The picture of the three nurses below was taken in front of the Santa Clara Nurses School, none of these nurses are my grandmother, she had a photo album of her time there with loads of pictures of her fellow student friends. I have a large photo of the graduating class in front of the building, however, haven’t quite figured out how to scan it.

Marna’s father died when she was a baby and her mother died right after her graduation from Nurse training. Her mother was so proud of her, she had always wanted to be a nurse herself, however, her father never allowed it. To see her live this dream was of great comfort to Lona.

In 1930, 22 year old Marna was working in a Private Hospital in San Jose and living with and caring for, her 74 years grandmother Lizzie Sherburne who was very ill at this time. Lizzie passed in 1934 and the house sold and Marna still unmarried moved in with her sister Grace and her husband Otis, in Berkeley, CA. There she got a job as a Private Nurse. This was a time in history when jobs were few and families had to pull together to keep food on the table. Grace’s husband Otis was unemployed during these times and while he was grateful for his young sister-in-laws financial help, he also felt a little put out that he was not the provider of his family. However, times were tough and Otis, accepted Marna financial assistance. Not long after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Marna, like many other nurses, joined the US Armed Forces. Marna was stationed at Marine Hospital at the Presidio Army Base, in San Francisco, CA. She moved into the Nurse’s housing, which was one of the best times in her life and where she made lifelong friends. She attended St. James Episcopal Church, walking distance from Marine Hospital. This is where she met my widower grandfather, Herbert Stewart, and his two pre – teen daughters. They married Easter Sunday, 1944 and moved to the Richmond District of San Francisco, and almost exactly nine months later my mother was born. Below is a picture of my grandmother Marna Gertrude Stewart (Bell) and my mother Anne Marie Stewart on the back porch of their home in San Francisco.

My grandmother always was a nurse, after my mother was born and the war was over, she worked at French Hospital on Geary Street in San Francisco. I remember going to visit her at the hospital with my mom and all the other nurses hugging me and giving me candy. She died August 1972 of Cancer, in her home with my mother caring for her.

Santa Clara Nurse School Cert.3 nurses Santa Clara Nurse CollegeMarna & Anne, back porch



#16 Sarah Bird – Convict, Publican and Mother

Sarah Bird

b. abt 1770 Surrey, England

d. 9/23/1842 Sydney, Australia

This is the second time I’ve written about Sarah Bird, my convict ancestor. Sarah was sentence to seven years in Australia for Grand Larceny.

25 years old Sarah was transported from England on October 1795 on “The Indispensable”, a female convict ship bound for Sydney, Australia. The travel was less interesting then some ships with only 2 deaths during the voyage. On April 30, 1796 the women arrived and were sent to Botany Bay where work duties where assigned.  Sarah worked hard and was smart about trading her valuables for the right price. She stayed out of trouble and within a short amount of time was allowed certain freedoms within the community. One of the freedoms was to engage in her own business. Sarah applied and was granted a license to open her home as a “public house”. She was still “unpardoned” however the application was granted in 1797 and Sarah Bird was the first women granted a Publican License in Australia. The “Three Jolly Settlers“ was the name on the sign that hung on the small whitewashed structure made of timber shingles, four walls, a few chairs and tables and in the back latter to the loft where Sarah slept. It was important the Sarah kept what the government called “a moral character”; otherwise the government would remove her license claiming she was of “unfit character” for the community.

A short time after she opened The “Three Jolly Settlers”, Sarah became involved with a convict by the name of John Morris. We will never know the relationship between the two, however, in 1798, just one year after she opened the “Three Jolly settlers”, John convince Sarah in leaving her home and business and move with him to Hawkebury, where he was granted a license for an Inn. During this time in Hawkebury, Sarah and John had two daughters, Sarah born 1801 and Anne born 1803. John was not a strong business man and went bankrupt and lost the Inn shortly after Anne was born. The family then moved to Norfolk Island to start fresh.

Things were never the same, John reverted back to his convict ways and became more violent with time. In 1804 he attempted to kill Sarah by slitting her throat. John was sentence to thirty years hard labor.

Sarah and her daughters returned to Sydney and there she raised her girls with the surname Bird. Sarah died in 1842, there is no obituary that has been found or death record or grave site. Sadly, the first female publican of Australia dies without a mark.

Sarah is one of my favorite ancestors, so brave and strong, sent half way around the world to a place very different from her home. She endured and clever wits and strength was passed to her daughters. Her daughter Anne became a published writer and printer for the ‘Syndey Gazzette” and Sarah married and had a large family that help build and shape New South Wales, AU.

#15 Alfred Buhrman Bell – died age 27, San Jose, CA

Alfred Buhrman Bell

5/3/1881 Lyons, KS

11/4/1908 San Jose, CA

Baptismal – 4/8/1882 Evangelical Lutheran Church, Topeka, KS

Parents: Martin Luther Bell & Lydia Ann Oaks

Alfred was named after the Pastor presiding at Jacob’s Lutheran Church from 1864-1871. This would have been the family congregation while living in Washington County, MD. Alfred’s sister, Lyday May was born in Hagerstwon, Washington, MD during this time then a few years later the family up and moved to Kansas where Alfred was born.

1885 Kansas State Census-Shawnee County, Kansas: Martin 47yrs; Lydia A 41yrs; Harry 17yrs; Morland 15yrs; Lyday 7yrs; Burhman 3yrs

1900 US Census-resides Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri – Martin L 60yrs; Lydia A 54yrs; Lyday M 22yrs; music teacher; A Buhrman 19yrs; Luther K 12yrs.

From some of the documents and reference that I’ve come across I believe he went by his middle name Buhrman, although no one can verify that for me at this time. I will refer to him as Buhrman since this is my belief.

Buhrman moved to San Jose, CA about 1902 to live with his brother Moreland who already had started his family and career there. With his brothers family Buhrman attended Trinity Episcopal Church where he met Lona Sherburne, originally of Oberlin, OH. They married at the church on December 16, 1906 and had a wedding party at the home of Lona’s parents. They had all the guest sign a napkin to remind them of their special day.

By 1907 he and Lona had three children. Grace Elizabeth Bell born 1904; Cyril Sherburne Bell b. 1906 and Marna Gertrude Bell b. 1907 and moved to 975 Palm Street, San Jose, CA.

Buhrman started working for a land developer, clearing land for tract homes. His father in law was helping in the dealings of real-estate and land development was a potential industry for making great money at this time. In November of 1908, while clearing off a piece of land with a steam tractor, the boiler on the tractor exploded. Buhrman died hours later, leaving Lona to raise her three babies alone. Alfred Buhrman Bell, died at the age of 27 and is buried at Oak Hill Memorial Park, San Jose, CA, there is no head stone where he lay and I’m not sure why, maybe the family could not afford a stone. Lona never remarried and raised her “three little bells” without their father.

A Buhrman Bell _ Tracktor



#14 An Easter Wedding

An Easter Wedding –

My maternal grandparents were married Easter Sunday 1944 at St. James Episcopal Church on California Street, San Francisco, CA.  My grandfather, Herbert S. Stewart,  was a widower with two pre-teen daughters and my grandmother, Marna G. Bell, never before married, was a nurse in the US Marine Corp. working a Marine Hospital on the Presidio.


#13 Uncle Paul

Paul John Fennell

b. 8/14/1909 San Francisco, CA
d. 11/1983 Napa, CA

Paul was your typical Irish San Franciscan bachelor. My first memory of my Uncle Paul was that he lived with my grandpa (Martin Fennell), whom he called, “Bud”.  I asked my uncle why he called my grandfather “Bud” and his reply was that they were ” buddies”.  In fact, my grandfather thought his name was Bud until he started school and the Nuns sternly informed him his name was Martin and that was the name he was to respond to and no other.  Uncle Paul also had a tattoo of a hula dancer that read U.S. Navy under her.  I was fascinated by this tattoo and remember always wanting to get a peek of it.

When I say typical Irish San Franciscan, I mean; never married, drank often, spent time at the neighborhood bar and always lived with a sibling for a time then would live with another.  He loved and spoiled all his nieces and nephews.

The third of four children of Martin Fennell and Mary Cobine, living in a beautiful house on Parnassus Ave, along with his maternal grandmother Kate Cobine and Aunt Anne Cobine until she married.  At the age of 12 his mother died and at that time my grandfather 14 had to quit school to drive a milk wagon to earn money for the family and stay home to be with the younger children.  Their father unfortunately was consumed with grief and ran his mason and building business to the ground and lost the house they were living in.  The children were cared for by aunts and uncles in the city, however, they “had each other” as my uncle used to say.

In 1941 WWII – Paul enlisted in the Navy and served throughout the war in the South Pacific.  Five months of service were with the Commander 1st Group Thirteen Amphibious Forces – Iwo Jima.  Also Participating Flotillia Five campaigns in New Guinea.

Uncle Paul & baby Kathleen at baptism in SF

Uncle Paul holding my Aunt Kathy (baptismal pic w/godfather 12/1941) – Kathleen Ann Fennell

Paul must have loved being at sea because as soon as the war was over he signed up with the Merchant Marines for many years.  When he was home for leave (San Francisco) he would stay at my widower grandfather’s house with my dad and aunt.  My aunt told me he would drive her to her dancing lesson, it wasn’t until years later the rumor of his affair with her dance teacher was revealed.  As my mom would say, “still waters run deep”.

In 1965, Paul was out on a ship somewhere and a wire was delivered simply stated –   “Baby Boy Fennell”, born March 15, 7 pounds exactly.  The shipmates surprised my uncle by throwing a party and breaking into the mess for the ice cream.  He didn’t have the heart to tell them the child was his great nephew, not his own.

My Uncle died in Yountville Veterans Hospital in Napa California in 1983.  He is buried in the Veterans Cemetery in San Bruno, CA with his brother Edwin whom also served in WWII Navy.

I love this picture, he was always sitting at the Formica table in my grandfather’s kitchen, smoking a cigarette, having drink and looking at the newspaper.

I feel it’s important to write and remember the ancestors that didn’t have children.  My bachelor Uncle was a hero in war time and fought for our country, he was a strong influence in the raising of my father and aunt when his brother became a widower and he traveled more and had experience that we’ll never know.

Uncle Paul in grandpa's kitchenscan0001


#12 John P Fennell – Shot by Pugilist

John P Fennell – Shot in the Head by Pugilist Patsy McGee

b. 4/17/1876 San Francisco, CA

m. Josephine V. Rielly

d. 10/29/1944 Stanford Hospital, Palo Alto, CA

son of Patrick Fennell & Margaret Luddy

Intermit Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, CA – Section U; Area 10; Grave 49

For those of you that don’t know a “Pugilist” is a boxer or prize fighter.  In 1906 San Francisco was just coming out of the “Barbary Coast” era, however gambling along the waterfront was still a common past time as was fighting.

This is a summary of some archive news articles I found while researching my Fennell family in San Francisco.

December 1908 about 8 pm – John P Fennell was walking along Kearney Street in the company of Florence O’Neil, State Assemblyman and John J. Sullivan, a former Police Officer, when Patsy McGee,

approached the men and abusively and struck Mr. O’Neil in the face, Fennell then tried to interfere, however he got shot by McGee.

John Fennell did not know Patsy McGee and told him to “go about his business”, McGee then became abusive and lunged a O’Neil.  Fennell shouted for McGee to stop, took one step toward him when McGee pulled out his revolver and shot twice.  McGee the ran off with O’Neil in hot pursuit of him and followed McGee to the Central Police Station on Kearney Street, where McGee handed the revolver to officers R. G. Skain & McIntosh.  Just as the weapon was passed to the officers O’Neil arrived shouting that Fennell had been shot.

McGee was promptly arrested and Fennell was taken by wagon to St. Francis Hospital.

John Fennell lay in St. Francis Hospital with bullet fractures in his skull; both bullets entered the temple and emerged from the back of the head.  The police brought Patsy Mcgee to the hospital and as poor John lie there on the operating table, he slowly pointed at him as the man the shot him with deliberate attempt of murder. Per the doctors, John Fennell is in critical condition and may die.

On the way to the jail, Patsy McGee stated he was “sorry for the shooting”.  He also stated that he thought the man behind Fennell (who was Sullivan) had a gun and was going to shot Fennell. He stated that he approached with the intention of saving Fennell, however, he was told to “Mind his own business” and O’Neil attacked him first.  He then saw a gun glimmering in Fennell’s hand as Fennell rushed toward him.  McGee later contradicted himself by stating he saw no gun in Fennell’s hand.

Patsy McGee is being detained and the Police have reported he has a bad police record.

McGee pleas self-defense – McGee told Police Officer Skain & McIntosh that Assemblyman elect, Florence O’Neil approached him in a threatening manner and when he heard one of the man yell “give him Strawberries” , he knocked O’Neil down.  Then the other two (John P Fennell & ex-police Officer J. J. Sullivan) began to close in on him.  He then pulled out his revolver and fired two shots.

January 1909 – Patrick McGee, Pugilist was booked yesterday on a charge of assault to murder John P. Fennell.  After being detained in prison since 12/20/1908, when he shot John Fennell, chief deputy of the sheriff’s office, in Kearney St near Post. Although Fennell will not die, he will always now be an invalid.

McGee gets 18 months in County Jail.  McGee’s brother in law Thomas Finn, Sheriff Elect and many friends tried to induce the judge to release McGee on probation.  Judge Cabaniss did not budge on the 18 months in jail for assault with intent to murder John P Fennell, Chief Jailer.

#11 Mary Charlotte Cobine

Mary Charlotte Cobine

b. 11/1882 New York City

d. 2/17/1921 San Francisco, CA

 When I started my family research, years ago I felt very alone on my fathers.  The only surname I knew was my father’s surname and his mother’s maiden name.  Thanks dad.  Unfortunately, not many relatives on that side of my family are still alive.  First time I saw the surname Cobine was on my great Uncle Paul’s birth certificate, mother’s name, Mary Cobine, born NYC.  So the hunt began. I found only one Cobine family living in Oakland, California (across the bay from San Francisco, where my grandfather was born).  The 1900 US Fed Census reflected Mary Charlotte Cobine age 19, living with her father John Cobine, mother Catherine Cobine and younger sister Anne Cobine 13 years.  Both girls were born in New York City.  This was the first record I found of the Cobine family in California, I did, however, find much on John Cobine living in Oakland & San Francisco from 1875 forward.  It may be possible that John moved out from New York before the family to establish his business or perhaps he was back and forth, but never mind this is about his eldest daughter Mary.

 Unfortunately, I have found no records of this Cobine family in New York City, all California records indicate that both girls, Mary and Ann were born in New York City so the story of Mary begins in Oakland, California at 19years of age.

 Mary and Ann are mentioned often in the Oakland Society pages attending many events, weddings, teas etc.  There is on event in particular that stands out because this is where I believe your Mary Cobine meets her husband Mr. Martin Fennell of San Francisco.

The Summer of 1901 the Cobine ladies, mother and daughters were “summering” in Napa California at Wegner Villa. August 1901 a ball was given by the guest of Wegner Villa, ferns, palms and Chinese lanterns were displayed.  The music and food were wonderful and a grand time was had by all.  Among the guest, Mr.& Mrs. J Cobine (Catherine), Miss Mary Cobine, Miss Ann Cobine and Miss Annie Fennell and Martin Fennell.  It is clear to me that the summer of 1901 my great grandparents met.  There are many other Society Events documented in the Oakland Tribune and Mary Cobine and Martin Fennell are both in attendance, also Martin’s sister Anne seems to be tagging alone at most as well.

 This was an ideal match, the son of a San Francisco Police Officer and the daughter of a San Francisco Saloon owner.  Both tittering on just the right side of the law and the left side of, well, let’s just say, “not the law”. 

 On November 13 1905 a Marriage license was issued in Oakland, CA for Mary C. Cobine age 24yrs and Martin Murray Fennell age 32.  The formal service took place earlier that week at St. John’s Church in Berkeley, CA.

 Martin & Mary moved to San Francisco and had four children – Marion, Martin Murray Jr., Paul and Edwin.  Martin was in a construction business with his brother James and they bought a house on Parnassus Street and sent their children to St. Agnes Elementary, as good Catholics do.

 The 1906 earthquake hit and no damage was done to the house on Parnassus and the Fennell Brothers Construction did very well, after the dust settled and people were ready to rebuild. 

In 1910 Mary’s mother Catherine and sister moved in with them and in 1912, Catherine passed away and Ann married a gentlemen from Kansas, Howard Anderson and moved to Wichita, Kansas to live out her life.

 Mary died suddenly and too soon for both husband Martin and her very young children, the eldest twelve years and youngest 3 years.  On February 17, 1921 Mary died of some sort of heart failure.  Martin never got over the loss of his wife and did not deal with his grief well at all, leaving the children for days alone or with family members.  His business with his brother ended do to “difference”, which was probably his never ending grief and eventually, they lost the house.  The family that purchased the house allowed the children to remain in the lower floor, however Martin moved out and lived with his widowed sister Maggie.  Martin Jr.(my grandfather) had to quit school in the 7th grade and start working to make money for the family. 

I have attached Mary’s obituary because there is a bit of a mystery with the name Marnell, who are they and what relationship do they have with Mary?  OK, anyone can answer this.

SF Chronicle (1869 to current files)

ProQuest Historical Newspapers


June 28, 1921 (pg 6)


FENNELL – In this city , June 27, 1921 Mary C , beloved wife of Martin M Fennell, loving mother of Marion, Martin Jr., Paul and Edwin Joseph Fennell, and sister of Mrs. Howard P Anderson and John, Michael, James Marnell, a native of New York City. (New York paper please copy)

Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend the funeral tomorrow (Wednesday June 28th, 1921 at 8:30 o’clock a. m. from her late residence 56 Parnassus Ave , thence to St. Agnes Church, where a requiem mass will be offered for the repose of her soul, commencing at 11 o’clock.  Intermit to Holy Cross Cemetery.