Grandfather Stanfield … er, Payne … er, Tisdale …

So now I’ll turn my attention to the search for my father’s father, which in a lot of ways was easier than looking into my other grandfather’s family.

My mother had for a long time kept a letter that had belonged to my father’s mother, Norah, and had been written by a lady called Geneva. The letter talked about “Bob” wanting to keep in contact with his son. From this letter I learned a couple of important things – that my father’s father was Robert Stanfield, that he’d married after the war to a lady called Geneva, and also a geographic area of the USA in which to concentrate any searches – Battle Creek, Michigan.

Upon researching this town, I emailed the town library to ask if they could help in locating Robert or Geneva. I initially received a response stating that a search had been conducted and there was information from the 1930 census, that Robert was drafted in 1941, and that in the 1949 city directory he was listed with his wife Geneva. No obituaries could be found for either Robert or Geneva.

Four days later I received another email from the librarian, stating that he’d managed to find an obituary for Robert in the Battle Creek Enquirer from 1969. This confirmed he was a veteran of WWII, and had been a self-employed truck operator, hauling mobile home trailers. It also stated that he’d been a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, and went on to list details of his family. A final email then arrived with the address of someone with the same surname living in the same town.

After some careful thought, I sent a letter to this person, explaining who I was and who I was looking for. I didn’t know if I’d get a positive reply, if any at all.

It was a surprise, therefore, when roughly a month later I received a letter from Geneva, the lady mentioned in the librarian’s first email and in the obituary. Reading the letter, I was immediately struck by the sincerity and warmth of this lady in sharing memories of her husband. Geneva wrote that she’d known about Bob’s English son, and there were also a number of photos included with the letter.

It turns out that the gentleman I had sent the letter to originally had been a cousin of Bob’s who had passed away some years before. His widow had worked with the Kellogg factory in Battle Creek with Geneva, and passed along the letter.

Following Geneva’s words was a section written by one of Bob’s daughters, who added:

I’m curious about your father, my half-brother. I learned of him when I was 15 years old and saw a picture of him in uniform that your grandmother had sent my Father.

Geneva had included a little information about Bob’s military service:

Robert joined the Army before WWII started. He wanted to see the United States. Well, he was sent to Fort Custer, about 10 miles from Battle Creek. When the war started he was sent to Iceland, then to England where he met your grandmother. He came home in 1945. This was all before I knew him.

Insignia of 19th Field Artillery
Insignia of 19th Field Artillery

One of the photos shows Bob’s grave marker, on which it states that he was a Private in Battery C, 19th Field Artillery. I am currently investigating what 19 Field Artillery did during WWII.

I also managed to locate a copy of his WW2 Army Enlistment record. This states that he enlisted on 27 January 1941 in Kalamazoo, Michigan and had one year of high school. He gave his occupation as “Semiskilled construction occupations, n.e.c.”, was single with no dependents and weighed 127lbs.

Everett & Nellie Payne
Everett & Nellie Payne

Geneva’s letter also made mention of Bob’s parents. He was born 15 November 1917 to Everett and Nellie Payne, but was adopted by his aunt and uncle – Robert Taylor & Nina Stanfield (Nina and Nellie were sisters). According to family lore, Everett and Nellie separated and Everett returned to Oklahoma where he was from. This left Nellie raising their three daughters – Mildred, Hazel and Arlene. (In fact, in 1930 the three girls are listed as “inmates” of House of the Good Shepherd in Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

This adoption explains the shift of name from Payne to Stanfield (Bob’s American family still use Stanfield to this day). Researching the Payne family further back, we reach Everett’s grandfather, John Sanford Payne, and his parents Hannah Dehaven and John Tisdale. Again, according to family legend John senior “disappeared”. John junior was adopted by his mother’s sister, Sarah, and her husband Baylor Payne. John’s sister Jennie remained with their mother.

So my surname? I guess it should be Tisdale …

A bit of a whistle-stop tour of available records and learnings, but this family has some interesting twists and turns – something I will undoubtedly be returning to in later posts!

I would also like to point out that in the 10 years since first receiving that letter from Geneva, I have remained in contact with my American aunts, uncles and cousins … and for the last 10 years I’ve been promising myself that I’ll get over there and visit them all. And I will … I will …


  1. Hello,
    So my grandmother, Arlene (Payne) Grotbo told me that her mother, Nellie, had a heart condition and died when she was 38. It was then that she and her sisters were put in the convent.
    Brenda Jellies


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