Everett & Nellie Payne: or, The Folly Of Believing Everything You Read On The Internet

I mentioned my paternal great-grandparents Everett & Nellie Payne way back in September 2013 in this post, but have never come back to talk about this family in more detail. But this post is less an exploration of them, and more a warning about the ever-present danger of trusting other people’s data – even when sourced – and not eyeballing that evidence for yourself …

Everett & Nellie Payne

I quickly found that Everett was born in Storm Lake, Iowa on 09 April 1887, the son of Robert Payne and his wife Emma (nee Lucas). He married my great-grandmother, Nellie Pearl Davis on 21 December 1908 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, and they lived in and around Enid, River and Watonga all in Blaine County, Oklahoma up until 1920. All 4 of their children (Mildred May, Hazel Marie, Emma Arlene & Robert Leslie – my grandfather) were born in Watonga.

“Oklahoma, County Marriages, 1890-1995”, Everett Payne and Nellie Davis, 1908.

By 1920, the family were living in Washington Heights, Battle Creek, Michigan with Nellie’s mother, Martha (the 1921 City Directory for Enid, Oklahoma lists Everett and Nellie, but these were often compiled a year before publication so we can assume the move back to Battle Creek was fairly recent at that point).

To go along with these facts was the family story that Everett had abandoned Nellie and disappeared, leaving her to raise the children alone – and why Robert was then adopted by an aunt and uncle (and why his surname changed from Payne to Stanfield). A mystery indeed. Ancestry then gave me a forest full of green leaves to choose from – which included a death for Nellie in Altus, Oklahoma in 1977 courtesy of other members’ trees. At the time this was seen by my ingenue self as something of a fait accompli, job well done, wrap it up, move on. Searches of the 1930 and 1940 census returns showed nothing for Nellie or Everett in Michigan or Oklahoma. But I had bigger fish to fry so chalked it up to  transcription error and added it to the Mystery List (we’ve all got them …) to be investigated at a later date. Then a little later another green leaf hint gave Everett’s death as 1977, also in Altus. Huh. Right.No source. Addendum to Mystery List.

It was only a week or so ago that I returned to this item on my Mystery List. What had happened to Nellie? Where had Everett disappeared to? In the intervening years I had located their 3 daughters in 1930: the 3 of them were listed as “inmates” of The Good Shepherd ‘facility’ in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Robert was with his adopted parents in Battle Creek. I decided to check again into Nellie’s death – sorry, assumed death – in 1977. The source, it would seem, came from an entry at FindAGrave.com. Upon checking the specific entry, I was shown that this burial was for a Nellie McLeod Payne, and listed her husband, parents and children. Suffice to say that this was clearly not my great-grandmother. Yet somebody’s mistake had been replicated and copied and duplicated over and over again – including by me – without the original source being checked and verified. Silly mistake #1.

Silly mistake #2 came when I went to delete the death entry out of my tree and managed to delete Nellie entirely instead. A real d’oh moment … But putting her in again from scratch brought up a new flush of hints from Ancestry …

These included details on her death (from a death certificate and grave marker): 16 May 1928 in Battle Creek, Michigan. The informant had been her elder brother Floyd and also showed her as divorced – confirming the story that Everett had disappeared from the scene.

Nellie Payne’s Grave Marker
Nellie Payne’s Death Certificate

But why and when had this separation taken place? A search of the Michigan Divorce collection brought up something of interest:

Nellie was granted a divorce from her husband in January 1928 on grounds of “Extreme Cruelty and Non Support”. Whilst one imagines straight away that Everett was beating his wife, Divorce Source has a good write-up of what this term has meant over the years in a legal context so the truth may not be as bad as one assumes (or it might have been – we don’t know). What saddens me is that Nellie only lived a few more months before succumbing to her illness.

But what about Everett? What happened to him? When searching on the FamilySearch site a surprising find appeared: a marriage in Flint, Steuben, Indiana between Everett Payne and Pearl Ethel Cease nee Horton (long story: she had been married 3 times before Everett and would marry twice more after him) dated to 29 October 1932.


Among the Ancestry hints for Pearl were further marriages, so I decided to see if there was a divorce for Everett and Pearl (as opposed to Everett having died). There was, indeed, a divorce ruling for the pair – filed by Pearl against her husband. The reason this time was “Extreme & Repeated Cruelty”, and was granted in May 1935.

Imagine my further surprise when I saw that alimony was granted … and there was one child born of the marriage … Another child of Everett’s? I hadn’t seen anything anywhere about this …!

Thankfully the divorce record even gave me a name and rough birth year: a daughter, Nancy Lee, born approximately 1931. I found Pearl and Nancy living with Pearl’s next husband, Fred Faga, in 1940, still in Battle Creek. Nancy is enumerated as “Foster Daughter” so I knew that she definitely wasn’t Fred’s. A switch back to FamilySearch gave me Nancy’s (first) marriage – in which she gives her father’s details as Everett Payne, Deceased. Taking this at face value, it would seem that Everett died sometime before November 1949. Other records indicate that Nancy married 3 further times, finally to Carl Julius Herwarth, with whom she had at least 2 children. Were there kids from her previous marriages? Possibly. I do know that Nancy Lee Herwarth passed away in January 1997 and married a total of 4 times.

But what a wonderful thing to add to the Mystery List!

PS No, I still don’t know what happened to Everett, where he went or exactly when and where he died … Will it become apparent? At some stage, yes. Until then … there’s always the Mystery List to fall back on!


  1. Hello,
    Everett and Nellie Payne are my maternal grand parents. Thanks for adding something more tangible to the family history/stories. What I had been told was that Nellie had a bad heart and died at age 38. The daughters were consequently put in a convent until Everett remarried, but I had not been able to find anything further regarding Everett or this marriage.


    1. I posted this a long time ago. It should say that the Paynes were my maternal great grand parents.


      1. Thanks for the correction, Brenda! A year on and I still don’t know what happened at the end of Everett’s life, or where or when he died! Very frustrating!!


        1. Whenever we get back on ancestry.com I plan on searching again. It’s funny that the stories we learned growing up, we either didn’t understand fully or they weren’t necessarily exact.


        2. I think that the stories children get told sometimes end up becoming the version of the truth that gets shared more widely and then just ends up being … accepted! Do let me know if you have any luck with finding Everett’s death certificate – and I’ll do the same!


  2. Interesting. It sounds like he wasn’t such a nice guy. I hadn’t realized that he and Nellie divorced. The story we were told was that she died young, which she did, and the girls were put in a convent. But never any word of divorce. Family secrets……


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