Everett Payne: The Final Years

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this here, but over the last fortnight or so I’ve been shamelessly copying inspired by a friend to compile a ‘death tree’ to note any scary threads in my ancestors’ causes of death. Suffice to say that my mother’s side really need to be heart healthy – despite there being a number of ‘gaps’ on her American side.

On my search for death certificates, I realised that I hadn’t finished the story about my father’s grandfather, Everett Payne, and nor had I found an online death certificate for him. So I went hunting …

As I wrote the last time, Everett was last seen in 1935 when he and his second wife, Pearl, had divorced. At this point he was still living in Battle Creek, Michigan, but I couldn’t a Michigan-based death or burial for him.

I did come across a random Everett E Payne on the California Death Index which seemed to almost fit the bill, but the age was off and what was with the middle initial?!

I thought I’d check for obituaries and I came up once again against Everett E Payne from San Diego so I thought I’d take a look. And … lo and behold, there were all his children and his siblings! But what was he doing in San Diego … ???

…. and who was his mystery wife, Millie?! A 3rd wife?! Talk about the triumph of hope over experience …!

I can actually first place Everett (and Millie) in San Diego in 1938 courtesy of a voter registration list (they were Democrats) and the city directory of 1938 and 1939, in which Everett was listed as an auto mechanic. At least up until 29 June 1939 when he died. I braved VitalCheck (which is a shocking process, especially for someone ordering internationally) and ordered his death certificate.

Anyway, thanks to my 3rd cousin, I was able to get a hold of a couple of certificates, including Everett’s. His middle name isn’t expanded upon, just “Everett E. Payne”, but I do learn that his wife was Millie Sylva Payne, and that Everett had been in San Diego (and California) for four years. I guess he didn’t wait too long after the ink dried on his divorce papers to get the heck out of Dodge. Makes sense, I guess. But the parental information on the certificate matches ‘my’ Everett so it was a case of no more callers, we have a winner.

Which then leaves Millie. You’d think she’d leap out of the 1940 census, but sadly not. I initially thought that I had found her in Alabama, but that was a red herring, as was the Mollie Payne who was residing in Coachella (but she was with her husband there in 1930). But I couldn’t get a lead on Millie before she appeared in that 1938 list. However, I did find a death record (thank you SSDI!) for a Mollie S Payne in San Bernadino, California in October 1941. I know that San Bernadino is over an hour away from San Diego, but stay with me …

The SSDI gives her maiden name as Hough, and parents William A Hough and Harriett E Wright, birth date of 15 August 1887. Now, the California Death Index gives her place of birth as Oklahoma, the SSDI as Princeton, Missouri. She is living in Watonga, Oklahoma in 1900, with the place of birth given as Missouri. Perhaps that is how the confusion came about. But she is there with her parents William and Harriett, sister and two brothers.

On 6 August 1913 she married Ebeneezer S. Morris, who had previously been married. Was he divorced from his first wife, or was he a widower? I can’t find a death for Mary, and his marriage license to Millie does not state his ‘condition’. They don’t seem to have had any children, and by 1930 the pair are living apart – he with his parents and her with her widowed mother, Harriett. Interestingly, Ebeneezer, who was a native of Texas, gives his race as white. However, alternative records seem to indicate that he was a member of the Choctaw Nation.

Crucially, in the 1940 census, Ebeneezer gives his marital status as Divorced, with Millie nowhere to be found. Is this because Millie did a strategic exit, stage left, and kept on until she reached California, where she met the charming (one supposes) Everett Payne? Did they decide that they didn’t really need to get married, as they had perhaps both realised that maybe the marriage thing wasn’t working in their favour so far better to just tell people they were married?

I don’t know, and I can’t be sure of this, but the fact remains that there is no death for a Millie Morris (or even a Millie Hough) and all the pieces kind of fit (even if there are no edges and somebody has lost the lid so we don’t know what the picture actually looks like). I could, it is true, spend another stupidly large amount of money on this Millie’s death certificate to see if it says “Widow of Everett Payne” (I don’t know what information California death certificates of this time period contain in this regard).

Newspapers.com, GenealogyBank.com, FindAGrave.com, Ancestry, FamilySearch – none of them are wanting to give up any further records for Millie in 1940 or afterwards, least of all Mille Sylva. Which is annoying to say the least. If anyone spots her, please let me know!

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