Serendipity, Meet Find A Grave

Genealogy is a communal effort.  Monday night, I returned a phone call to Elyse, a genealogy friend (and cousin).  During our conversation, I learned about her great-great grandmother, Greenella McNichols.  She was born in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi and died in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, and she was buried in Centralia, Illinoiscemetery unknown. 

Wait…what?  I found it odd that her body would have transported to Illinoisinstead of Mississippi.  I had seen too many historical social columns, in the Chicago Defender, state that the body of __________ (fill in the blank) “was being shipped home”.  It was understood that s/he was NOT allowed to be buried where s/he currently residedparticularly in the Chicagoland area.  Three hours later, I could no longer contain my curiosity and did some online sleuthing.





Hmph: not only did it exist it, it still exists.  My cousin had also mentioned that Greenella had a son-in-law who was a lawyer.  A quick search of the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, confirmed Greenella’s residence, in Oklahoma, with her daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, P.W. Watman, Lawyer.

Don’t you love uncommon names?  They make family research so much easier.  I had been working on a Chicago Defender newspaper indexing project and did a quick Boolean search, Watman AND Oklahoma, which located the following results:


Brown, Willie L. The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (195-1966); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill] 05 Dec 1917: 7.

By Willie L. Brown.  Oklahoma City, Okla., Dec. 4Mr. George Jones, one of Muskogee’s popular postmen, spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Oklahoma City.  [H]e came to pay Miss Natalie Jenkins, one of Oklahoma City’s teachers, a visit…Prof. P. W. Watman of Langston was here last Saturday and Sunday…


The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill] 17 April 1915: 7.

…Oklahoma City, Okla., April 16.Prof. John H. Hogan, professor of  history in Langston university, also mayor of Langston, was here last Saturday, registered at the Keystone hotel.  In speaking of the school, he said that they had an unusually large enrollment and that the forthcoming commencement would undoubtedly eclipse all others…Prof. P.  W. Watman of Langston passed through last Saturday en route to Sapulpa…

Not only was he a lawyer but he was also a professor at Langston University, an HBCU (Historically Black College and University)named for John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) Ohio Abolitionist, Howard Law School dean, Virginia congressman, and brother of Charles Henry Langstongrandfather of Langston Hughes (1902-1967), was a well-known poet, playwright, social activist, and Chicago Defender columnist! 

Now, I was ready for my next search at a wildcard search.

Interestingly enough, neither Bing nor Google turned up anything when I searched for Pleasant Watman.  Not sure what that was about, I went back to the proverbial drawing board: Ancestry and the Chicago Defender.   

After looking at the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, I dashed off an email to Elyse. 

“When did, Mary Watman, Greenella’s daughter die?  By 1930, Pleasant Watman, widowed, is leaving with his sister and brother-in-law (Ethel and Ernest Shaw, in Sapulpa Creek, Oklahoma).  Whis is he listed as a laborer?” 

I told her about the two Defender articles and another four, by Pleas. W. Watman, indicating that he had become a Defender correspondent in 1936in Tampa, Florida.   

A Google search had turned up a collection at Yale that included a photograph. “If you decide to get his picture, I’d like to see it, ” I continued in the email.  He had been listed as White on the 1940 Tampa Census.  Lastly, I sent cousin Elyse a Find A Grave (FAG) memorial link.

By now, I was on a mission and abandoned my project for the night.  The first thing that I noticed was that Greenella’s daughter, Mary, was NOT linked to him.  Nor, were his other two wives: Rosetta B[eulah] Holmes and Sallie Mae Curtis.  That was easy enough to fix.  I just had to locate their FAG memorial numbers and add them to his via an edit requestonce I had signed into my account.  

First, I would take care of Mary except that I couldn’t find oneat Find a Grave or anywhere else.  Fine, I’d create my own.  I just had to find out when she died.  There must be a website for Oklahoma Vital Records.







Once I had created Mary’s memorial, I clicked on the Family Links edit option to add Pleas’s FAG Memorial Number (37626007).  It doesn’t hurt to add proof; so, I added his World War I Draft Registration, which showed that P. W. Watman, of Sand Springs, Tulsa, Okla., had a wife, named mary Watman, of Langston, Logan, Okla.

I also added the June 7th, 1930, marriage license between Rosetta B. Holmes and Watman, in Tampa, Florida.  Don’t bother look at the 1930 U.S. Federal Census: he was enumerated, in Sapulpa City, [Okla.], on Apr 7th, 1930.  Heyno comments from the peanut gallery!

I could still hear Elyse’s voice: She died in Oklahoma and was buried in Centralia, Illinois.  I had a my doubts and went looking for her death certificate at Cyberdrive Illinois. 

Below, are my various searches.

After nine searches, I was finally convinced that Greenella McNichols did NOT die in Illinois but what bout Grenella McNicholsas listed on the Ok2Explore website?

By now, I was absolutely convinced that neither Grenella McNichols died nor Grenella McNichols died in Illinois.

Just how far was Oklahoma from Illinois, anyway?  Okay, three states: Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois.  Maybe, she was buried in Illinoisif that’s what it says on her death certificate.  My last ditch of hope was Find A Grave.

Everything matched: her birth and date dates were exactly as Elyse had told me.  Using Mary’s memorial number, mother and daughter were once again reunited–albeit through cyberspace.  Since then, I have sent an edit request to David Woody, creator of Greenella’s FAG memorial.  What you see below is the corrected version.

Thank you David Wood.  Thank you Find A Grave.  Thank you Wallpaper Cave.  Thank you Cyberdrive Illinois.  Thank you Ok2Explore.  Thank you ResearchBuzz.  Thank you Ancestry.  Thank you ProQuest Historical Newspapers.  Thank you Chicago Defender and, most of all, Thank you Cousin Elyse for sharing your brick wall and allowing me to create a teachable moment.  Genealogy is a communal effort and it really DOES take a village!

“O by the way,” as my grandfather would say, line searches for P W. Watman returned several results, one of which confirmed his profession as a lawyer!