A couple of weeks ago, I made what was probably my most exciting discovery since I started researching my family history in 1997. I finally discovered what had become of my grandmother, Mattie Tolbert. She was my mother's mother, and I have written a little about the mystery associated with her in the past, first of all in an entry from 2009 HERE, and then later I mentioned her in my mother's biography which you can read HERE.
Honestly, I had pretty much decided that it would be impossible to find her. My cousin, Anita, told me that Mattie's brother, Henry Tolbert, used to say that he knew where she was buried, but that he died suddenly in a car accident without ever telling anyone. Another cousin told me at a family reunion in 2001 that many people in the family believed that Mattie's husband George had murdered her and got away with it. I get the feeling that Mattie didn't want to be found.
Back in March, I was searching Newspapers.com and came across the following obituary for my great-grandmother, Rhoda (Webb) Tolbert Wilson. In it, her daughter Mattie is called "Mrs. Mattie Talbert of Paint Bank, Va." Well, that got my attention because it seemed to indicate that Mattie was still living in 1960 when her mother died and that Rhoda had been in touch with her.
I started wondering if I could use that snippet of information to find Mattie. First of all, I found that Paint Bank is an unincorporated place in Craig County, Virginia. That led me to a page called Craig County, VA-Cemetery Listings. When I searched for the name Mattie from the search link, I found a transcript of a cemetery that listed:
ANDERSON, Mattie H. 28 Aug 1897 - 25 Sep 1965 (Obit Has Mattie Haven)
That transcript can be seen at: http://files.usgwarchives.net/va/craig/cemeteries/bryan.txt
Another listing for that cemetery can be seen at: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~vacraig/paint-bank-community-cemetery-2014.htm which also includes photographs.
I haven't tracked down a copy of the obituary yet. I was encouraged by the fact that this Mattie's middle name was "Haven". Some handwritten papers I've seen in the past looked like her name was "Haner" but I could see how sloppy handwriting might mean that Haven would look like Haner. Another "coincidence" was Mattie Anderson's birthday. If you read my mother's bio, you'll see that she never knew when she was really born, but she celebrated her birthday on August 28. What could make more sense than that my mother's grandfather, Mattie's father, would give my mom the same birthday as her own mother?
My next step was going to be to try to send for a copy of Mattie Anderson's death certificate. The state of Virginia only allows close family members to request a copy, and since I couldn't know how much information would be on Mrs. Anderson's death certificate even if I did have the right person, I wasn't sure whether they would send it to me. And wouldn't you know, my own financial status was a little iffy during that time, so I was waiting until I felt I could justify the $12 fee for what might be a wild goose chase. I had even had to let my paid Ancestry account lapse soon after, so I wasn't following closely what new databases they were adding. When I saw a posting somewhere that the state of Virginia had made their death certificates available on Ancestry, I did a search for Mattie Anderson and saw a possible match. I shared the search results on a Facebook genealogy group that I belong to, and a wonderful person looked at it for me and sent me this information:
Name: Mattie Haven Anderson
[Mattie Haven Tolbert]
Gender: Female Race: White Age at Death: 68 Birth Date: 28 Aug 1897 Death Date: 25 Sep 1965 Death Place: Clifton Forge, Virginia, USA Registration Date: 28 Sep 1965 Father: William Tolbert Mother: Rodie Ann Webb Spouse: Lonnie Pearl Anderson Certificate Number: 1965024346 Military Status: none
I was stunned! It really was her!
I have since renewed my paid account. You can see the death certificate image at:
I had also found an entry for Mattie Haven Anderson on Find a Grave which the kind contributor transferred to my control. It has been very satisfying for me to be able to connect Mattie to her children's memorials and to see the photograph of her gravestone that's posted there. In July, I plan to drive up to Paint Bank to visit Grandma Mattie's grave in person and I hope I can find a local library where I can search for a copy of her obituary. I will be sure to post photos when I go!