Sunday, May 25, 2014

Keystone Radio School in WWII

My mother was a WAC. According to her “Report of Separation,” she enlisted on February 3, 1943 in Los Angeles, California. She had been a comptometer operator in civilian life, working for the Soil Conservation Service in Columbia, Missouri.[1] The Army trained her as a “radio operator” at the Keystone Radio School in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

After my mother died, I found a photo album she had created of her time in Hollidaysburg. There is curiously little written about this place. In several years of searching, I have found only one newspaper mention of this school:


Mom’s album says she arrived in Hollidaysburg on April 7, 1943 for Class 1-W. The first photo in the album is labeled “Highland Hall, Ye Olde School.”

She labeled a photo of Duncan House as “Barracks-Keystone Style.”

From the photos in the album, it’s clear that this radio school wasn’t exactly all work and no play. There are lots of candid photos of her classmates, both at the school and visiting the town, a carnival, and on various outings. This photo is labeled “WAACs resting in front of Highland Hall.”


There’s also a whole series of photos of the women marching.....

But most of the photos in her album are of the women she trained with. In one photo, she identifies the women in her unit. I have tried to track down these women, with very little luck. I thought I had found down one of them who appeared to still be alive in northern California, but I got no response to the letter and photos I sent her. 
Caption: Room 1 – Early June ‘43
Marion Sterne                   Nancy Swicegood
Coral Howard                    Genevieve Long
Olive Wicker                      Viola Noirot
Dorothy Smith                   Mary Sparks
Sue Wills                             Mary Strome


Both Fold3 and MyHeritage have recently added the U. S. World War II Army Enlistments database to their search results. I found my mother listed in these records as “Nancy S. Sharp”, born 1917 in Missouri, residence = Los Angeles, CA, enlistment = Aug 6, 1943 at Hollidaysburg, PA, Technician 5th grade in Women’s Army Corps.

There are several odd things about this enlistment record. First, it suggests that she didn’t enlist until after she had already graduated from radio school. Second, she’s listed by her married name, which she didn’t obtain until June 1944. And in the above record, it said she was divorced, not married. Weird.

Searching this database for other people who supposedly enlisted at Hollidaysburg on Aug 6, 1943 generated 23 additional women’s names, 21 of them were listed as “married”, one was single and one divorced. I could not match any of the names to the women identified in my mother’s photo album. I doubt that any of them were married when they enlisted in the Army and attended the Keystone Radio School.

There were clearly more women in this group than show up in the enlistment records. I believe that this photo is of the women at graduation:

There appear to be about 50 women in this photo. My mother is in the first row, 4th from the left.
I would love to know more about this school and where the women went from here. The US Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle, PA, claims no knowledge of the Keystone Radio School. It also isn’t identified in any of the Signal Corps records that NARA has put online. Highland Hall is now a National Historic Site and is currently used for Blair County offices. I don’t know what became of Duncan House. If anyone who reads this knows more about Keystone Radio School or any of the WAACs who trained there, please contact me through the “Comments” button below.

[1] 1940 US Census, Columbia, Boone County, Missouri; Roll T627_2086; ED 10-16A, page 9B.
[2] The Daily News, Huntingdon, Pa., Monday, April 5, 1943, pg. 6,

Saturday, May 24, 2014

SNGF: Researching on

This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings is:
1) You're going on a scavenger hunt - for records of one of your relatives.  You can pick a relative who lived in the 1800 to 2000 time period.  A brother of one of your ancestors might be best (since males don't change their surname).  Or the husband of a sister of your ancestor.  Tell us the name of your chosen relative. 

2)   Go to FamilySearch and search for records for that relative.  Start on the Search page -  Search any way you want.   

3)  Tell us what you found in the FamilySearch record collections.  Did you find something new about that relative?   

4)  Write your own blog post, comment on this post, or write something on Facebook or Google+.

 I’ve been scanning photos from an old album of my mother’s and ran across this photo of her grandmother, Martha Elizabeth “Mattie” Coffey Swicegood, and Mattie’s sister, Aunt Belle. Belle’s full name was Melinda Isabell Coffey. She was born on 27 Oct 1869 in Maries County, Missouri; married John T. Fields 23 Aug 1888 in St. Clair County, Missouri; and died 24 May 1965 in California. I’ve never really researched this line, so now’s as good a time as any!

A search for “Melinda Isabell Coffey” born 1868-1870 in Missouri, father’s name Squire Coffey, turned up only one appropriate record on

·        1870 Census []: Melinda, age 0, is listed with her parents, Squire (43) and Drusilla (36) COFFEE and 5 siblings ranging in age from 16 to 3 and living in Jackson township, Maries County, Missouri.

A search for “Belle Coffey” born 1868-1870 in Missouri, father’s name Squire Coffey, did not turn up any additional records.

So, I switched to searching for Belle’s husband, John T. Fields, born 1862, died 1928 and found:

·        1880 Census []: John T., age 17, is living in Jackson township, St. Clair County, Missouri with his parents, C. R. (Caleb R), age 71) and Elizabeth (age 41) Fields, and 4 siblings—Mary E. (15), James R. (13), Lonora A. (11), and Emma (5).

·        after scrolling through 10+ pages of results—mostly Civil War records, even though I set birth year as 1860-1865—I got fed up and quit looking for any more relevant records.

·        I attempted to look in the FamilySearch Family Tree, but was thwarted when I tried to sign in. Even after changing my password, I couldn’t get in and there is apparently no online account support. Very frustrating.

In short, I found very little for either Belle Coffey or her husband, John T. Fields, at FamilySearch. This may have been the most frustrating search I’ve ever done on FamilySearch. Even when I clicked “exact search” I got huge numbers of totally spurious “matches” and nothing very useful.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

SNGF: Counting Cousins

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) challenge from Randy Seaver of the Genea-musings blog is to count your first cousins. Specifically:

1)  Take both sets of your grandparents and figure out how many first cousins you have, and how many first cousins removed (a child or grandchild of a first cousin) you have.
2)  Extra Credit:  Take all four sets of your great-grandparents and figure out how many second cousins you have, and how many second cousins removed you have.
HINT:  Make a Descendants Chart with your genealogy software program!
3)  Tell us the grandparents and great-grandparents names, but don't give the name of living cousins unless you want to.  
4)  Are there any of those lines that you don't know all of the cousins names?  Do you care?  

5)  Tell us about them in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or in a Facebook or Google+ post of your own.  Be sure to drop a comment to this post to link to your work. 

1a. My maternal grandparents were William Earl SWICEGOOD and Molly Fay BROOKSHIRE. They had 6 children. The photo at right was taken in 1984, I think, at a family reunion. From left to right: Dee, Bob, Leah (my Mom), Nina, Bill, Patty. Only Uncle Bill is still alive.
   As for cousins, Aunt Dee had two daughters. One has 3 children, who I don't know, and the other has 2 children, who I keep in touch with regularly. So...2 first cousins, 5 first cousins once removed.
   Aunt Nina had two daughters. One has 1 son; the other (now deceased) has a son and a daughter. So...2 first cousins, 3 first cousins once removed.
   Uncle Bill married, but had no children.
   Aunt Patty had three children. Her oldest daughter has one natural daughter and 3 step-daughters. Between them they now have 15 children. The next daughter had one son, who has 2 sons. Her son has one natural daughter and I'm a bit fuzzy on his step-kids; there are either one or two step-daughters. So...3 first cousins, 3 first cousins once removed, 4 or 5 first step-cousins (?) once removed.
   Uncle Bob had two kids, a daughter and son. The daughter has not married; son has one daughter. Tally...2 first cousins, one first cousin once removed.
Total for Mom's side: 9 first cousins, 12 first cousins once removed.

1b. My paternal grandparents were Harold Herbert SHARP and Virginia Corine MELDRUM. They, too, had 6 children. Unfortunately, my Dad had no contact with his family from age 17 on and was unwilling to answer any questions about his family. He even claimed I was named after the state we were living in when I was born (Virginia) rather than admitting that I was named after his mother and/or sister.
   Anyway, based on census and vital records, I believe my Dad's family consisted of the following:
   Older brother Harold, who I believe married but had no children.
   Younger brother Dawes, who has been married at least 4 times and has fathered at least three children, a daughter and two sons. One son has at least one child; I don't know anything about the other two.
   Sister Virginia who I believe was married three times and had one child each by her first two husbands. Each of her kids have been married at least 3 times, according to Texas marriage records online. I have no idea how many kids they've had.
   Younger brother Jack married and had at least one daughter.
   Youngest brother James married and I think had 5 children, 3 of whom had at least one child each.
Total for Dad's side based on limited information: 11 first cousins and no telling how many first cousins once removed.

skipping to #4: I am pretty close with several of my cousins on my mother's side and with my one surviving uncle, even though we live half a continent apart. I try to get back to my mother's home town in the Ozarks every year, primarily to visit cousins, but also to do research. None of the family actually lives there any more, but the extended family still has a couple of houses in the town. I think of Weaubleau as more "home" than anyplace my family actually lived.
   I've never met anyone on my father's side of the family. My Dad died at age 60 and his mother survived him. When she died without a will, his family tracked my mother down through the V.A. and one brother, Dawes (who I think is still alive) came and visited her. However, she didn't mention this to me and I didn't discover the sheet of "family notes" Dawes had given her until after Mom died in 1996. I was able to track my aunt Virginia down--who assured me I was named after her, not their mother--but would not share any family information with me. I found an address for Dawes and sent him 2 packages of family history information and a couple of short notes, but never got a response. I guess I should try to track down some of my Sharp first cousins, but Texas is a long way from Seattle and I'm really not sure what I have in common with any of them. Someone posted a Sharp family tree on Ancestry a couple of years ago that includes this line, but is has since been taken down. I tried 3 times to contact the "owner" of this tree, but never got a response.

Funny I hadn't noticed until writing this blog post that both of my parents were the second children of six. Mom's siblings were more spread out than Dad's, from 1915 to 1932 versus 1916 to 1926. But from all I can tell, my Mother's family was much closer knit, though further spread out geographically, than Dad's. All of his siblings stayed in south Texas; none of Mom's family stayed very close to home.