Another item from grandma’s scrapbook. John (grandpa) was sending her funny things all the time apparently, since there are a TON of postcards, newspaper clippings, and oddball little pieces like this tucked into that scrapbook. I’m really grateful she saved all this because it gives us a little glimpse into the life they led while separated by World War II. John entered the Army Air Force while they were dating, and they married in 1943 while he was home briefly. He served almost two more years after they married, so the majority of their correspondence via postcards is tucked into this scrapbook. Grandpa died in 1984, so I have one or two vivid remnants of memories of him (I was very young when he passed away) and I don’t recall grandma ever really talking about him much. I suppose we just didn’t talk about the past, so I didn’t know anything about our family history before I started all this and grandma wasn’t around to ask anymore either.
On to the card! On the back, John (grandpa) wrote,
One Fellow had these cards printed just for fun. He gave me one of them and I am sending it to you. How do you like it?
I haven’t looked into who “Chuck” Frailey might have been since it’s probably a little too common of a name to pin down to one person, especially without any details about birth, death, where he lived, or his real name since Chuck is in quotes. Obviously, the card is from the 1940s (probably 1941-ish based on the other items on the page), and the humor is definitely of the time period though more that a little bit cringeworthy now. I did a little searching and apparently these type of cards arose out of the Victorian era as Acquaintance cards or Escort cards as a way of introducing oneself without arousing the suspicion of a woman’s chaperone. They’d largely fallen out of favor by the time this one was printed, but I did happen to find a nearly identical one on flickr with the same lines about “Special attention to other fellow’s girls” and “Sole owner of lovers lane.”
If the title sounds like a country music band, well..
It’s probably because it is a country music band.
This image is likely from a program or promotional poster/flyer for the band and was found in a scrapbook of my grandmother’s who was kind enough to note “Coalport, 1936, In Person” up in the top left corner. Coalport refers to Coalport, PA in Clearfield County, and it’s easy enough to assume she saw the band in 1936. Economy Rodeo seems to have been a popular radio station program during the time period, featuring country music acts. The reference to Diamond Street appears to reference the radio station WWSU that operated out of the Hotel Schenley in Pittsburgh – an article from 1931 mentions the station opening on the 10th floor of the hotel which is located on Forbes Ave, formerly known as Diamond Street. The hotel is now the student union building for the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh. I couldn’t find an advertisement in any newspaper for that specific concert in the photo note, but I did find quite a few other ads for similar shows around that region of PA.
So, I went on a little dig to see what I could find about Curley Miller since genealogy is my focus and I know precious little about the early days of country music. Grandma was a huge fan her whole life, and we’d routinely show up for visits to find her watching the Grand Ole Opry reruns on TV, so this type of bluegrass/country music would’ve been right up her alley.
Curley Miller was born Calvin Ellis Miller to parents Calvin McCormick Miller and Elda Blanche Miller on 2 December 1914 in Versailles, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (found via the PA birth records index, the actual document should be online in the next year or two). He shows up on census records in 1920-1930 as “George Miller” instead of Calvin, but the birth record clearly shows his name as Calvin. It’s possible they may have called him George around home to differentiate between Calvin the child and Calvin the father.
He lived for the majority of his early life in McKeesport, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania with his mother and father, and later his stepfather (verified by census records). A half-sister, Mildred Evangeline Espy, would later join him in the music scene as Millie Wayne. Our Curley Miller is not to be confused with a different Curley Miller from the Milton, PA area though which is what made my initial searches lead in the wrong direction. The first newspaper reference I could find was in 1935 when Curley was about 21 years old and playing on a local Pittsburgh radio station, KDKA.
Just two years later, Calvin Ellis Miller married Sybil Clarice Lowell in Greensburg, PA on 25 April 1937 (verified by Westmoreland county record search).
Sybil seems to have gone by the name “Sally Dare” or “Molly Dare” as part of the group and likely is the woman seated in the middle of the photo. Advertisements in old newspapers have photos of her that look awfully similar. There are also ads referring to their daughter “Patsy Belle” having been part of the act as a “Child Singing Star.” I did find the three of them living in Wheeling, West Virginia as of the 1940 census but was unable to find anything about Patricia “Patsy Belle” after that point. Patsy was also born in Tennessee (according to the census) two years before Curley married Sybil, so this may have been a daughter from her first marriage. Sybil was granted a divorce on 28 April 1941 while living in Wyoming. The divorce decree mentions zero children affected by the divorce, so I’m not entirely sure if Patsy Belle was their child or just part of their travelling act? Not enough paper evidence to support that, and I couldn’t find a birth record for Patsy at all.
Part of the fun of sorting out fact from fiction were articles like these, telling fantastic stories about Curley that were part of his stage persona and printed in newspapers, but weren’t at all true according to paper records. That article states Curley was born in Oklahoma, and while this birth location also appears on the 1940 census, he was very clearly born in Pennsylvania. I started to wonder if the stage/radio persona bled into his real life. That hunch was confirmed in a later article from 1974 in Florida.
The article, which has a problem with column formatting, states,
“Miller comes by his interest in “songs of the soil” naturally. Two of his ancestors were killed at the Alamo and a great-uncle (The Rev. William Snider) was the Indian agent to whom Sitting Bull surrendered when he came down from Canada.
While Many parents were reluctant for their offspring to enter show business, it was different with Curley. His parents were both horse enthusiasts and expert at trick riding. They were also amateur entertainers.”
As far as I have been able to research, absolutely ZERO of that is true. He didn’t have a great-uncle named William Snider (I found the names of his grandparents and none of them were Snider/Synder). As far as ancestors being killed at the Alamo, none of that tracks at all since all I can find is that his ancestors lived in Pennsylvania. For the bit about his parents, on their marriage license, it lists his father as a machinist and later in the 1910 census as working in an electrical shop, and his mother was a music teacher. Granted, his mom may have helped foster Curley’s love of music, but there’s no paper evidence to prove any of the claims he made in the article.
He did participate for years in the West Virginia country music scene and participated in the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia (link to tour program in 1941, alternate link to the program page about him). He had been drafted into the Navy during WWII which meant he left radio. When he returned home after the war, he returned to civilian life and went into horse training, still as a showman, taking the title of “Colonel Curley Miller” with his dancing horses in various rodeos and circuses.
He later moved to Florida in about 1962. While in Florida, he continued working with radio as a talent director, according to the article above.
He died on 14 Feb 1994 in Orlando, Florida (obituary link). His obituary states, “Mr. Miller was a retired project director for an employment service,” which I guess could mean he was a talent scout which would fall in line with his history in the entertainment business. Every genealogist loves long obituaries with tons of detail, but this one had very little. There’s a granddaughter mentioned, but no daughter, though this could possibly be the aforementioned “Patsy Belle.” The 1950 census is due out this year (2022), so it’s possible I’ll be able to find out more once that’s released!
Random stuff in scrapbooks seldom leads me down a deep dive into the history of the subjects in photographs, but once I started digging, the information about Calvin “Curley” Miller ended up being so fascinating, and a great example of the difficulty in separating actual factual documents from self-reported information in newspapers and sometimes even censuses.
Long time, no blog! As you can imagine, a lot has changed in the 2.5 years since I last posted anything here. But, this isn’t a post about that.
We recently came across my maternal grandmother’s scrapbook, and I scanned everything into the computer. She kept a lot of fun little things, including a photo of “Herman Luzier” along with a page of photos of other musicians. Herman is holding a steel guitar in the photo, and a quick search on Newspapers.com turned up an article saying he was from the same area as my grandma and played music on the radio. Through some more sleuthing, I found that Herman was born on 20 Sep 1912 and died 3 Feb 1985, having grown up around the Clearfield, Pennsylvania area. The article from Newspapers.com is added below. Just a short update, but I hope to go through more of these random photos and bits of history grandma saved in an effort to digitally preserve them and maybe, someday, should someone go internet searching these names, they might be reconnected with their families!
Earlier this year, I sent in a roll of film we found in an old Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic camera to Film Rescue International for their cycle starting April 1, 2014. The camera was in my grandfather’s office and was presumably my great grand uncle Herb’s at some point. Herb probably took it off to war with him and after he passed away, my grandfather kept the camera since he was quite the shutterbug. As far as turn-around time goes, I had a link to the scans in my inbox on May 16th. It ended up costing $34 for 5 images which is steep, but I’m not sure I would’ve trusted film that was over 30 years old to just anyone. Even though Kodak Verichrome Pan is more stable than other films, it could have been anywhere between 30-50 years old, and the possibility of some lackey at a lab not familiar with developing old film screwing up what may have been priceless photos was just too much of a risk to take. As it turns out, there was nothing really precious on the roll, but it’s great to know for sure, rather than sit around wondering what the heck is on there. I am VERY happy with the level of communication and the extra care they take to manage expectations. Expired and old film is a real crapshoot and sometimes you win big, sometimes you lose big. I opted to download the free scans (at 532×864, 300 dpi), but if I wanted quality copies, I could’ve purchased the full resolution download for $.99 each with a 20% discount if I placed an order in the first two weeks. The images are available on their website for a full year. They mailed me the developed negatives in plastic sleeves along with the original spool and backing paper.
The images are below, and that first image is the one I shot out of the front door of grandpa’s old house when I realized there was still live film inside. Clearly, I’ve got some practicing to do if I want to use the camera again, but it appears to be light leak free which is a plus! The next three shots are of grandpa’s junkyard in the snow which helps me date them to somewhere in the 1970s probably and the last one is the view from great grandma Olga’s house. It’s a view that shows up over and over again in photos, so it’s one I’m very familiar with, even if the house no longer exists.