Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Initial Impressions

Tackling initials can be difficult. I cut my genealogical teeth on that hopeless task years ago, when I opened my grandmother’s “little black book” and tried to glean more family facts on her married female relatives. That southern lady was quite taken with the de rigueur format of addressing a woman by the initials of her husband’s given names in combination with the anonymous “Mrs.” One day, I attempted to figure out what was meant by the address book entry for my mother’s cousin: “Mrs. C. J. McKinnon.” What did “C. J.” stand for? It took ages to unearth the possibility: Cyril John. Who would have guessed?!

So now, I’m faced, in this current photography project, with deciphering the names of two fellow companions of my father-in-law, Frank Stevens, during his training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1942. I can only begin to guess. And I have no way to know if my assumptions will be correct.

On the other hand, if I don’t take a stab at guessing—and, more importantly, document my dead-end trails as I guess my way through this maze—I’ll end up repeating the same circles of endless internet searches.

With that said, I’m taking notes on my progress as I try to figure out who the rest of these Naval trainees are.

Today, we continue to tackle the two men who signed, giving only their surnames plus initials. I’m looking for more information on C. F. Soucy of Des Moines, Iowa, and D. R. Rickard from Rockford, Illinois. With Iggy’s help, and thanks to websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, here’s what we’ve found so far.

 “C. F.” may possibly stand for Carl Frederick Soucy, found in the Ancestry.com military records, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. The fact that I couldn’t find any further information on him disturbed me. I turned to fellow volunteers at the two genealogy forums and received a note with an abbreviated obituary attached. Published in the Des Moines Register, it read, basically,
“Fred, 79, died March 11, 2003, at Veterans Medical Center in Knoxville. He had been a deputy bailiff at the Polk County courthouse and is survived by nieces, nephews, and cousins. He was preceded in death by a sister, Audrey Bento. No services are planned.”
A small picture was attached to the obituary. No mention of service in World War II, other than the assumed connection via services provided at the Veterans facility. If I hadn’t already found his Social Security Death Index record linking that date of death with the right date of birth, I’d have no clue that this obituary had anything to do with the man I’m seeking.

The genealogy forum volunteer offered to send me his parents’ obituaries, also. So I now have the rudimentary tendrils of a family tree with the July 25, 1982, obituary for Carl’s father, Fredrick, and the December 28, 1997, article for Carl’s mother, Isabelle. That allowed me, by reason of his parents' and sister's names, to locate his family in a 1925 Iowa State census, just after he was born. The fact that the surname was handwritten so that it looked more like "Saucy" than "Soucy" may be part of the problem in my attempts to locate further information.

The obituaries led me to the Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines for the parents, although I have yet to find any burial information for Carl, himself. Unfortunately, Find-A-Grave does not include any listings for this Soucy family—suggesting an additional task for me in helping others remember this (possible) World War II Navy family.

My other excursion into initial possibilities is the hunt for “D. R. Rickard.” He signed as one of Frank’s friends, claiming to be from Rockford, Illinois. Iggy found a 1930 census mention for a Rockford Rickard family including a son named Donald. And yes, the middle initial is just right.

Could it be that our D. R. Rickard was the son of Ray and Bessie Crill Rickard? An online transcription of Winnebago County birth records shows Donald Ray’s arrival on November 17, 1924. A Social Security Death Index report agrees with that date, and reveals that his passing was on Christmas Day of 1991. I’m now awaiting a response from Some Kind Soul on one of my favorite genealogy forums to send me the wording of his obituary, published, according to a handy little search engine, two days later in the Phoenix Gazette. I am hoping that the wording of his printed memorial will contain detail sufficient to recognize him for his duty to his country. In the case of this man, though, chances that he will be remembered through the venue of a complete newspaper obituary are increased by the fact that he evidently has a now-adult child seeking information on his father’s military service, as I found on a post in a Navy-related online forum.

There is one problem with this last lead, though. The ship mentioned in that forum entry is the USS Ault.

The military records I found at Ancestry.com for Donald Ray Rickard show him serving on the USS Mayrant, having enlisted in Chicago, Illinois, not far from Rockford. If he was indeed the D. K. Rickard I’m seeking, it looks like duty in the Navy took him to points across the Atlantic, for one muster roll shows him sailing from Casablanca in “French Morocco.”

But if this online post by the relative of Donald Rickard of the USS Ault represents the Donald Ray Rickard of my father-in-law’s acquaintance, then either there are more military records to be found via Ancestry.com, or I’ve got to choose between two men with the same name.

Or maybe “D. R.” stands for something entirely different, and the search will have to start all over again.

That’s the trouble with guessing about initials.


  1. It's possibe that D R Rickard served on both ships. I found this sentence to be interesting, "Mayrant returned to the east coast in July [1942] and immediately put her experience to work conducting antisubmarine warfare training exercises in the Caribbean."

    Wasn't Frank sent to the Carribean also? The Ault was launched in 1944 and would have needed a crew. Perhaps D. R. transferred when the Marant was laid up for extensive repairs?

    I too groan when I see only initials. :)

  2. Here's an update to what's been found so far. I received a gracious email from the son of the Donald Rickard who served on the USS Ault. That Donald Rickard has a different middle name, so is definitely ruled out as the gentleman who trained at the Great Lakes Naval Station at the same time as my father-in-law, Frank Stevens.

    I'm still awaiting word from any volunteer in the Scottsdale AZ area who can help us out with an obituary lookup. Here's hoping there will be enough information printed to help determine whether this was Frank's friend in the Navy!


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