Researching Uncle Cledo’s Life Spurs Several ‘Oh Wow!’ Moments

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about several “Oh Wow!” genealogy moments he had when he researched a remarkable member of his extended family: the brilliant scientist Cledo Brunetti.

While I really enjoy every aspect of genealogy and family history, if you are like me, you really treasure and celebrate those amazing “Oh Wow!” moments when you make an unexpected research discovery.

For me one of these exciting genealogy research moments, which actually resulted in me doing my best Happy Dance (something like this that you do not want to witness), happened when I was looking through GenealogyBank.com for information on one of my wife’s great uncles, Cledo Brunetti. I had not done much work on my wife’s “Uncle Cledo,” but I had become intrigued by a number of family stories that this fellow was involved in sophisticated research on behalf of the United States. So off I went in search of the story of Uncle Cledo.

As I said, Oh Wow! My very first research discovery was a 1946 newspaper article that confirmed a whopping four of the family stories I had heard about Uncle Cledo.

Radar, Radio Pocket-Sized, Oregonian  newspaper article 9 February 1946

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 February 1946, page 1

First, it reported that Dr. Cledo Brunetti worked for the Bureau of Standards for the U.S. government. The old newspaper article went on to say that he was with a group instrumental in the development of the proximity fuse for American munitions, was involved in the creation of the first transistor radio (about the size of a pack of cigarettes), and had a hand in the invention of the very first printed circuits. Not a bad start to my ancestry research, especially since a subsequent newspaper article included the fact that Uncle Cledo was actually the Director of the Ordinance Division of the Bureau during World War II.

Then I opened another amazing research find! This 1947 news article reported that Uncle Cledo was introducing a “personal vest-pocket broadcasting station” for radio communications. One half was so small it fit in a tube of lipstick and the other half was on a calling card. This certainly seemed to be the beginnings of what I had been told was his development of the “Dick Tracy Wrist Radio.”

Radio Station Made to Fit Lipstick Tube, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Best of all, this 1947 article featured a picture of Uncle Cledo!

photo of scientist Cledo Brunetti, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Then surprise, surprise! In a 1948 newspaper I found an article entitled “Dick Tracy Radio May Come True” and who do you think was the inventor quoted? Yep, none other than Uncle Cledo and he was talking about having one made as a Christmas present for President Truman!

Dick Tracy Radio May Come True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 11 August 1948

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 11 August 1948, page 14

A 1949 newspaper reported (with some wonderful photographs): “Dick Tracy’s Wrist Radio Comes True.” Yep, Uncle Cledo really did it!

Dick Tracy's Wrist Radio Comes True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 20 February 1949

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 20 February 1949, page 26

Then I found a 1961 newspaper article that surprised even my wife, Mary Kay, Cledo Brunetti’s niece.

New U.S. Rocket Series Urged in Space Race, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 April 1961

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 April 1961, page 7

This old newspaper article quotes Uncle Cledo, in his role as president of the Grand Central Rocket Company, discussing his work on space rockets and how NASA could get a man on the moon—and his testifying before the House Space Committee in Washington D.C.

Wistfully, Mary Kay told me how much I would have loved meeting Uncle Cledo, and then she related how Uncle Cledo had given her and her family a private tour of the Lick Observatory while on a family vacation in California. It’s such a small world…my great uncle James Vanek was the man who accompanied the Warner & Swasey telescope parts on the train from Cleveland, Ohio, to the observatory where it was installed.

I thought I was done with my genealogy research on Uncle Cledo when I decided to do a quick Google search to augment my GenealogyBank.com information, and I found one more amazing item. It seems that ever since 1975 the world-premier award in nanotechnology, awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is named the “Cledo Brunetti Award.”

What is the biggest Oh Wow! moment you have had in your genealogy efforts? I’d sure love to hear about it! Please share your ancestor stories in the comments.

How to Use Old Newspapers to Research Family Stories & Photos

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches online newspapers to figure out who the companions are that appear with his grandmother in an old family photograph.

Recently my awesome Mom (God bless her as she is 92, still going strong, and loves to help me with our family history) gave me a couple of old family photographs. One was a photo of my paternal grandmother, Ina Cottle Phillips, with the notation on the back “On the Boardwalk with the Wades.” As you can guess, as a genealogist I was off and running trying to discover the “Wade” portion of that note. Who were these companions of my grandmother?

Photo of Ina Cottle Phillips on the Boardwalk with the Wades

Ina Cottle Phillips, seated in the rear, “On the Boardwalk with the Wades.” Photo from the author’s collection.

First, I did what every genealogist should do: ask the elders! I asked my mom, who had a recollection that when my grandmother first arrived as an immigrant in Cleveland, Ohio, she got a job with a Wade family. Ah ha! Next, I reviewed my family tree notes and found that I had a reference, long forgotten, that said my grandmother was the “traveling companion” of one Mrs. Wade of Cleveland. Now this story was getting interesting! I wondered who might, in the early 1900s, have had a “traveling companion.”

Next stop was searching the old newspapers at GenealogyBank.com. It wasn’t long before a fun story began to unveil itself. First I happened across a vast number of references to Wade families in Cleveland, but one in particular stood out. An old newspaper article published in the Cleveland Leader explained that one Wade family gave substantial donations around Cleveland, including a large piece of land for what, still to this day, is known as Wade Park.

The Gifts of the Wades, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 10 May 1902

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 May 1902, page 6

I dug deeper into the historical newspaper archives and soon found a beautiful drawing from the Plain Dealer showing the Wade Memorial Chapel in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery.

illustration of the Wade Memorial Chapel, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 December 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 December 1898, page 1

Sensing that I might be on to something I started looking for obituaries, and sure enough found an exceptionally informative one in the Chicago Herald that gave quite a biography of Jeptha Wade. The old obituary’s lead was that Mr. Wade was the man who saw the true value in a newfangled device called the telegraph, and started a company known to this day: Western Union. This obituary also tied in Cleveland and Wade Park.

Demise of Jeptha E. Wade, Chicago Herald newspaper article 10 August 1890

Chicago Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 10 August 1890, page 11

Next I sharpened the focus of my genealogy research to include both the Wade and Cottle names and got a hit, but when I opened the newspaper article I was surprised to find that the Cottle was not my grandmother: it was an obituary for her brother George. I learned that he, too, had a connection to the Wade family. The obituary stated that my great uncle George worked for the Wade family in their Wade Realty Company for 35 years. A fun aside was discovering that he was also a gardener for John D. Rockefeller, but that will have to be a different story for a later time!

George B. Cottle, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 January 1966

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 January 1966, page 61

Now the pieces were beginning to fit. Brother George immigrated first and got a job with the Wade family. Could he possibly then have vouched for my grandmother and helped her get a job as traveling companion for Mrs. Wade? Perhaps on one of their trips someone took the old photos of her that I now hold in my hands.

It has been tremendous fun learning about this aspect of my Cottle ancestors and beginning to understand the possible history of those photographs my Mom gave me. Now to finish the task! Thanks to some more genealogy detective work I have located the living descendants of the Wade family and have reached out and asked them if they might review the old photographs. Hopefully, they can identify my grandmother’s companions in the photos—and if I am really, really lucky, they just might.

Now…I wonder if anyone out there needs a “traveling companion” today. I’d sure be happy to apply for the job!