The popularity of genealogy software and Web sites designed to help track family trees shows how much people are interested in their own personal family history and heritage. Just as everybody has a family tree, every ham also has a ham radio family tree that traces itself back from Elmer to Elmer through the radio generations. For me, my family tree and my ham radio tree overlap in the person of my grandfather, Emory Cox, who over the years held the call signs W9CGZ, W5KNN, W0CGZ and W0MA from locations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. This is an account of a 15 year search for my "radio roots."
I got my Novice license, WN0BJC, in 1970 when I was 15 years old. I lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and my grandfather lived in Leavenworth, Kansas so he served as a long-distance Elmer for me. He gave me his old Hammarlund HQ-170 receiver and, after I got my ticket, he drove up to Sioux Falls to help me put up an antenna. Sadly, I never had a QSO with him. My Novice license expired and family moves, college, marriage, career and children kept me fully occupied for the next 20 years. My grandfather died in 1992. I was relicensed in 1993 and soon developed a desire to learn all that I could about W0MAs radio history.
Of course the Internet has revolutionized the way that we search for information, but in the early 1990s it didn't exist. So I asked QST for help and in the December 1993 issue they published in "Strays" an "I would like to get in touch with…" for me that listed my grandfather's old calls and asked for information from anyone who might remember him.
A few days later I received a letter and QSL card from Earl Finder, W9CGZ, in Urbana, Illinois. He told me that he had held that call since 1947 but had always suspected that someone else had held it first. He had not known my grandfather but was pleased to learn the history of his call sign. I really appreciated hearing from Earl, but it didn't help me with my search.
I am a regular reader of the features that are published on the ARRL's Web Site and Stan Horzepa's, WA1LOU, "Surfin" column on January 4, 2008 gave my search a quantum leap forward -- or perhaps I should say a quantum leap backward! Stan's article told about a Web site that is dedicated to preserving old QSL cards. The Web page is maintained by Bob Green, W8JYZ. Not all of his 16,000 cards are displayed, but at the bottom of the page is a complete listing of the collection and it is very easy to ask your Web browser to search for a particular call. What a thrill it was to have W9CGZ hit! Bob is more than happy to send out cards that are significant to individuals; all that he asks for in return is a very modest donation to help with the costs of maintaining the collection and Web site. Within a few short days I was holding a QSL card from my grandfather's earliest days in radio!
The QSL is for an 80 meter CW QSO on December 15, 1940 between my grandfather, W9CGZ, and Bob French, W9TPF. Both stations were located in Topeka, Kansas so it's not surprising that the signal report is 599X with no QRM (noise) or QRN (static). A blank used to report the weather says "snow." Another space indicates that this was QSO number 202. I don't know if that is the count for the current year or his count since first starting in ham radio in 1939. This wonderful card has produced a wealth of information about my grandfather's earliest radio activities.