Monday, September 7, 2009

Ruth and Roger

This note was sent to Peggy's parents in liu of a greeting card. The signature "Ruth & Roger" shows familiarity by the fact that they didn't feel the need to include their last name. It would be not easy to determine who Ruth and Roger were but I was up for a challenge.

There was one clue that would make it a little easier. The note mentions their sons, Clark and Christopher. Clark is a fairly unusual name so I hoped that would help. Since Clark and Christopher both married the same year that Peggy was born, 1940, I was going to guess that they were between 10-20 years old and still living at home in 1930.

I first searched's 1930 US Federal Census database for a man named Roger who lived in Pittsburgh with a wife named Ruth. I struck out. I opened my search up to all of Pennsylvania. I got a few hits but none of them had sons named Clark and Christopher. Clearly Roger and Ruth did not live in Pennsylvania as Peggy's parents had.

I gritted my teeth and prepared to do a broad search of the United States for all Roger and Ruth couples. The search turned up 132 couples. Not too unwieldy a number to slog through. The new preview feature on records really helped with this. I could hover over each Roger and check quickly to see if they had children named Christopher and Clark without having to actually click into each record. I made my way nearly through the whole alphabet before finding the family in the 'S' section.

Roger Sergel and his wife Ruth F. Sergel lived in "Chicago City", Cook County, Illinois in 1930. Roger was 35 and born in Illinois. Ruth, an Iowa girl, was 36 years old. They had been married for 14 years by 1930. They rented a home for $90 a month on Wood lawn Avenue in Chicago and they owned a radio.

In their household were Christopher, son, age 11, born in Iowa; Clark, son, age 9, born in Minnesota; Sherman, son, age 6, born in Iowa; and Nora O'Neill, a 49 year old servant from English speaking Canada.

I was left wondering what their connection was to my Uncle Edwin "Petie" and Aunt Helen Peterson. The occupation column provided a bit of a clue. Roger Sergel was listed as a manager in a publishing house. However, it was an unexpected surprise to discover that Ruth Sergel was working too! She was a publicity writer in a publishing company. How glamorous and exciting to be a female publicity writer in 1930! Perhaps she worked for the same publishing company. It also got me thinking that perhaps she might have been one of Uncle Petie's students at Pitt.

A quick peak at the 1920 US Federal Census found Roger and Ruth in Moorhead City, Clay County, Minnesota with 1 year old son Rodger. The ‘d’ was added to the son’s name but not the father. Was that a slip by the enumerator or intentional by the parents? In 1920 Roger worked as a “Normal” teacher. Other searches showed that Roger died May 3, 1963.

I decided to broaden my search to the whole web. I turned first to Wikipedia. It didn't turn up any result for Roger Sergel however I did find something on a Ruth. The entry said, "Ruth Sergel is an American director, writer, activist, and interactive technology designer in New York City." Perhaps this a descendant of the original Ruth and Roger.

As for son, Christopher, I found a tribute to him on the Dramatic Publishing website where he was noted as being a former president of the organization. His birth and death dates were given as May 7, 1918 - May 7, 1993. According to the 1930 US Federal Census, Christopher was 11 years old. This would have him born around 1919. A 1918 birth year would certainly be plausible given the margins of error and accuracy for the census. This very likely is the son of Ruth and Roger. Christopher was a playwright and adapted many famous books and programs to the stage.

I wouldn't feel quite satisfied until I checked for sons, Sherman and Clark. My search results turned up empty for Clark except for a Social Security Death Index showing him being born October 1, 1920 and having died in Illinois in November 1977. I also found a a 1955 Illinois marriage record for Clark and Virginia B. Bates on Could this have been a second marriage? The 1940 note to Aunt Helen and Uncle Petie clearly has Clark married to a girl named Meg.

Sherman, on the other hand participated in the family business, having written several plays including "Twelve Angry Women" with Reginald Rose. According to the Social Security Death Index, Sherman died on January 11, 1981. Passenger and Canadian Border Crossing entries were able to further corroborate family information and birth dates for the parents and the kids.

Suddenly this investigation into Ruth and Roger was becoming quite exciting. The Sergels were certainly a talented family and very involved with the writing community. That fit well with what I said in my first blog post that Uncle Petie was a "writer's writer" and “inspired a generation of American authors.” Looking back at the careers of Christopher and Sherman, perhaps it was the sons who were students of Uncle Petie and not Ruth.

How Uncle Petie and Aunt Helen became friends with the Sergels may never be known but now I have a better understanding of their lives and inner circle from one more of “Peggy’s Cards.”

Note: page numbers in brackets have been added to the images to help follow the flow of text.