Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Own Six Degrees of Separation - history style - 1911 & 2011

You know the story that everyone in the world is separated only by six degrees of separation. That is, you should be able to identify a connection with a stranger simply through connections with six other people.

I had my very own Six Degrees of Separation moment this week.  I have been noticing links to an article in the New York Times about the Triangle Factory Fire in New York City in 1911.  I've been meaning to get around to reading the article and just hadn't done it yet.

Then this morning I saw yet another link to the article, this time connected to the name Ruth Sergel. I thought to myself, "Sergel, Sergel, I know that name."  Indeed, I did.

In 2009 when I first started this blog, I wrote some articles based on a box of "Congratulations on the Birth of Your Daughter" cards sent to my great aunt and uncle, Edwin L. and Helen Peterson, on the birth of their daughter, Peggy. Going through the box was like unraveling a mystery as I tried to figure out who the senders of the cards were.

One of the articles called "Ruth and Roger" was about an unknown couple named Ruth and Roger Sergel.  The Sergels turned out the be a very interesting family involved in writing and film.  My "Uncle Petie" was a popular writing professor at the University of Pittsburgh at the time the card was sent in 1940.  I have presumed that they knew him through his position there but never figured out exactly how.

Awhile after I wrote the article, Karin Sergel, granddauther of Ruth and Roger, contacted me after reading the story.  Unfortunately, she didn't know the connection between the two families either.  [This just goes show that when you don't capture family oral history, it is quickly lost!]

Jump forward to today and I am reading about Ruth Sergel (namesake of her grandmother, I presume) in the New York Times.  This wonderful article details Ruth's curiosity and passion for remembering the victims of the Triangle Factory Fire. I would strongly encourage you to read the article if you haven't yet.

I have never met Ruth but I think I would like her very much if I did.  She clearly has a passion for history, creative ideas and photography.  The daughter of a poet and a playwright, writing must have loomed large in her life also.

And that's where the real connection is made between the two of us.  Her grandparents were likely "writing friends" of my great uncle who was known as the writing teacher to a generation of authors.

Writing has loomed large in my life.  My mother always spoke about Uncle Petie, his writing, his professorship at Pitt and his correspondence and friendships with the authors of his generation.  Uncle Petie inspired in my mother and her cousin, Peggy, a love of writing, literature, art and nature.  My mother spoke regularly about Uncle Petie and always with such love and pride in her voice.

I would go so far as to say that the reason I am writing this blog has to do with my mother's influence on me (and my dad too, but that's another story for another day) and Uncle Petie's influence on her.

I am amazed at how strong the ties are that bond one generation to the next.  I would guess that the ties are very strong in Ruth Sergel's family too.  Though we don't know each other, we are both the products of a strong, positive influence by our family members. 

If it weren't for the Triangle Factory Fire of 1911 and Ruth's passion for remembering the victims, I may never have heard of her.

1 comment:

  1. You can find a video report of the fire on CBS Sunday Morning's website