It’s 1996 and I’m just starting on what I expect will be a simple research project: find my grandfather, Victor Wersel’s ancestors. Sadly, both he and my grandmother were deceased by then; he died when I was an infant, my grandmother Frances died in 1990, at the age of 97. Unfortunately, my grandmother and my aunts and mom are what I referred to as ‘private’; they rarely discussed the past. So it was that I had a few snippets of information to work with when I began.
An important note: earlier here I recommended TRUST NO ONE. I found out that even goes for sweet little old grannies that you think know everything! At the same time, occasionally the ‘odd’ or ‘nonsensical’ things they say can be clues to help you unravel the mystery.
Having debunked the family myth about our relation to the famous William Penn (we’re from a collateral branch of the Penn family) I was quickly learning to be skeptical of things that my mom was remembering. I wasn’t questioning her memory, just the veracity of the information that she was passing on, more or less treating it like a poorly played game of ‘Telephone’. She remembered her dad’s birthday, but didn’t know the year. She knew Victor’s family was from Cincinnati, Ohio and that he had two brothers (Horace and Roger) and a sister (Virginia). She recalled being in Cincinnati and visiting with her uncles and aunts and was able to recount some rather interesting tales about them, which I’ll save for another day. She recalled that her grandfather’s name was Henry, and that he had worked at some point in time for the Cincinnati Enquirer, though she’d heard that he’d only gotten an eighth grade education. She fondly remembered stacks and stacks of books; Henry had had a beautiful library in the very large house where they lived in Cincinnati, which his children maintained after his death in 1936. And she knew that the name, Wersel, had not been changed when the family emigrated from the Netherlands to come to the United States.
As we were discussing the few facts she had, she off-handedly said, “…and someone went to Brazil.” Keep in mind, my grandfather was born in 1892, so any generation before him would’ve been born 1870 or before. I asked her what she meant, and she simply restated that she remembered someone saying that someone in the family had gone to Brazil to make fine furniture for the King. I thought, “Oh for cripes sake…seriously?” I was beginning to wonder if the production of moonshine was keeping the family coffers full. And naturally, I was smart enough not to let this mystery sidetrack me from my original research plan: trace the roots of my grandfather as far back as I could.
However, the mystery had been set. Was it possible my ancestors had traveled all the way to Brazil, and when would they have done that? WHY would they have done that? Some mysteries take a very long time to trace; although I have uncovered other clues, I still don’t have the documentation that can prove this happened. So, as of today, it’s still a mystery!!