28 August 2011

Sentimental Sunday – A Shared Passion for Our Work

I took a few days off of this journey back to the beginning of my genealogical research to attend the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting. I love my work as an Archivist. As the rare consulting Archivist, I have the chance to work with different repositories and this allows me amazing variety in my work. There were 1675 attendees at this meeting, and it was an incredible opportunity for me to meet some really passionate Archivists. I also had the chance to speak in the language of my industry, something I get to rarely do.

All these work related events made me think about what it means to work in any industry for an extended period of time. I’ve only been an Archivist for seven years. I spoke to some who’ve worked at their repositories for 25, 30 or 35 years. I find this remarkable today, yet know that 20 or 25 years ago it wasn’t unusual for someone to work their entire adult life at the same place.

As I was researching my grandfather, Victor Wersel, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with The Cincinnati Library. My mom knew her father was born in Cincinnati, and after receiving a copy of his death certificate which confirmed that, I started looking for resources to give me more information about the Wersel family. Keep in mind it was 1996, before you could simply Google everything…how far we’ve come in such a short time!! So, I called the Library and spoke with a research librarian, explaining that I was from Chicago and was unable to come to the Library to do my research on the Wersel family. When she came back to me after a couple of minutes, she was laughing. Was this good, or bad? What she had found was the obituary of my great grandfather, Henry Wersel. Dated September 21, 1936, the obituary was on the front page of the Enquirer. Henry, as it turns out, had worked at the Enquirer for FIFTY-FOUR years!! Holy cow!

Obituaries were very different back in those days, and this was no exception. Paraphrasing, Henry was born in Cincinnati in 1863 and started as a press boy at the Enquirer about 1886. He only had an eighth grade education, but he proved to be so eloquent that eventually he was given space to write a column. The column was called ‘Why and Wherefore’, and apparently it was very popular. He was known as a committed employee, not missing a day of work. And the day he died was no different.

Henry Wersel was on the street car on his way to the Enquirer when he was struck by a heart attack. He was taken to the hospital in a police squad car and I’m not certain how it happened, but they found the next day’s article in the breast pocket of his jacket. Though the paper refused to publish the article, they quoted it as follows: 'For alas! alas! with me, The light of life is o'er!' from Edgar Allen Poe. His wife, Laura Louise Richards Wersel, for whom I am named, had been ill many years, and I suppose he was speaking of her. As it turns out, she died three months to the day after Henry died.

I was able to use the information from this obituary to locate a cousin of my mom’s who shared photocopies of a family scrapbook of clippings from the material that had been written by Henry and published. What a find! He wrote poetry, music, political material, and much more. His love of writing and passion for the written word was evident. I like to think that his passion has been passed down through our family and found a home in me. I regret not being able to pass this passion on to another generation, but hope I can share it with all of you.

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