When Research is Uncomfortable
Research is one of my favorite things. It can lead you to the most interesting people, and some of the most interesting stories, photos and videos. Once in awhile, research turns to a dark spot where you realize that you aren't too fond of what you are doing any longer. I hit that point this week. When I wrote the short story for "The Tin Photo", I wrote the true account of my family's secret that was kept for nearly 85 years. I realized that I had a novel on my hands. Filling in the blanks of this story and creating an account based on reality was something that I just had to do. In fact, I have put the first book of my new series on hold in order to work on this. Research began by looking deeper into the reality of Ellis Island and what immigrants faced between 1910 and 1920. My Great Grandparents both arrived to Ellis Island from Serbia ten years apart. I knew a few stories from my Great Grandmother, but not enough to go on. Into the reading, photos and documentaries I went!
After that, I had to look into something else that was a very unpleasant thing for me. I knew from records that my Great-Great Grandmother was a Jewish woman. It seems that her husband did not share her Faith. There are hints that she may have been raised Jewish but converted to Orthodoxy later in life. However, I realized that there was much violence and anti-Semitism facing Jews in the early 20th century. Especially in Eastern Europe.
As I dove deeper into the research on both of these things, the stories and reality of my family came alive. I began to understand and sympathize with the emotions they must have felt when they arrived here. I wondered how afraid my Great-Great Grandmother was of coming to a Country after running from a place that discriminated against people of her Faith.
My own emotions were growing increasingly uncomfortable when I learned more about what each of these groups went through. This wasn't just research for a story. This was the reality that my own family faced. I began to get into their heads, thinking of the situations they may have found themselves in. How scared were they? How angry were they? How did they handle so much pushing, shoving and prodding when they arrived here? How did they handle being separated and dealing with men who didn't speak their language? How did my Great-Great Grandmother feel when she saw families separated after experiencing the violence and hate against Jews in Eastern Europe? It must have been horrific for them. As I ended my research for that part of the story, I had a newfound respect for my own family and those who passed through Ellis Island. I can only imagine what they faced and felt when they went through those long lines of people waiting to enter the United States.
Research isn't always interesting and fun. Sometimes, it taps into an area that becomes very real to you. Researching history is almost never fun. History is an uncomfortable reminder of who we were, and a happy reminder of who we are becoming.