Dig for that Nugget

A family may be large, or it may be small. A family may be close, or it may have dysfunction and estrangement. Regardless, every family has traditions and a story of its origin. I am going to tell you the story of a family that immigrated to Boston in 1897. This family had TEN children. The children were born between the years 1890 and 1917.

Other family members also left Russia to start over and find a new life in America.

Each of the family members made a life for themselves and began their own successful businesses. One brother moved to Philadelphia and became a successful business owner. Another owned several successful furniture stores. Another son became the Head Photography Editor for a major Boston Newspaper. His son would also become one of the paper’s award-winning photographers.

The family enjoyed good fortune. However, it didn’t come easy. There was sorrow and there was great pain. The family fled Eastern Europe to escape the persecution. Many of the Jewish faith were fell victim to violence, their homes destroyed, and relatives disappeared. They had hoped that they would find sanctuary.

Once they arrived in America, apart from extreme bloody violence, they still experience racism that limited their opportunities. After WWI, leading up to the 1930s, the family shortened the surname’s spelling so that they can hide their family origin.

There are a lot of examples of exposition here. Many of you are veterans, so you already know this. For all of my new Twitter friends who have only just started, this is an important lesson.

I am writing a story about a genuine conflict that occurred with actual people. An can take some artistic license for the sake of world-building or fill in some gaps to move the story along, I attempt to remain authentic to what occurred. I attempt to make sure that people are where they need to be on certain dates.

I researched maps, towns that don’t exist anymore. I attempted to reference Indian languages to include in my book which is now extinct. I researched studies and testimonies of events. Found physical descriptions of what people looked like, their personality, or what they said. I cross-referenced all of this. This I have done for seven years.

Let’s come back to my tale. This is not another novel I’m working on. This is not the story of a Jewish family who came to America at the turn of the Twentieth Century that I saw in a documentary (I love documentaries and historical non-fiction).

Ladies and gentlemen, this is my story. The gentleman who brought his family to America in 1897 was my great-great-grandfather. The son who had moved on to become the Chief Photography Editor for the Boston Herald was my grandfather. That photographer I mentioned was my father.

I have been researching my father’s side of the family off and on since 1989. I had mentioned that the family has experienced hardship and pain.

Being of Jewish descent, the family did not have the best introduction to America. Since the family’s arrival, they experienced prejudice, and employers did not offer Jews well-paying jobs. Even when they received their draft orders when the United States entered WWI, the Jewish name singled them out.

When the family immigrated to America, they spelled the name as Ostrofsky. However, by the 1930 Census, the large group of Ostrofsky families that had settled in Revere, Massachusetts had Americanized the name to Ostroff.

The point that I am trying to stress here is DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you are telling the story of an actual person, research everything that you can. Don’t limit yourself to books. Find articles or dissertations from grad students. JSTOR is a great website. Don’t forget to research minor personalities as well. They may not be principal characters, but their actions can be significant that cause ripples that have great consequences that you won’t discover until finding new resources.

As I was researching a specific battle, it confused me because One historian stated one thing, another historian argued something else. It boiled down to “How can it take you thirteen hours to travel three miles?” When I was in shape, I could run a 5K in 19 minutes.

After further research and reading the journal of a soldier that belonged to a soldier who was present at the battle, the distance was actually fourteen miles, and the troops marched through a swamp on a different path and heavy snow. These things you wouldn’t know unless you do your due diligence.

Even if your character and plot are fictional, everything still needs to be accurate. I will not use William Shakespeare as an example because although the text of the plays remains untouched, the production has modernized or semi-modernized the backdrop of the play. I recall with one production they designed the set and costumes of the play in WWI, England. They dressed the main male characters as British military officers.

There is no wrong way. I have described my method to you. I am more methodical. I am working on my WIP for book one, but I have the entire series researched and mapped out. However, as I am reading and compiling my notes, I always find that imaginary “green leaf”. And as I investigate that, I find another. Know when to tell yourself to stop and focus on writing!

5 thoughts on “Dig for that Nugget

  1. It’s heartbreaking how your ancestors came from Russia and were still facing antisemitism. But, one thing that always fascinates me that Jewish people always focused on building their lives. You are right: history talks and so do the loopholes in it. I hope you have a great time during this Hanukkah. Happy Holidays, Eric:)

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