Updated: Dec 26, 2022
I've been trying to research the story of my paternal grandmother's family recently, so I can craft my first historical fiction. It's not easy!!
The more I find one piece of information, the more I realise there is something yet to be revealed.
For example, my great-grandparents (in this story) were originally a young couple who married in Lithuania during the 1880s, and they were of the Jewish faith. This bit is important, because when my Grandma married my Graffy, it's said that she was disowned for marrying a Catholic.
So, I guessed early on that my great grandmother was a hard-line type of Jewess, and some sources have suggested that Lithuanian Jews were "Orthodox". As my forebears went to a remote part of New South Wales (NSW) when they came to Australia, I have also guessed that they weren't all-together Orthodox (they would have been religiously isolated).
This is all making me curious about what it would have been, to be of the Jewish faith in those times.
Another thing that I discovered early on, was that the people who established European- style government in Australia included some pretty influential folk from the Jewish communities.
Both discoveries have led me to ponder the influence (or it's lack) that faith and beliefs have had on what is passed down through the generations.
Take, for example, the idea that one of the biggest religion groups in the world today (Abrahamic beliefs) has lost an integral part of the story (Asherah). It could be that some people didn't believe in a female deity, and so stopped speaking of her. Or, maybe some early believers were scared of the influence her followers were gaining, and criticised her out of history. Who knows?
The point is, we only know part of the story that was passed down.
I used to have a psychology professor who'd say, "Don't trust what I say - go find out for yourselves," and I think that he (Stuart Marlin, a truly great and passionate teacher, up there with Carl Sagan, my hero) had a valid point.
But we are limited by our methods. If we learn only to look on the internet at our favourite influencers, we will have a biased view. It's the same if we only favour particular news providers or other sources of information.
A truly scientific approach considers peer-reviewed works, not just one's own observations. So how do we approach finding the truth about anything?
We need to look for primary sources, to start with - people who were "there", and lots of them.
Why lots? Because we all have different interpretations of a situation / event / person / interaction. Where I stand, as a bystander, is as important as my upbringing and life experiences to date. I could also be distracted by one set of concerns, while others are distracted by their own worries, causing us to miss important clues.
We then need to take a very logical and methodical approach to finding the threads of truth in those eyewitness accounts, because they will all differ. As eyewitnesses, we don't tend to take records of what happened. Instead, we remember the gist of it, and fill in the blanks with our imaginations.
The political world has been very messy in recent years, and the sources of our news have become prone to exaggeration and deceit (have you ever heard of a"twitterbot"?). We need to question what we hear and read.
We need to ensure that we have a moral compass that is compassionate and tolerant, but that is also discerning. We need to learn these skills - researching primary sources, finding many different examples, tracing the threads of the story, asking the right questions, and being methodical and unbiased.
Only then will we have a chance in this world of cheap influencers and sound-grabs. And maybe, we'll figure out the truth in history, as a bonus.