What would you do if your aunt gave you the charge never to forget your family’s history and then gave you a book about the family but forbade you to read it? For years, author, Meryl Frank, kept her promise to her aunt but did start researching the events during World War II in Lithuania that resulted in the death of her Jewish family. Eventually, her research led to uncovering the stories and finally to reading the book and learning its terrible secret.
Learn more about Meryl’s writing of the book and see photos of Franya in this video narrated by the author.
The author seamlessly educates the reader on Judaism, the holocaust in Lithuania, and Yiddish theater – all subjects that one might have limited knowledge of. Providing the context for our family histories is important, and we can learn how to do this by reading others’ work. Unearthed contains a select bibliography detailing sources consulted. Endnotes give additional details on the sources used for developing the theme of each chapter. As family history writers, we need to explore various methods to show our sources without interrupting the narrative flow.
Not every family history will have such a dramatic family story, but every family history can be written in a compelling manner. Unearthed links the past to the present with Ms. Franks’s comparison of the racism of Nazi Europe to modern-day racism of all forms. Why else do we study history but to make sense of our current world? Connecting our family’s past to our present can help to heal wounds and strengthen us.
The author traveled to Lithuania to see with her own eyes the family history sites and research onsite in the various repositories. To write with clarity and understanding, visiting our ancestral locations can boost our emotional connection. Ms. Frank does not shy away from emotion and discusses her reluctance to read the forbidden book, Twenty-One and One, given to her by her aunt Mollie. Throughout the book, our curiosity is piqued, and we are taken on a journey of also wanting to know what happened to Franya, the brilliant actress. Her shocking death is revealed when Ms. Frank is finally ready to read the translation of Twenty-One and One. The final chapter is titled “A Taste of Dirt” and ends with Ms. Frank visiting the site of Franya’s death – reconciling herself to the story and freeing herself of the burden left by her aunt to never forget.
In her journey, the author discovered the story not just of Franya but her siblings and other family members. By writing Unearthed, the author ensures that none are forgotten. We also can write about our ancestors and ensure that they are not forgotten.