This matter of home

Woven through any decent genealogy is the matter of place. For each individual, this can begin with birth, marriage, and burial. For families that remained in one location for generations, the story can unfold quite differently than it does for families that were constantly on the move. And, if we’re lucky, we might even be able to trace our lines back to “the old country” where we originated.

Place introduces its own sets of opportunities and challenges for researchers. Movement makes it more difficult to find appropriate courthouse, church, and burial records, at least until you have the track nailed down. I rather envy those whose families never left Lancaster County or some town in New England. Let me say that trying to trace a Pennsylvania Dutch family’s relocation into the Allegheny Mountains in the last decades of the 1700s until they reappear a generation or two later in western Ohio can be quite challenging. My Swanks are perhaps the most challenging of my linage in that regard, but they’re hardly alone.

There’s also the experience of traveling across the country to visit some of the locales. Sometimes you may know nothing of your family connection, yet feel something special, as I did in Whittier, Iowa, even when I was asked if I was related to Hodgins. Little did I know at the time. Or to stand in a burial ground and know that five generations of my ancestors are buried in the yard, all but one generation in unmarked graves, was quite a sensation.

I’ve heard many Irish-Americans speak of their pilgrimage to their village of origin. More recently, at a Greek Orthodox dinner, a man told me of his trip with his father to the village his father had left. “I felt a connection,” he said.

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How does place enter into your own genealogy quest? Have you had noteworthy experiences in visiting family locales? What were these like? What would you advise to researchers who are just beginning?

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2 thoughts on “This matter of home”

  1. Place is a huge part of my connection with my family history (and, for that matter, any history). My blog is called “Generations of Nomads” for a reason! My ancestors in nearly all directions were forever on the move. I love visiting the places they came from, passed through, or stayed. I’ve just had the pleasure of visiting the boarding school my mother, grandfather, and several other close relatives attended, and then visited my grandfather’s college, where I saw the campus he strolled 100 years ago.

    I ache to visit the places in England and Scotland where many of my ancestors lived. In the meantime, Google street view has become my friend. I’d encourage other researchers to take the time to look at any images they can find of the communities where their family members lived. If you have street addresses or a reasonable idea of where your people lived, check it out by strolling the little street view guy around the nearby roads. If you know a church or cemetery where your ancestors are buried, find some pictures on line. It makes it feel so much more immediate!

    You’ve touched on something dear to my heart. Thanks for your post and for the opportunity to throw in my two cents!

    1. What a lovely expression of this genealogical labor! The online satellite and street views do, indeed, allow for armchair travel. I’ve found them especially helpful in exploring the remote corner of northwest England where I have every reason to believe my Hodgson line originates.

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