In the television episode of Who Do You Think You Are? with Steve Buscemi, he shares his feelings about his past, saying, “I’m from the country of Brooklyn.” He really thought of himself as from Brooklyn, New York, so digging into his past made him rethink his vision of himself as well as “home.” Along the past to researching his family history, he found that while his family dated back several generations to Brooklyn, it soon expanded to other parts of the United States, and eventually beyond this country.
Part of the wonderment of digging into your family history is widening your vision of who you are and where you are from.
I’m working on my book, Home Is Where Lorelle Is, and the subject of “home” is a constant theme. From the moment we left Marysville, Washington, to venture out on the road full-time in a recreational vehicle for what was supposed to be a year which became 16, the question of home has plagued us and fascinated us.
As we traveled, people would ask us where home was. For us, it was an ever changing answer. There is a the place where you were born, the place you grew up, the place you married and possibly raised children, the place your parents call home or reside, the place you spent the most time in your life, the place from which your ancestors came just before arriving here, or even further back, your heritage claim, the place you were the happiest, or where you’ve established residency. Living on the road, we had the places we were born, where we lived before we hit the road, and where we had just traveled from to get to this spot.
For others, it was also an evolving concept. One elderly woman we met in Florida was thrilled to see our Washington State license plates on our truck. “I’m from Washington, too!”
Washington could have been just where we registered the vehicle, but it was the place I called home, even though my husband was born and raised in Oklahoma, and the place he calls “home” as in where are your roots. Not wanting to complicate the answer or start a major discussion, he smiled and asked her what part of Washington.
“Near Tacoma somewhere. I was born there and my family left when I was three years old, and I’ve never been back. But I call it home.”
While we think of modern life as filled with migration, moving easily across the country from job to job, climate to climate, or to be with family, we think of our life as fairly mobile, and the lives of our ancestors as static. As we research them, we expect to find them born in one place, marrying there or nearby, and living their entire existence in a single place, bound to it by history, culture, and time.
Yet, in many ways, our ancestors were more mobile than we are. Some of my family history traveled and lived in three or more countries and several states twixt birth and death, not mentioning vacations, war, and military service. Just because a family member came over the sea from England doesn’t mean that England was their “home.” It could have been a stop on their from elsewhere, residing there long enough to find money and passage to cross over.
I’ve spent a bit of time in Hawaii where people introduce themselves by their ancestry, “I’m two quarters Japanese, a quarter French, and a quarter Korean.” Their ancestry is clearly defined two to three or more generations back, even though the modern culture of Hawaii is more and more mixed. They are proud of those roots and connections with their history, whether or not the family member was born in China or elsewhere, traveled to Japan for twenty or thirty years before arriving on Hawaiian shores, they are strongly tied to those historical connections.
I recently reminded my husband that his first ancestor to the new world, Arnold VanFossen, made one or more trips to Ohio from Holland before buying the property and returning home to fetch family members. “No! How could he have made that trip more than once?”
As I research my family, when I fun across a census locking a family member to a time and place, I have to remember it is transient. Like me, they could have been just there for a story while during the time of the census, then moved on. If I find a birth or death certificate, I must remember that while they may have started or ended their life in this spot, what brought their family or themselves to this spot might be the more interesting part of their life story and history.
Most Recent Articles by Lorelle VanFossen
- The Myths and Mysteries and Hunt for Nicholas Knapp
- The Perpetual Calendar
- GenSmarts: Reminder to Not Assume
- Gensmarts Saves Your Family History Research Life
- Digging Through Historical Newspapers Online