By Daniel Hubbard | October 7, 2012
The other day I heard a book mentioned. The title was At Home in the Universe. There are two books by that title and I have no way of knowing which one had been mentioned but it struck me as an interesting title.
Home can mean many things, where you grew up, where you live now, where you spent the biggest chunk of your life. I remember a discussion in my college dorm that centered on the question, if your parents moved since you started school, were you going home for Christmas or just visiting your parents? Is home a place defined by you having lived there once or is it where your family is or does it no longer exist if the two no longer coincide?
The idea of home also seems to me to require that it is a place you can leave. You leave your parents’ house when you grow up and we usually think of that as leaving home. We also talk of our hometowns and even home states. Occasionally the idea of a home country is even used. Home planet is a stretch for most people. I’m too young to know firsthand but I have heard many times that it wasn’t until Apollo astronauts could turn their cameras back on the Earth and photograph it floating in space that the concept of home planet really occurred outside of science fiction. Even if only briefly, we could leave our planet and because we could leave, we could think of it as home. Perhaps that is why the title At Home in the Universe struck me. We clearly won’t be leaving the universe any time soon. We won’t get that perspective that seems to help define home once we are no longer there.
One can feel at home even when one is somewhere else or even feel like a stranger in one’s own house, that is, not feel “at home” even when one is home in the physical sense. If someone feels at home they understand their surroundings, they feel as comfortable with the people around them as they would with their own family. Once again, place and family come up in connection with home, even when it isn’t a person’s actual home.
At Home in Time
What about time? You obviously can’t feel at home if you are there at the wrong time. The difference between visiting a childhood home on the day before it is torn down and on the day after, is the difference between being home and not being home. The latitude and longitude are the same. The experience is totally different. If we could go back in time and visit the same childhood home but accidentally set the dials of our time machine a century too early, before the house was built, before even the land was cleared, would we have visited home? It might be interesting but for most people it would not feel like home.
Family history is perhaps, a method for feeling at home in time. We come to know our ancestors. Suddenly dropped from the sky in a previous century, we would have family to visit just like someone dropped down in a distant place might have a cousin to look up. I don’t think I’m likely to suddenly find myself transported back in time but family historians are more conscious than most of having not just ancestors but family two or three centuries ago. Family is part of what makes a home a home. In some cases we might even know where a house stood or have a photo of a building that hasn’t existed for a hundred years or more. Place is part of what makes a home a home.
So, genealogists, welcome home.