Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Home, Where Art Thou?

Something I read today starting me thinking about the meaning of home. After all, family history deals quite a bit with the subject of home, which is defined in dictionary terms thus:

Main Entry: home
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: birthplace
Synonyms: abode, camping ground*, country, element, environment, family, farm, fatherland, fireside*, habitat, habitation, haunt, haven, hearth, hills, home ground, homeland, homestead, hometown, household, land, locality, motherland, neighborhood, range, roof*, site, soil, stamping ground*, stomping ground*, territory
Notes: 1. hone means to sharpen, while home (in) means to seek out a target; you can hone a skill but you home in on something 2. a house is the building or structure in which one lives; home is the place one lives with the pleasant connotations or family ties included.

Source: Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1)
Copyright © 2007 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

* = informal or slang

(footnoteMaven will be proud of me for that definition)

But, what is home, really? It is much more than a physicality. That homey feeling certainly involves settling on my favorite corner of the sofa with a mongo-size cup of Irish Breakfast Tea (with milk) after a long commute to the house where I live, and knowing that my loving husband and faithful canine companion are close by. (Or, is that my faithful husband and loving canine companion? Well, nevermind.)

Home is often something transitory or intangible - a spirituality, almost. In my quest to learn more about life, the universe, and everything, I have identified some things I cherish that give me a sense of belonging and feel like "home":

    1. My mother's tuneless humming under her breath as she sat knitting or crocheting: a habit she picked up from her grandmother, who picked it up from her mother, etc., and that I also catch myself doing from time to time.
    2. The pungent scent of eucalyptus--reminsicent of dry leaves stirred underfoot during childhood excursions in the San Francisco East Bay hills.
    3. Meeting a far-off cousin for the very first time, gazing into her face and thinking: "I know you."
    4. The taste of warm, soft lefse with butter.
    5. Becoming lost between lines from a great writer.
    6. Family postcards mailed long ago, caring thoughts scribbled from father to daughter, mother to son.
    7. The humid, sweet smells of home canning: peaches, applesauce, dark cherries, and strawberry jam.
    8. A first visit to the grave of a grandmother I have never met, yet miss every day.
    9. The word "Minnesota" (though I was born in California).
    10. Being safe in the arms of someone I love.

What does "home" mean to you, and how does it fit in with the study of family history, or of history in general? If "home is where the heart is," then home can be many things, including part of the past we have not personally experienced, but have learned about and become enriched by, through countless stories and customs, sporadic details, images, a sense of shared experiences, and our imagination.

Happy Homecoming!


  1. Chery:

    Thanks for encouraging me to take a moment and think about home, the home of my youth in particular.

    Home - warm summer nights filled with fireflies. I miss it!

    And yes, very proud of your source and definition.


  2. Maven,

    I knew you'd be watching ;)