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Home is where the heart is & Homes are family too

Mom visited the Biltmore this week, and almost stayed!

Mom visited the Biltmore this week, and almost stayed!

This week I’m away from home visiting the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, the Smokeys…it’s all just breathtaking! I’m not sure how one differentiates the names and the ranges from all the others, but I’m loving each one I see. Driving here with Lucky Ducky Daughter (who will be living and working here over the next year) I was fascinated by all the houses that are, or were, someone’s home.

Homes are a huge part of all family history. They’re one of my favorite images to add-in to a story when writing about a relative. Whenever I go “traveling” to do some research, I always stop at the cemetery to snap pictures of family grave sites and headstones. Then, wherever possible, I try to track down and photograph the ol’ homestead they lived on.

Sometimes it works out great…yep, I’m gonna spend the next few years concocting some sort of family tie to the Vanderbilts so I can stake claim to the Biltmore.

Some efforts are thwarted (like when closing time comes and they escort you to the door you’ve already explained simply must be yours in some way or another!). 

Kidding (?) aside, I have arrived at recorded addresses on many occasions only to find an empty lot, a four lane highway, or a new Walmart. One home, the first address after the Old Country that I have been able to trace for Hubby’s family, is no-longer standing. Imagine my surprise to find that the entire neighborhood is now occupied by Slugger Stadium in Louisville!

Do I photograph the “fails”? Heck yes! 

More than anything, when I find a home that is still intact, I am tingling with excitement. A home place can speak volumes about the people and the time they lived there. Sure, those tombstones photos are important as hard evidence of a life. They tell about our people from a calendar’s perspective of point A to point B. But the softer tales found in the nuances of “home” are the ones I am always driven to chase harder.

A building speaks quietly of so many things. The dweller’s wealth, status, position and/or lack there-of can be quickly inferred. Was the house modest when compared to others on the street? Was the family with only one child hoping for many more when they built or bought the 6 bedroom turreted Victorian? Were the materials inexpensive and readily available, like locally made brick, or were there great slabs of Indiana Limestone transported across four states to North Carolina? Is it sited in an area that was once surrounded by farms but now in the middle of tract homes? Or, is it one of a long string of addresses within a relatively short span of time?

I want to see, photograph, and touch the house and it’s lawn when possible. I want to look around at the view from the kitchen window and walk through the rooms to get the feel of being in the space. So, I take pictures from the outside, chat with a neighbor out for a walk, knock on the door and introduce myself when it seems safe to do so. If not, I jump to plan B.  I can often get a photo record of sorts by searching the address on Google Street View and flagging it as a favorite on Zillow.

I use the Google Street View and Zillow trick when the home is far away or situated in what is now considered a “bad neighborhood.”

 Yes, it’s an unfortunate reality of our modern life. Nowadays, slowing your car to take a picture of a house can get you shot.

At some point, the home may go on the market. If/when that happens, I will get a little notification, and God willing, there will be photos of the interior. Granted, it’s not the same visceral experience of actually walking through the front door after feeling the porch railings with my own hands and hearing the floors creak and the screen door bang shut as I go into the backyard…but it’s a quick flash closer than I have been before.

Zillow usually includes the year of construction on their postings, and a link to the satellite view of the property. Often, with old homes, from the overhead photograph you can see the outline of smaller buildings that are long gone from the property. You might find the outline of a well house, old shed or detached garage. Why a former structure is gone can be an interesting stand alone story in itself. Perhaps the cause was a storm, an addition to the house, or a celebration of indoor plumbing at last!

Lovely old farmhouse in rural Indiana

Lovely old farmhouse in rural Indiana

PD_0059

New house, finished up as time and money allowed. They worked on it for years.

Whoops! There's that Biltmore place again!

Whoops! There’s that Biltmore place again!

The Doctor of the Family lived here. Now it's a Bed and Breakfast

The Doctor of the Family lived here. Now it’s a Bed and Breakfast

These are just a quick sampling of some of the homes in my family tree. Blogger, Tasia, has an amazing video clip…super short…that she did as an introduction to old the homes of her ancestors. I think it’s amazing! And though it’s only seconds long, the unforgettable images prove that pictures are wondrous paintings to express simply what words can sometimes struggle to report.

Do you include the homes in your writings? They all have such incredible stories–bought for $500, farm in our family since the original land grant, their apartment was a stylish address for newlyweds, the Palm Sunday Tornadoes leveled the barn, they raised 15 children here– it’s all priceless, and enriches our written stories.

Don’t let distance, fear, disappearance or “someday” get in the way of a good 1000 word picture to add to your stories.  Get out there! 

Be the one to write it down!

ps~ don’t miss out on the links–click on Tasia  above to see the 47 second clip of her emotionally charged blog intro, and the link follower Ruth Rawls shared to an Ancestral home across the pond that she recently found via a trick like my Zillow thing.  Also, in the same chain of comments see the house here in Indianapolis that Mom obsesses over where Clark Gable had dinner! All really worth a clique!