Our homes have been witnesses to our everyday lives, as well as to the
great events that shape our families. For future generations, our houses might
tell part of the story but can our homes be used to document our family history?
Viewing my childhood home, one might question who played with the basketball
hoop that still hangs over the driveway? Or what family events, besides
barbecues, took place in the lanai and pool area? Using aerial maps, someone
might question the disappearance and reappearance of an oak tree that appears one year in the back yard and the next in the front yard.
If someone were to gut my childhood home and examine the framework, they
would see another part of the story. When the house was being built, my father
had my sister and I write our names, ages, and heights on one of the beams.
Years later, my dad began a tradition that with every home repair or renovation
project that exposed a beam, each child's name, age, height, and a message would
be written and preserved. Our family is chronicled within the walls of this
house. This idea to document our lives within the structure had been passed down
through my father's family.
My grandfather, who served in the Pacific during World War II, returned
home after being missing in action for more than two years. Due to his time in
the War, he was familiar with nuclear fallout so at the height of the Cold War,
he built a house that featured a basement and an underground bunker. My father
helped him with the construction and electrical work on the building which has
numerous notes inscribed within its structure.
My grandfather grew up in a farmhouse that is a patchwork of each prior
generation's development. It was originally a one room abode, but over the
years, rooms were added in a haphazard fashion. These rooms are incongruent yet
shape a story, such as the second floor staircase, which does not appear
strategically placed, except for the fact that it is built over a hidden hallway
that would allow the family to hide or escape should the need arise. Among the
numerous exposed beams in this house are written notes concerning family members
who have lived on the farm in previous and current generations.
Using aerial maps, plat maps, Sanborn maps, and historic photos, we can
witness the varying construction and external markings on a structure, which tell us a
family story. And who knows what other interesting tales may be residing within
the walls of our homes and what they might tell future generations.