Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

By Dave Powell

It seems a silly question. But how many people really know where they first lived after birth? I thought I knew, but was wrong.

My House of First Remembering

My first memories are of a small Craftsman-style cottage on the Scioto River in Columbus, Ohio. I remember only a few things:

  • Dark built-in book shelves inside,
  • Mom’s hyper-colorful dresses (which made me think she was a gypsy),
  • And a small fish pool in the front yard.

The pool is my clearest memory. I reportedly spent many happy, unattended hours sitting in the grass, staring into its water. And dad staked chicken wire over the pool to keep me from joining the fishes.

An Unusual Birth Certificate

I always thought my parents lived there when I was born. But this changed when– shortly before her death– mom sent me a thick envelope of interesting personal records. Among them was my rather unusual birth certificate. Unlike the “official” notarized and stamped paper certs I’ve seen, it’s a data dump from (perhaps) the hospital’s thermal printer. Perhaps what they did in Columbus back in 1948.

The document may also hold more information than most modern certs. Among its more than 40 data fields, I found these interesting facts:

  • Mom lived in Columbus for 13 years before I was born.
  • She entered the hospital 5.5 hours before delivering me.
  • And my parents did not live on the Scioto River at the time.

An Unremembered First Home

The above photo shows the (now reddish) two-apartment building where mom and dad really lived when I was born. Based on the building’s street numbers (which I cloned out of the image), I think they rented the upper floor. And they probably entered using the stairs on the building’s left side– the stairs up which they carried me into my first earthly home.

But this image isn’t from an old family album. I thought it’d be a hoot to point Google Street View at the address on the certificate, and found it immediately. Even walked virtually around the neighborhood… for very ol’ times’ sake!

(The building’s appearance also makes me think it hasn’t changed much over the past 75 years.)

Closing Thoughts

  • As it turns out, many people may not know where they first lived. According to recent studies, our earliest memories begin to “take” when we’re around 2.5 years old. Anything before that is usually retained only briefly or not at all (though with repeated questioning, earlier memories may be retrieved).
  • After I found this image, my wife checked the 1950 U.S. Census. It revealed that my younger brother Byron was also born here, just before we moved across town to a larger house on Sharon Avenue.
  • A previous 35mmc article described how old family photos helped to solve a mystery of my past. But this new article shows how old documents– plus modern imaging resources– can do the same.

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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About The Author

By Dave Powell
Trained in mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer programming and science journalism. Retired mathematician, award-winning technical and journalistic writer. 1989 winner of the Bruce B. Howat Award-- an international business-journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. (Only one Howat was awarded each year, IF the committee in Geneva found an article they really liked. But I don't think the prize is granted anymore.) Also a past author and editorial advisor for Sesame Street... where I regularly worked with Jim Henson and Kermit!
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Comments

Gary Smith on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

I suspect this may be easier in the era of Google street view. Many of us live miles (and miles) away from our origin homested.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

You are so right Gary! I grew up in Ohio but now live near Boston. Street View has made it a lot easier for me to check the fates of several past Ohio residences. One of 'em is now a dentist's office. I just "returned" to it via interweb, and discovered that Street View also let me examine the property from above. It is a 1-acre lot, and when we lived there, the back quarter-acre was mom's vegetable garden. And if I were an archeologist, I'd say that (nearly 50 years after moving to New England) I can STILL see traces of the garden's boundary in the grass-- what professional diggers call "crop marks." Nicely fitting in this case! New imaging technologies certainly CAN help with such research. Thanks Gary!

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Nick on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 16/01/2024

Luckily my parents still live in my childhood home, a colonial house from the mid 1700s, which would probably make a good one shot story subject. We have have had dozens of strangers come by over the years and regal us with stories of who lived in the house, when, and for how long. Some of those people are no doubt looking for some form of family history that led them to the house.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 16/01/2024

Hi Nick, Sounds like your house has so much history that you very well could write a One Shot Story-- or even a book-- about it! If it's in the U.S., it might even have been part of the Underground Railroad. The owners of a similarly old house in our town found a staircase hidden in its wall... and it turned out to be one of the U.R. stations. There's no doubt that you've heard worthwhile stories. Consider sharing! Cheers, Dave

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Andrew Schnieder on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 06/01/2024

Delightful story Dave. I didn't realize that I'm not the only one who enjoys personal photo investigations. I've had fun doing a couple. Cheers.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 06/01/2024

Glad you liked it Andrew! Maybe you could write up one or two of yours?! Dave

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Alan Simpson on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 06/01/2024

I expect there's some truth in those 'earliest memories' studies. My parents moved from my first home when I was just under 2 years old. There are plenty of photos of me in that home, but I can recall absolutely nothing about the place. (It's still standing and I walked by there not so long ago.)
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 06/01/2024

Hi Alan, Same here... not one single solitary memory of my first home. And I'll certainly drive by if I return to Columbus again! Cheers, Dave

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Jim Hanes on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 05/01/2024

My parents lived in their first home, which I barely remember, in Markham, Illinois. The home was taken by the State of Illinois and demolished for an expressway cloverleaf. We regularly drove past the site on the way to Gramma & Grampa's house in Wisconsin. Dad usually said, "See those four trees? They were in our front yard!" Yep, facing the other way.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 05/01/2024

That's sad Jim... like the cornfields around the last house where my family lived. It eventually became a dentist's office surrounded by Ohio's biggest shopping mall. Remember the LPs that Anita Kerr and Rod McKuen recorded back in the late '60s? Their most famous album was "The Sea." But they also did "The Sky" and "The Earth" among many others. And one of the latter's tracks may be their very best. It's called "The Day They Built the Road." Here's a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGDPsjeNIc4. Have a listen... as you "face the other way"! Happy New Year, Dave

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Dave Powell on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

Wow Geoff... Lights might possibly have been a decent first thought! I wonder if you're like me, and find bright light slightly painful? My wife calls me a troglodyte 'cause I'm most comfortable in cool, cave-like darkness!
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Geoff Chaplin on Tracking Down My Very First Home (One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

I did the same some years ago. Can I remember my first home? My parents lived with my grandparents until I was about 2 and of course visited frequent afterwards. My first memory in that house - if it is a memory - is crying interminably as a baby. My parents tried everything, nappy change, feeding, change position, nothing worked. Eventually they gave up, turned the LIGHT OFF, and I instantly fell asleep. Aren't adults stupid? They should have known.
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