Is there a human homing instinct?

As a change from my own family tree, I’ve been investigating that of a friend born in Weymouth, Dorset, whose parents divorced when she was small. Her father disappeared from her life completely, resisting all attempts at contact, and she resigned herself to the situation. Her mother remarried, they moved from Dorset to a Yorkshire village, and as the little girl grew up, her new daddy adopted her and filled the paternal role perfectly.


Family lore was that the maternal line descended from farmers in Essex, so I was startled to discover that the Yorkshire village she had grown up in was in fact home to a long line of her grandmother’s ancestors. Descendants are still resident there more than two hundred years later. Neither she nor her mother had been aware of that at all: as far as they were concerned it was simply the place where her stepfather happened to live. Such a strange coincidence: had something “in the blood” drawn them there?

I told her this, and she asked the family name. I won’t mention it here because it elicited shrieks of laughter and I don’t want to be sued for libel. More merriment greeted the news that her ancestor had been a brewer and innkeeper there, though I didn’t find the name of his inn.

Another line, the Bowrings, also resident in Yorkshire for several generations, goes back to a linen weaver in the early nineteenth century in the evocatively named village of Monks Bretton, near Barnsley, where linen weaving was first introduced in 1794. I couldn’t find any definite records for the birth and parents of this ancestor, but as I delved further, following up leads for various other people, it struck me that this surname kept cropping up in earlier records – not in Yorkshire, but in Dorset. This was all the more surprising, as I knew that her mother had no known family associations with that county although her biological father’s family came from Dorset. A little more research, and a 19th century census surname survey revealed that about 33% of people named Bowring lived in Dorset. It seems highly plausible that this maternal line had originated among the Dorset weavers, many of whom moved north in search of work during the industrial revolution. That has, however, yet to be verified. If it’s true, though, it marks yet another strange coincidence.

And then yes, I did find an Essex line, and fortunately both the patriarch and his son bore the unusual first name of Hezekiah. That made them pretty easy to trace back into the late eighteenth century and I was able to identify the villages where they lived and even the names and locations of their farms. By this time, I was marvelling at the wonderful names the English have given their villages and how these reflect the people who founded them: Vikings in Yorkshire, Saxons in the south.

In Essex my friend had links to Leaden Roothing, Chignal Smealey and Great Dunmow. Now I turned to Dorset. Around Dorchester there are Bishop’s Caundle, Affpuddle, Bere Regis, Bradford Peverell, Hazelbury Bryan and many more pretty places with quirky names. Check this site out for a taste.

Dorset names – both of places and people – immediately evoke Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels. Do you love Bathsheba Everdene? In the 18th century marriage records of just one little village I found Hephzibah Pankerd, Cleophas Seignior, Love Snook, Susannah Twogood and Christian Bugg.

Members of my friend’s family tree from this village include Priscilla Tyte who married the blacksmith Aquila Jeans, thus becoming Prissy Tyte-Jeans – not one that Hardy would have chosen, I think. The Jeans family clearly had a propensity for fancy names, as there are also Hercules, Elisha, Partheria and – my favourite – Levi Jeans.

Having gone back nine or ten generations, I returned to the late twentieth century. Here I need to mention that as an adult, after a bit of globe trotting, my friend was transferred for professional reasons to the beautiful city of Bath, Somerset, where she still lives after settling there in the early nineteen eighties.

No one in the family had any idea of what had happened to her biological father so imagine our surprise on finding his death recorded in Bath in 1994. Bath is not a huge city; its population is slightly under 90,000. There are no historical family connections with the place. Yet both he and his estranged daughter had ended up there, independently and presumably unbeknownst to each other.

What took him there? What was he doing there? How long was he there? Where did he live? The thought crossed our minds that he could have been living in the same neighbourhood as my friend. Did he know she was there? She thinks he remarried, and may have had more children, so could she have half-siblings living just around the corner? Should she try to find out, or simply shrug her shoulders and ignore this strange coincidence?

Is there a human homing instinct? Or were the Fates pulling strings? Or is this another instance of synchronicity?

6 thoughts on “Is there a human homing instinct?

  1. Good questions at the end. The one (synchronicity) jerked at my attention the most. It causes me to ask another question: Are all simultaneously occurring events random, or is there always a cause and effect relationship? God forbid a philosophical discussion; however, I did enjoy your piece.

    • Synchronicity – It’s been an ongoing discussion more or less throughout my life, starting in high school, and I’m no wiser now than I was then. One day we’ll find out!

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