Question: Which is correct: I was born “at” Carmel or I was born “in” Carmel? I have always said in, but while looking at genealogy information I have noticed many records say born at. – Carol Fridlin, Carmel
Answer: I’m glad you brought up genealogy in your question, Carol. Just as those historical records show the growth and changes to our families over the years, they often show how grammar and language have changed as well. In the case of your question, that’s exactly what has happened.
My father is the unofficial genealogist of our family. Since I’ve worked for newspapers, and knowing I’m something of a history junkie myself, he’ll often show me clips from old publications that he’s found. It’s fascinating to see how journalists even 50 years ago, not to mention 100 or more, used to write obituaries, birth announcements, etc.
Something you will see often in those old newspaper clips, as you’ve rightly pointed out, is the phrase “born at,” rather than “born in.” For a long time, “born at” was the accepted preposition, especially in British records. Sometime during the early middle of the 20th century that began to change, but even today you will still see some hold-outs using “born at.”
Today, in 2012, your preference for “born in” is the standard preposition for countries, cities, towns, etc. While “born at” is not technically wrong, it is an archaic usage. You would use it, however, when referring to the specific place someone was born – a hospital, for example. So while someone might be born in Carmel, they would be born at St.Vincent or IU Health North Hospitals – though not both at once. We’d probably have to invent a new preposition for that.