Family history

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Family History has two meanings, in Social history and Genealogy.

Social history

Family history is a branch of Social history that focuses on kinship relationships, marriage, children, and memory and constructed pasts.


Family history arose simultaneously in several countries in the 1960s, with major leadership roles in France, Britain and, a bit later, the U.S.[1]

In Paris demographer Louis Henry and historian Pierre Goubert invented a family reconstitution technique in the 1950s that enabled scholars to assemble all the information about the vital events in a given family which can be gleaned from the marriage, birth and death registers kept by parishes after about 1500. The Institute National des Etudes Demographiques developed the new methodology, using genealogies and then parish registers. They reconstructed aggregate patterns of fertility, nuptiality, and mortality for vast numbers of people and, in some instances, over several generations. Subsequent French historical demography and family history included on the one hand demographic analysis, along the lines of Henry and Goubert. A second stream was influenced by Philippe Ariès, The History of Childhood (1960), and by anthropology and the social history of the Annales School. It integrated demographic analyses with patterns of family and sexuality, linking community and social and cultural variables with mentalités, as exemplified in the work of Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, Andre Burguiere, and Jean-Louis Flandrin.

In Britain family reconstitution subsequently became a powerful tool in the hands of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. Established in 1964 by Peter Laslett, the Cambridge Group adapted the family reconstitution

Scholars publish the quarterly Journal of Family History since it was founded by historian Tamara Hareven (1937-2002) in 1976.[2] The April 2008 issue has articles on "Marriage, Social Status, and Family Succession in Medieval Korea," "Childhood and Adolescence in Early Modern Malta (1565-1632)," "Men and Women Fighting Side By Side: Examples From an English Town, 1653-1781," "Compassion and Indifference: The Attitude of the English Legal System," and "Landscapes of Remembrance: Home and Memory in the Nineteenth-Century Bürgertum." Since the 1990s attention has turned somewhat away from social history to cultural history, looking at gender relations in texts, actions and social exchanges.

Historical studies

The ideal Western family of the past, in which three generations coresided harmoniously in the same household, was a myth. The nuclear household structure, which husband, wife, their children and no one else, was the usual form of family in Western Europe since the sixteenth century, and in the United States since colonial settlement. Indeed, a nuclear household structure has predominated in England and Italy since the twelfth century.[3]

From the Cambridge Group came an unusually long-term analysis of the village of Colyton from 1538 to 1837. E. A. Wrigley reported a decline in 17th -century fertility and the 18th century recovery; he concluded that rural births and marriages responded to changing economic conditions. That is, the demographic transition did not involve a change from uncontrolled fertility to its reduction by birth control but from a system of birth control through social institution and custom to one in which the private choice of individual couples played a major part in governing the fertility rate.[4]

Modernization models are common, such as Steven Mintz's A Prison of Expectations: The Family in Victorian Culture (1983), which describes the effects of modernization in the 19th century on the structure and role of the family in Great Britain and the United States.

The close identification of home and family, and the concept of the home as the family's haven and domestic retreat, are recent developments in Western society, arising as part of the process of industrialization and urbanization in France and England in the late 18th century and the United States in the early 19th century. This view was initially limited to the urban middle classes

Gender roles

Moving beyond Women's history, scholars have incorporated themes of family history and gender studies. Rotundo (1994) shines a powerful light on the diaries, letters, and institutions of white, northern, middle-class men. From a Puritan society that conceived of men largely as ranked members of a community, America, changed into a land where a man was an individual who created his own place and status. The qualities that were valued in a man changed from an ideal that called for the suppression of aggressive, competitive urges to an image of manliness that valued exactly those aggressive and competitive traits. While boys were once seen as separate from men—at times, more like females; later, as a host of antisocial impulses that need to be suppressed—by 1900, men (with Theodore Roosevelt as paradigm) were seen as overgrown boys, their boyish impulses being their best part. Similarly, men's relation to women, while never abjuring the underlying framework of gender spheres, has repeatedly shifted to buttress men's superiority. Sexuality, too, has changed profoundly. For example, before the 1890s America lacked a concept of homosexuality, allowing adult male friends to spend the night in the same bed without community comment.[5]

U.S. South

Southern family history has been a historiographical battleground. Scholars such as Vernon Burton, Michael Johnson, Willie Lee Rose, and Anne Firor Scott, emphasized the patriarchal nature of antebellum southern society, notably the persistent significance of fatherly authority, hierarchy, and deference. On the other hand, Jane Turner Censer, Rhys Isaac, Jan Lewis, and Daniel Blake Smith offered a diametrically opposing view, stressing the role of republicanism, romanticism, and sentimentalism in creating marriage patterns emphasizing free choice and companionship and childrearing practices emphasizing autonomy in the decades preceding the Civil War. A central goal of many recent studies has been to reshape this debate by emphasizing southern distinctiveness while moving away from rigid, static conceptions of southern patriarchy. For example, Steven Stowe emphasized ritualistic struggles over authority, autonomy, and intimacy within the antebellum planter class, while Joan Cashin showed how migration to the southern frontier intensified masculine independence and diminished female power.[6]

Legal history

The legal history of the family has taken many different interpretations of the same basic facts, such as a story of progress, in which a hierarchical, patriarchal conception of marriage gives way to a contractual, egalitarian conception; or as a story of decline, in which an individualistic, rights-centered legal discourse supplants an ideology of marital permanence. Some view marriage's legal history as the story of women's emergent rights—of the slow recognition of a wife's right to child custody, separate property and earnings, and an independent legal identity—or of a movement from permanence to easy divorce.

In the U.S. starting in the 1840s, women became active litigants, suing for support, custody of children, confirmation of separate property rights, divorce or separation, and protection from creditors. Furthermore, women's rights advocates and legal reformers demanded that separated wives receive an independent legal identity and a right to retain their earnings and custody of their children. By the 1850s, as a result of decisions by state courts, married women's property rights and earning statutes, and other legal and constitutional reforms, husbands' property rights in wives and children were increasingly contested. In the late 19th century, state judges reconstructed family law, elaborating new notions of "coercion," "consortium," and "marital privacy" as substitutes for older notions of coverture.[7]

See also


Social history

  • Elder, Jr., Glen H. "History and the Family: The Discovery of Complexity." Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Aug., 1981), pp. 489–519 in JSTOR
  • Hareven, Tamara K. "The Home and the Family in Historical Perspective." Social Research 1991 58(1): 253-285. Issn: 0037-783x in EBSCO
  • Hareven, Tamara K. "The History of the Family and the Complexity of Social Change. American Historical Review 1991 96(1): 95-124. Issn: 0002-8762 in Jstor
  • Laslett, Peter, ed. Family Life and Illicit Love in Former Generations (1977).
  • Laslett, Peter and Wall, Richard, eds. Household and Family in Past Time. (1972).

Britain, U.S., Canada

  • Arensberg, Conrad M.. and Solon T. Kimball. Family and Community in Ireland (1968).
  • Bardaglio, Peter W. Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South. (1995). 355 pp.
  • Basch, Norma. Framing American Divorce: From the Revolutionary Generation to the Victorians. (1999). 237 pp.
  • Billingsley, Carolyn Earle. Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier. (2004) 215 pp.
  • Bleser, Carol, ed. In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South. (1991). 330 pp.
  • Bradbury, Bettina, ed. Canadian Family History: Selected Readings. (1992).
  • Byington, Margaret F. Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town [1910], a major primary source; deals with Pittsburgh
  • Brown, Kathleen M. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (1996)
  • Campbell, D'Ann. Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Public Era, (1984), World War II; covers housewives, nurses, Wacs, war-workers
  • Carr, Lois Green, and Lorena S. Walsh. "The Planter's Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland." William and Mary Quarterly, 1977 Vol. 34 Issue October, 561-558
  • Coontz, Stephanie. The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families, 1600-1900. (1989). 365 pp.
  • Costin, Lela B.; Karger, Howard Jacob; and Stoesz, David. The Politics of Child Abuse in America. (1996). 194 pp.
  • Degler, Carl. At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (1980).
  • Demos, John. A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (1970) influential pioneering study
  • Foyster, Elizabeth. Marital Violence: An English Family History, 1660-1857. (2005). 282 pp.
  • Gillis, John. For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (1985).
  • Gordon. Michael, ed. The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective (2nd ed. 1978), essays by scholars
  • Griswold, Robert L. Fatherhood in America: A History. (1993). 382 pp.
  • Hareven, Tamara K. Family Time and Industrial Time: The Relationship Between the Family and Work in a New England Industrial Community (1982).
  • Hartog, Hendrik. Man and Wife in America: A History. (2000) 408 pp. , legal history.
  • Hawes, Joseph M,. and Elizabeth I Nybakken, eds. Family and Society in American History (2001), essays by scholars excerpt and text search
  • Hunter, Jean E. and Mason, Paul T., eds. The American Family: Historical Perspectives. (1991). 211 pp.
  • Jabour, Anya, ed. Major Problems in the History of American Families and Children (2004) primary and secondary sources
  • Kierner, Cynthia A. "Women, Gender, Families, and Households in the Southern Colonies." Journal of Southern History 2007 73(3): 643-658. Issn: 0022-4642 Ebsco
  • Kleinberg, S. J. The Shadow of the Mills: Working Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907 (1989)
  • Laslett, Peter. et al., eds. An Introduction to English Historical Demography (1966)
  • Macfarlane, Alan. Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction 1300-1840 (1987)
  • McMillen, Sally G. Motherhood in the Old South: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infant Rearing. (1990). 237 pp.
  • Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life (1988), 316pp; the standard scholarly history excerpt and text search
  • Mintz, Steven. Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood. (2004). 464 pp., the standard scholarly history excerpt and text search
  • Mintz, Steven. "Teaching Family History: an Annotated Bibliography." Magazine of History 2001 15(4): 11-18. Issn: 0882-228x
  • Mintz, Steven. A Prison of Expectations: The Family in Victorian Culture. (1983). 234 pp., focus on families of famous writers
  • Pleck, Elizabeth. Domestic Tyranny: The Making of American Social Policy against Family Violence from Colonial Times to the Present. (1987). 273 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Regosin, Elizabeth. Freedom's Promise: Ex-Slave Families and Citizenship in the Age of Emancipation. (2002). 239 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Riley, Glenda. Building and Breaking Families in the American West. (1996). 204 pp.
  • Riney-Kehrberg, Pamela. Childhood on the Farm: Work, Play, and Coming of Age in the Midwest. (2005). 300 pp excerpt and text search
  • Rotundo, E. Anthony. American Manhood: Transformations In Masculinity From The Revolution To The Modern Era (1994) excerpt and text search
  • Ruggles, Steven. Prolonged Connections: The Rise of the Extended Family in Nineteenth-Century England and America. (1987). 282 pp.
  • Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977).
  • Walvin, James. A Child's World: A Social History of English Childhood (1800-1914) (1982).
  • Ward, Peter. Courtship, Love and Marriage in Nineteenth Century English Canada. (1990). 219 pp.
  • Watts, Jim and Davis, Allen F. Generations: Your Family in Modern American History. (1974). 210 pp.
  • Wrigley, E. A., and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541—1871: A Reconstruction (1981), the most comprehensive study for any nation excerpt and text search


see also Annales School

  • Adams, Julia. The Familial State: Ruling Families and Merchant Capitalism in Early Modern Europe. (2005). 235 pp.
  • Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (1962), France
  • Astarita, Tommaso. Village Justice: Community, Family, and Popular Culture in Early Modern Italy. (1999). 305 pp.
  • Bell, Rudolph M. Fate and Honor, Family and Village: Demographic and Cultural Change in Rural Italy since 1800. (1979). 288 pp.
  • Copley, Antony. Sexual Moralities in France, 1780-1980: New Ideas on the Family, Divorce, and Homosexuality: an Essay on Moral Change. (1989). 283 pp.
  • Darrow, Margaret H. Revolution in the House: Family, Class, and Inheritance in Southern France, 1775-1825. (1990). 279 pp.
  • Engel, Barbara Alpern. Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work, and Family in Russia, 1861-1914. (1994). 254 pp.
  • Evans, Richard J. and Lee, W. R., eds. The German Family: Essays on the Social History of the Family in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany. (1981). 302 pp.
  • Flandrin, Jean-Louis. Families in Former Times; Kinship, Household, and Sexuality. (1979). 265 pp on France
  • Gager, Kristin Elizabeth. Blood Ties and Fictive Ties: Adoption and Family Life in Early Modern France. (1996). 197 pp.
  • Herlihy, David. Medieval Households (1985)
  • Heuer, Jennifer Ngaire. The Family and the Nation: Gender and Citizenship in Revolutionary France, 1789-1830. (2005). 256 pp.
  • Kaplan, Marion A. The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany. (1991). 351 pp.
  • Kertzer, David I. and Saller, Richard P., eds. The Family in Italy from Antiquity to the Present. (1991). 399 pp.
  • Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy. (1985). 338 pp.
  • Koonz, Claudia. Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, Family Life, and Nazi Ideology, 1919-1945. (1986). 640 pp.
  • Kuehn, Thomas. Law, Family, and Women: Toward a Legal Anthropology of Renaissance Italy. (1992). 415 pp.
  • Laslett, Peter and Wall, Richard, eds. Household and Family in Past Time.(1972)
  • Nivre, Elisabeth Wåghäll. Women and Family in Early Modern German Literature. (2004). 221 pp.
  • Ozment, Steven. Flesh and Spirit: Private Life in Early Modern Germany. (1999.) 348 pp.
  • Ransel, David L., ed. The Family in Imperial Russia: New Lines of Historical Research. (1979). 342 pp.
  • Segalen, Martine. Love and Power in the Peasant Family: Rural France in the Nineteenth Century. (1983). 206 pp.
  • Traer, James F. Marriage and the Family in Eighteenth-Century France. (1980). 208 pp.
  • Wheaton, Robert and Harven, Tamara K., eds. Family and Sexuality in French History. (1980)
  • Woolf, Stuart, ed. Domestic Strategies: Work and Family in France and Italy, 1600-1800. (1991). 207 pp.
  • Worobec, Christine D. Peasant Russia: Family and Community in the Post-Emancipation Period. (1991). 257 pp.

Asia, Latin America

  • Fuess, Harald. Divorce in Japan: Family, Gender, and the State, 1600-2000. (2004). 226 pp.
  • Glushkova, Irina and Vora, Rajendra, ed. Home, Family, and Kinship in Maharashtra. (2000) 240 pp. India
  • Hanley, Susan B. and Wolf, Arthur P., eds. Family and Population in East Asian History. (1985). 360 pp.
  • Hareven, Tamara K. The Silk Weavers of Kyoto: Family and Work in a Changing Traditional Industry. (2002). 371 pp.
  • Huang, Philip C. C. The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta, 1350-1988. (1990). 421 pp.
  • Laslett, Peter and Wall, Richard, eds. Household and Family in Past Time. (1972).
  • Milanich, Nara. "Whither Family History? A Road Map from Latin America." American Historical Review 2007 112(2): 439-458 online from EBSCO
  • Waltner, Ann. Getting an Heir: Adoption and the Construction of Kinship in Late Imperical China. (1991). 226 pp.
  • Yan, Yunxiang. Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999. (2003). 281 pp.


  1. In addition Sweden and Estonia sponsored major studies using Lutheran parish records. See Ann-Sophie Kalvemark, "The Country That Kept Track of Its Population: Methodological Aspects of Swedish Population Records," Scandinavian Journal of History. (1977): 21: 1—30; Juhan Kahk, Heldur Palli, and Halliki Uibu, "Peasant Family in Estonia in the Eighteenth and the First Half of the Nineteenth Centuries." Journal of Family History (1982): 7:76-89
  2. See back issues and abstracts
  3. see Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost (1965)
  4. Peter Laslett et al, eds. An Introduction to English Historical Demography (1966); E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541—1871: A Reconstruction (1981)
  5. E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations In Masculinity From The Revolution To The Modern Era (1994)
  6. Steven Stowe, Intimacy and Power in the Old South: Ritual in the Lives of the Planters (1990) excerpt and text search; Joan Cashin, A Family Venture: Men and Women on the Southern Frontier (1994) excerpt and text search
  7. Hendrik Hartog, Man and Wife in America: A History. (2000)