Toolkits and pathways to rediscover British Kinship

‘A crowd of injured men being helped into a public office by family and friends, who appear to be
campaigning on their behalf. Etching attributed to G. Cruikshank.’ by Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Peter Laslett’s assertion of 1972 ‘the evidence for the study of kin relations outside co-resident domestic groups in past time does not yet exist for England’ no longer holds sway. Indeed in the age of mass digitisation and genealogical reconstruction what he considered in 1983 as impossible for an individual, to know what specific relatives were alive and when during the lifecycle to offer aid is indeed possible for the masses of the nineteenth century British society.

The multidisciplinary juncture of genealogical data and the defining of kinship as it manifests in Euroamerican cultures has intrigued anthropologists, sociologists, and linguistics, data and visualisation scientists on the European continent and in the Americas for some decades. Research has robustly contradicted Laslett and MacFarlane’s concentration upon the nuclear household or sidestepped it all together through explorations of kinship not as a domestic issue but as a societal practice. Within a British context, kinship as a force within politics, economics, local elites; as patriarchy mitigated through matrikin or as a factor for social mobility has garnered little attention or traction.

The differences between the continental European and UK record base was held up by as a barrier to accurate genealogical reconstruction, alongside the effort required to assemble the materials, of an understanding of relationship webs beyond the household. That is now the past with the explosion of digitised resources. The collective results of family tree makers have bonded with commercial algorithms to identify likely record matches to past individuals on a large scale. It remains true as stated by King that the UK record basis lacks the depth of other jurisdiction to undertake a study of politics and kin relations as done by Lipp in Germany but this does mean that only a list of names and relationships is the limit.

Conference workshop , Gloucester