Retinoblastoma Lineages

by Science Museum, London. Credit: Science Museum, London. CC BY

A century ago Dr A Hill-Griffith based in Manchester, England reported on two families’ experience of glioma of the Retina, which is today referred to as Retinoblastoma.[1]  The doctor’s contribution to ophthalmology has only been picked up ten times since; the latest occasion was in 2012, after a fifty-two-year gap, by a team of Indian researchers. Hill-Griffith discussed his work with three generations of the Smith family and Mrs Jones and children which made him consider whether some tumours of the eye where heritable. In a decade he had treated for Rb, the children of two mothers who had themselves received treatment for Rb in the 1870s/80s. Hill Griffith signed off his report ‘These hereditary cases seem to show an abnormal tendency to affect several members of the family, and also to implicate both eyes.’

Unfortunately, for the modern researcher, he reported on families surnamed Smith and Jones. Assuming that the doctor didn’t follow a modern procedure of anonymising with pseudonyms his patient case studies are still difficult to trace in the public record. Even with a high level of indicators extracted from his report, it proofs difficult to match the families against other state records like the census and birth, marriages and deaths with any degree of reliability. Some may wonder why such an intrusion might be useful.

There is potential to reconstruct Rb family-lineages. In the small community of contemporary Rb, there are families into third, fourth and fifth generations where the gene has had an impact. Technically the capacity exists to genealogical reconstruct these Rb family lineages back further generations as well as trace forward Rb identified patient case studies from the past. Such an activity could produce a descent and ancestry lineage whose death records could be investigated for further information for cause, or further historical hospital records could be sought for evidence of Rb up and down the generations.

A. Hill Griffith’s case studies are not the only data source available for this as he had referenced a three-generation lineage where only the grand-father and grandchildren had shown symptoms and been treated with the daughter-mother being skipped. Historical Rb patients can also be identified through the Historic Hospital Admissions Records Project. The earliest likely patient recorded being Edward Cann, Clapton, Hackney who succumbed to tumours in both eyes having been discharged from Great Ormond Street Nov 1860. As did William Samways in 1876 aged two who was examined but deemed unlikely to benefit from treatment. In contrast, Hannah Blackwell who was ‘cured’ in 1882, went on to raise many children and migrated to Canada with them. It is worth noting that by the 1920s the anonymisation of patient case studies was standard, so there is only a small number of decades where this is possible.[1]

A lengthy research paper by C. Devereux Marshall from 1897 is a rich resource for case studies. It also captures the tensions and developing processes of the medical profession alongside the dilemmas and forces that Rb brought upon the family.[2]

The question as to whether glioma is likely to appear in more than one member of the same family is of the utmost importance to the anxious parents…

Devereux Marshall referred back to his immediate predecessors, Lawford and Collin’s, who had found no family link, while during the 1890-97 period, some family clusters had begun to emerge. This provides context to Hill-Griffith’s report two decades later and the battle to be in better relationships and ongoing contact with the families as good practice.

The difficulties of doing this were two-fold, Ada Lydia Wright’s family were functionally illiterate and had taken some of their children to different London hospitals with four of the six, potentially, one, likely, one and definitely, two, being affected by Rb. Neither parent showed or reported a history of Rb themselves. Hill Griffith in 1917 had noted that he and colleagues most often saw mothers’ and could spot artificial eyes he and his colleagues only infrequently encountered fathers, as their work left them unable to attend the hospital, so anecdotal correlation to the father’s Rb status was unlikely.  Dr Berrisford who appears to have worked in different cities and nations and been a person of note who reported on the case where a generation was skipped only impacting the grandfather and grandchildren.

‘Undoubtedly the correct thing to do would be to examine at intervals these children’.

Which was not so simple a task, Devereux  Marshall’s report notes the number of children and families where contact had been lost over the seven-year period. The mother of case 84, Sidney Everist,  had only brought her child back in after two and half years after the first enucleation, in response to a letter, reporting no complications but new tumours were quickly discovered in the margins of the remaining eye.

These old records regarding Glioma of the Retina, Rb are a rich resource of material, not least they tell us about the development of the understanding of the condition within the context of the history of medicine. The records also open up the complex task of identifying potential family lines and family contexts that could throw further light on what it meant to be a family affected by Rb in the past. The level of work needed to do this shouldn’t be underestimated. It is possible to pick up Harry Chattaway in Deptford, London in 1901 aged ten recorded as having lost an eye with his elderly father a warehouse packer. Harry in 1911 was a draughtsman, a person who makes detailed technical plans or drawings, specialising in railway stoves. Sidney Everist, who in all honesty ought to be simple to discover presents a quandary as he was not recorded as having an impairment and the potential of his death in service with the Royal Navy in 1917 is challenging following his medical history. It is possible to identify that Chattaway had two aunts who had died aged two and four in mid-Victorian, Wolverhampton, which is a clear red flag.

The potential studies and queries are diverse, for example, was Harry’s educational, economic rise as measured against his father’s work history affected by a charity based upon the eye loss. Alternatively, if it proves possible to map enough of the case study patients against government records an exercise of geographical mapping emerges. Such a project would identify the territorial reach of the hospitals which informs us about the percolation of knowledge and awareness amongst the medical profession and the ability of families from different socio-economic situations to participate in an ongoing medical process. There could well be some surprises hidden in this data not least if current Rb lineage families become associated to one of the case study patients.

Let’s finish though with what cannot be done the numbers are simply too small to do any statistical work, which is the ongoing complexity of the Rb patient cohorts. So despite some oddities buried within these old records, like skipped generations, the data wouldn’t support any demographic level assessment.

[1] GLIOMA RETINAE (WITH REPORT OF A CASE) BY DR. W. J. KEYS, VICTORIA, B.C;. Clinical and Pathological Report of Bilateral Glioma Retinae. By R.FOSTER MOORE, F.R.C.S., AND R.S.SCOTT, F.R.C.S.,

[2] C. Devereux Marshall, ‘Notes of Glioma Retinae’, Ophthalmic Hospital Reports, (The Royal London; London, England, 1897), p.454

[1] A. Hill Griffith, ‘Hereditary glioma of the retina’, The British Journal of Ophthalmology, 1, no.9 (1917), pp.529.

To Alleviate or Elevate the Euroamerican Genealogy Fever


There has been a quiet cultural drift towards professionalism in genealogy over the last two decades. Developments in the UK on this subject have resulted in educational offerings that support professionalism through accountability to service consumers while a US debate has pushed for a recognised and regarded scholarship to underpin the professional genealogist. This article places the educational and learning needs of three broad groups of genealogists into the framework of the professional debate in its generality and genealogical specifics. With a concentration on the British context, the article considers the cultural–commercial signals and support offered to ‘armchair enthusiasts’; the emerging models of professional education and formation aimed at lineage makers and the ongoing fractured models of scholastic genealogy. Looking ahead at educational needs, genealogy like other professions is now under threat from advances in artificial intelligence and algorithms, which could slice through the underpinnings of genealogical professionalism. The article concludes with a discussion of an alternative approach to genealogical education derived from the proposition that professionalism is to be found in the outputs and outcomes rather than the organisation of the practitioners of economic activity. From this stance, the needs of a full range of people pursuing genealogy can be addressed and their work informed by the developing understanding of Euroamerican kinship. View Full-Text

Review – ‘Should I marry my cousin’, BBC3 – Iplayer release Tues 4th July 2017

In this intriguing program that deserves a main BBC outing, Habib a young Bradfordian worked her way through the complexities of decision-making around what she learnt was a significant cultural factor for families with links to north-eastern Pakistan. Her learning process took her through conversations about values, money, religion, culture, the impact on women, and crucially for Habib genetics.

Her enthrallment was captured in the film as she was tutored by her parents, who are not cousins, on the complexity of cousin marriages amongst each of their respective families. This was tempered by her shock at the findings of Born in Bradford study and results from the London Borough of Redbridge that had captured cousin marriages as a factor in genetic health conditions and early deaths of children. The impact of a communal knowledge about these issues was presented through anecdotally cross-community street interviews, some of which captured a stereotype often imposed on rural, isolated communities of ‘inbreeding’.

In an attempt to understand more about the risks of consanguineous parenthood Habib met with geneticists to explore what the issues were. She was taken by an uncle, who is an advocate of cousin marriages, to meet a cousin couple with disabled and non-disabled children, watched a Jewish genetic knowledge project in action and had her DNA tested. As a person with a dominant genetic condition, it was hard not to empathise with Habib’s struggle to both understand and quantify the numbers and statistics of risk but also to internalise and rationalise the emotional response to them.

‘Ideal marriage : its physiology and technique /’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Beyond this, I was struck by how Habib’s family stories were given no context within historical British culture and how fundamentally the concept of cousin marriages struck people on the street as something ‘other’. As a PhD student whose core research data is based on the genealogical reconstruction of family trees arising from within Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it is clear that we don’t need to go back many generations to start finding cousin relationships and a consanguineous marriage culture in parts of the country and parts of society.[i]

An English maternal great-aunt of my own, who had worked in the Somerset silk factories spent her life in a committed relationship with her male first cousin but by the time they had reached adulthood the British culture around marriage had firmly turned against them and the relationship was not formalised. For an understanding of which we can turn our gaze upon a father and son surname Darwin who were part of an upper-middle-class kin-group steeped in a consanguineous marriage culture.[ii]

George Darwin, son of Charles in consequence of his father’s work on evolution, attempted to study late Victorian levels of cousin marriages amongst the British by writing to elite families. He garnered a  mixed set of results in the late 1800s, from which he estimated a rate of 2-3% and also a level of ignorance about interrelatedness amongst marriage partners. An exploration of cousin marriages in other parts of Euro-British culture draws attention to rural communities where levels of and reasons for cousin marriages have been explored in places like Wiltshire and Aberdeenshire with context from the northern Netherlands. The findings are echoing what Habib heard from her circle of kin, a coherence of values between the marriage partners, knowledge of the necessary skills for the core family enterprise and their birth families and safeguarding of hard fought for assets.[iii]

All of which is recognisable amongst my own Aberdeenshire ancestors who would be placed amongst the mid-strata peasant tenants, typified by having some economic security but which required the usage of all family labour to maintain. Through the nineteenth century, with generation after generation, it is possible to see internal kin-family marriages, as well as sibling exchange marriages and also some family members not marrying as they displayed lifestyles, men as well as women, as ‘adjutants’ to siblings. This sort of society has been discussed by the French historical anthropologist Martine Segalen who noted cousin marriages as a component of peasant societies within Western European nations and hit upon the idea of stranger-cousin marriages. The notion being that the demographic facts meant that ultimately there would be a ‘kin’ connection between many couples but it was a coincidence.[iv] By understanding the web of social connections that can be recovered through sources like genealogical reconstruction, wills and testaments and newspaper clippings the density of kin across the British landscape, the heart of my thesis, can be apparent in a manner reflective of the village shown to Habib by her father.

The construct of the notion of a peasant society within the western European umbra has to be taken as suggestive of something past, marginal, non-modern. So very much dovetailing with attitudes today around cousin marriage and maybe in the eyes of some with what Habib encountered in Pakistan as she joined her parents passing the doors of grandfather, uncles, and cousins and viewing the ‘family’ land. Habib’s visit to her kinship’s place took in the village graveyard which was crowned by the tomb of a foundational patriarch. The family attachment exhibited by Habib’s father and wider relatives evoke a correlation for me amongst some Presbyterian Scots and Irish-Scots in the US studied by Gwen K Neville.[v] Neville’s work to understand extensive annual kin-gatherings, involving all the descendants of a single nineteenth-century farmer that have continued into the modern era, which she regarded as having a quasi-religious aspect to them. In her summary, Neville emphasised ‘The requirements of family and community over and against those of personhood and independent identity are a part of the conflicting demands on the Protestant individual.‘ Which equally serves as a good summary of the issues tackled by Habib, a young Muslim woman thinking about cousin marriage.

It would be remiss to conclude this review without an acknowledgement of the insight, Habib gained as a woman raised as she often alluded to in a culture that stresses individualism, about cousin marriage and women. Habib through discussions with her mother, deeply opposed to cousin marriage from her first marriage, grandmother, aunts and her similar aged cousins which while not convincing her about a consanguineous relationship surprised her that in some ways they created a safer space for women. This complexity has been studied in recent years by Muhammed Zaman through interviews in Pakistan’s southern Punjab from which a complex mix of individual choice and family influences emerge around cousin marriages including the nuances of this for women, well worthy of a read, just as this BBC3 program is a watch.[vi]

[i] Malcolm T. Smith, ‘Estimates of cousin marriage and mean inbreeding in the United Kingdom from ‘birth briefs’’, Journal of Biosocial Science, 33, no.1 (2001), pp.55-66.

[ii] George Darwin, ‘Reprints and Reflections, Marriages between first cousins in England and their effects’, International Journal of Epidemiology, 38, (2009), pp.1429-1439.

[iii] Andrew Blaikie, ‘Coastal Communities in Victorian Scotland: What makes North-East Fisher families distinct?’, Local Population Studies, (2002), pp.15-31., Hilde Bras, Frans van Poppel and Kees Mandemakers, ‘”Relatives as spouses: Preferences and opportunities for kin marriage in a Western society.”‘, American Journal of Human Biology, 21, (2009), pp.793-804., Cathy Day and Malcolm Smith, ‘Cousin marriage in south-western England in the nineteenth century’, Journal of Biosocial Science, 45, no.3 (2013), pp.405-414.

[iv] Martine Segalen, Historical Anthropology of the Family, J. C. Whitehouse and Sarah Matthews (trans.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

[v] Gwen Kennedy Neville, Kinship and Pilgrimage: Rituals of Reunion In American Protestant Culture The Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life Working Paper No. 22, (Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, 2003).

[vi] Muhammad Zaman, ‘Socio-Cultural security, emotions and exchange marriages in Agrarian Community’, South Asia Research, 28, 3, (2008), pp.285-298., Muhammad Zaman, ‘Exchange Marriages in a Community of Pakistan: Adequate Social Exchange’, The Family Journal, 22, (2014), pp.69-77.

One name, three women, family bonds despite distance; a consideration of how kinship behaviours can be evidenced in names

One name, three women, family bonds despite distance; a consideration of how kinship behaviours can be evidenced in names

Family decisions around children’s names are of interest to academics focused on anthropology, sociology and family history.[i] The use of names has been studied to reveal the tensions around belonging to a community, relationships between people, as well as the survival of minority languages and other indicators of ethnicity.[ii] In the age of digitisation, it has become possible to data mine national collections of records regarding past individuals to understand historical social systems.[iii]

This posting is a brief consideration of how names can be clues to kinship affinities as to who people were in a relationship with. The blog’s focus is upon the descendants of Harriet Cardno 1813-1894 the eldest daughter of a tight-knit family of millers based in Ellon parish, Aberdeenshire. Unlike her siblings, Harriet had broken away from the joint enterprises which absorbed them, their parents, their spouses and children.[iv] The name Thomina Mary Black Jamieson is the backbone of the piece as it provides a link between three different women descended from the Cardno, kin-cluster that existed at the Mill of Kinharrichie through the 1830s,40s and 50s before breaking up in the 1860s following the ‘patriarch’s’ death.

The idea of a name seems simple but can be incredibly complex. On one hand, if the culture of names is not diverse enough a secondary set of identifiers is needed to fulfil the purpose.[v] Whilst on the other, diversity of names can create the environment for an entire telling of stories. For example, my own name like my brother’s was designed to meet a few objectives; reflecting my father’s Scottish heritage, reflect my parent’s Christian beliefs and make a link to relatives, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, favoured cousins. Whilst the parents of Frederick William Louis d’Hilliers Roosevelt Theodore Butterfield of Cliff Castle, Keighley looked to his maternal Roosevelt 2nd cousins as well as a French Napoleonic military commander which reflected their social circles.

When it comes to first names, families in Euroamerican cultures have been able to exercise a creative flare over tradition, as encountered in my recent article that considered nineteenth/early twentieth century women with names like Ethelinda and Carolinda.[vi] In late fourteenth century England only eighty male first names could be identified.[vii] Using as a data mining tool it becomes apparent that Thomina and variants like Thomasina and Tomina represent a newer formula of female names in Aberdeenshire and indeed Scotland.

Naming patterns within British cultures are clearly a bit of jumble with even the stability of surnames being questionable; antiquarian genealogies of elite society expose a variety of name changes to supposedly paternally linking family names, a famous example being Percy.[viii] Despite the presence of some cultural rules, a first son named after the father or paternal grandfather or a favoured uncle, a baby named for an older deceased sibling, a daughter named to reflect her mother’s pre-marriage heritage or in honour of her aunt the same is true of personal names.[ix] When these rules and honourings have been followed they really stand out in the record as signifies; a second son taking his maternal grandfather’s family name as his first or second given name creating some ‘odd’ combinations, for instance, Leask Mackie 1908-1988 and his uncle Maitland Mackie. The nephew’s name linked to a grandfather William Leask whose tenancy passed to the Mackie, whilst the uncle was named after his aunt’s husband, becoming the first of what is now five generations of Maitland Mackie.

So what evidence can be retrieved from the name pattern Thomina Mary Black Jamieson in regard to the Cardno kinship and the momentous decision of Harriet to distance herself from it in the 1830s by moving the six or so miles to Newburgh? Her independent economic setup in the small port and later establishment of a domestic unit with a seaman raised a question in the earlier blog of whether she had broken from her parents and sibling or had merely struck out on her own.[x] Understanding the nature of her individual decision and its context within the wider family makeup is an important clue to power dynamics and social relationships; was she an outcast for defiance, a skeleton in the family cupboard of secrets going forward.[xi] Or could it be that Harriet was held up as a pioneer, an exemplar for later generations of Cardno descendant women?

Thomina, Harriet’s youngest daughter became one of the many women in the nineteenth century who moved from a rural society into an urban setting. It could be postulated that she built upon Harriet’s example when she departed for the English district of West Derbyshire, Lancashire which included the outer suburbs of Liverpool.[xii] Despite her migration south in the 1860s or 70s that took her away from her own core family and her mother’s wider kinfolk, Thomina gained a namesake niece and later a cousin. Thomina’s brother a young seaman had fathered a child out of wedlock in 1874 who was registered plainly as Tomina Jamieson, who became legitimate following her parents later marriage. Whilst in 1886 at Brechin, Forfarshire, Margaret Urquhart, Mrs Cuthbert gave her daughter the even more convoluted name Tomina Mary Black Jamieson Cuthbert, Margaret was a great niece of Harriet, who over decades can be tracked linking domestic units that had dispersed from Kinharrichie.[xiii] Surprisingly given her name and her proven attachment to it through the decades Thomina is proofing difficult to find in the 1871 census; it is highly unlikely that she was in Scotland whilst three Scottish born Mary Jamieson’s of the right age were enumerated as servants in West Derby. Consider whether as a young servant girl Thomina lacked the status to assert her full name in the English census of 1871.[xiv]

An observation in relation to high-status families like the Courtenay aristocrats, made by Professor Henry French at the Maison Francais’s conference on genealogical culture January 2017, was that the assemblage of family histories whilst for private consumption contained important lessons to be passed onto the young. It is not likely that the Cardno families created and kept books and diaries about themselves but stories passed down as oral evidence, whilst vulnerable to corruption, could have served a similar purpose, in which case the decision of Margaret Urquhart to clearly mark Harriet’s descendants as part of her acknowledged kin-affinity is important as it indicates that Harriet’s life story was regarded as exemplar rather than a warning.

Such a conclusion fits with other information gained from the genealogical reconstruction of the Cardno siblings. Unlike some of her sisters’ Harriet presents no obvious evidence of being an unwed mother but her father presents as a dominant figure who gathered sons’-in-law under his leadership.[xv] So to speculate whether there was a clash between father and daughter is a justifiable line of thought as is an alternative that the Harriet showed a desire to be elsewhere and her parents’ responded with support to her dreams, she was after all the daughter of a man who supported not only sons’-in-law but also provided security for his illegitimate grand-children en masse.

In summary, then names whilst potentially confusing could and can also be contentious; with jumbled cultural patterns can be vital clues. These clues not only help in the process of genealogical reconstruction especially over long distances but they also point to larger social questions. In this short posting, names have indicated that families from insecure but not totally precarious backgrounds were holding together a web of kin connections across distances. The name Thomina has also helped to guide an understanding of dynamics between a father and his daughters who did not meet social standards that we in the twenty-first century may expect to see in the nineteenth century; this, in turn, raises further queries about the patriarchy of the nineteenth century Grampian.

[i] Abraham Iszaevich, ‘Household renown: the traditional naming system in Catalonia’, Ethnology, 19, no.3 (1980), pp.315-325.; Eilidh Garrett and Alice Reid, ‘Introducing ‘Movers’ into Community Reconstructions: Linking Civil Registers of Vital Events to Local and National Census Data:  A Scottish Experiment’,Population Reconstruction (Springer, 2015), pp.263-283. ; Pierre Darlu et al., ‘The family name as socio-cultural feature and genetic metaphor: From concepts to methods’, Human Biology, 84, no.2 (2012), pp.169-214.; Robert Netting McC., ‘Interest and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship by Hans Medick; David Warren Sabean; Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life, 1500-1900 by Andrejs Plakans: Reviews’, American Anthropologist, New Series, 89, 1, no.11/10/2014 (1987), pp.226-228.

[ii] Jacques Dupaquier, ‘Naming-Practices, Godparenthood, and Kinship in the Vexin, 1540-1900’, Journal of Family History, 6, no.2 (1981), pp.135-155.; Pablo Mateos, Paul A. Longley and David O’Sullivan, ‘Ethnicity and population structure in personal naming networks’, PloS One, 6, no.9 (2011), pp.e22943.; Jane Hurwitz Nadel, ‘Stigma and separation: pariah status and community persistence in a Scottish fishing village’, Ethnology, 23, no.2 (1984), pp.101-115.

[iii] Gerrit Bloothooft, ‘Data mining in the (historic) Civil Registration of The Netherlands from 1811-present’, Proceedings CNRS-INSHS Workhop” Family Name between Socio-Cultural Feature and Genetic Metaphor.from Concepts to Methods”, (2010).

[iv], ‘1841 Scotland Census’, Foveran; ED1; P4; L1260’, Harriet Cardno

[v] Nancy C. Dorian, ‘A substitute name system in the Scottish Highlands’, American Anthropologist, 72, no.2 (1970), pp.303-319.

[vi] Iain Riddell, ‘Change and continuity: Networking, newspaper, kinships and twentieth century elite women’, Community and Family History, (2017).

[vii]  Chris Galley et al., ‘Living same-name siblings and British historical demography’, Local Population Studies, 86, no.1 (2011), pp.15-36.

[viii] so that the Percy name remained with the Northumberland inheritance

[ix] Clodagh Tait, ‘Spiritual Bonds, Social Bonds: Baptism and Godparenthood in Ireland, 1530–1690’, Cultural and Social History, 2, no.3 (2005), pp.301-327.; Chris Galley et al., Living same-name siblings and British historical demography

[x] Iain Riddell, ‘Riddell Family Tree’,, ‘Alexander Mitchell, 1817-1887, 1806-1807, 1860-1892’

[xi] Anna Clarke, ‘family secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain by Deborah Cohen (review)’, Victorian Studies, 57, no.1 (2014), pp.131-133.

[xii], ‘1881 England Census’, Pi3646; F47; P11; 1341873, Tomina Jameson; ‘1891 England Census’, Pi2973; F84; P27; 6098083, Thomina M B Benson

[xiii] Iain Riddell, ‘Reconstituting Individual Agency and Intent Through the Family Network’, Living the Family blog, < >

[xiv] Prescott, Little Woolton, with the Trembles; West Derby, West Derby with the Hedleys; Fairfield St John, West Derby with the Bergers

[xv], ‘1851 Scotland Census’, Pi.SCT1851/192, Ellon –Aberdeenshire, ED6, F171 P7


Hilda Johnston, Lady Butterfield 1883-1957

Hilda is the key figure in my recently published article, ‘Change and Continuity, Networking, Newspaper, Kinships and Twentieth Century Elite Women’ Family and Community History (2017) which can be found here.

By birth, she was part of a powerful kin-based business network centred upon the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As an individual woman of wealth, she hit her peak confidence from her late 50s through to her death as an aid organiser, peace campaigner and as a person who could exert socio-political influence. The article discusses her personal development, that took her from social activity, into the heart of self-financing, self-organising philanthropy of the mid-twenieth century as part of a century’s worth of social change; Hilda was the daughter of a self-declared woman who lunched, as well as the mother of a woman who was on the cusp of being a breakthrough figure at the New York Bar Association. She was also twice a wife who experienced varied forms of patriarchy but who benefitted from an elite education advanced by her father that exposed her to ideas of change about women’s roles in society. As the wife of a Yorkshire Tory grandee and cousin-in-law of the presidential Roosevelt’s in her second marriage her portrait is part of the National Portrait Gallery collection.

The article places Hilda, her mother Ethelinda Thorsen and daughter Carolinda Waters into three types of kinship structure, her close stem and collateral biological kin, parents, siblings, child, spouses, nephews and nieces. Then her wider matrifocal kin group, her female relatives by biology and law who may well have inspired her directly by active relationships or indirectly through stories, the Great Aunt, doyenne of a Jacksonville mansion, her mother’s globetrotting sister, her female cousins who shared her educational experiences or who exercised influence in Nazi-occupied Europe. Thirdly there were her fictive kinships made up of her women from the elite American families like the Roosevelts and Merrils, and women she had been schooled with at Vassar College who eased her arrival into London’s high society of the 1920s.

Not only does the article discuss ideas of kinship but it tackles the interaction between wealthy women from influential families and newspapers. Initially querying who was manipulating whom the paper digs further to consider whether the relationship with the press was a tool for further social power even through the seemingly powerless women’s pages. All of these elements are brought together to consider whether the economic breakthrough exhibited by elite women in elite organisations in the 1970s ought to be examined through the lens of their mothers and grandmothers life arcs.


Who decides: who was kin to whom? Ideally past people!

In contrast to the search for beauty, which is of course in the eye of the beholder, modern anthropological practice stresses that the observer should avoid an imposition of kinship upon their subjects.[i] This is a challenging concept that needs to be part of the critical thinking involved in both genealogical reconstruction and more importantly when working with reconstructed social networks through kinship collation.

The enlightenment thinker Adam Smith dismissed the ability of people to maintain kinship if they weren’t regularly encountering and engaging with each other, his benchmark was weekly.[ii] Davidoff in the last decade pointed out that the large nineteenth century families made it implausible that all the siblings would know each other well, let only for every member of the following generation, the cousins, to be in strong relationships with all the other cousins.[iii] This handful of writers then ask what do we mean by kinship, a topic covered by many in anthropology and sociology but less often amongst those intrigued by genealogy, for anybody interested in using genealogy reconstruction to grapple with historical theories it is vital to grasp what is meant by and what they mean by kinship.[iv]

At an entry level to this we have to be careful not to assume that just because individuals share a common name, a common ancestor or even a common household for a period of time that those linkages meant anything to them in the long-term. Interesting there is also a challenge to understand that kinship doesn’t have to be positive, consider the kin slaughter of the fifteenth century English Civil Wars.[v] Big debates also take place about whether daughters are more reliable as kinfolk than sons, and whether the state offers a better social safety net than kin networks for past people, arguably a flaw with these debates has been that ideas of kinship have been bounded by the limits of the household.[vi]

Recently I have been working with some ideas around kinship connectivity and migration; related people gradually moving continents and settling close to each other and then moving on again as a group.[vii]

A woman Alexandria M Gordon, b.1892 in Winnipeg, appeared from part of the research. She illustrates how the meaningful relationships of past people, kinship, can be unravelled from a sparse official record. Her birth is captured by the Manitoban government and her residency in 1901 is picked up by the national census. This enumeration labelled her as a niece of the head of her household George Mutch b. 1832 Aberdeenshire d.1920 Crystal City, Manitoba; an in depth and extensive study of the siblings of both George, Mr Margaret Fraser and his wife reveal that she cannot possibly be a niece by blood or marriage of George. At which point the questions mount up;

1) What is a girl born in Winnipeg doing in southern Manitoba with   an elderly couple?

2) Where is her birth family and how has she got there?

3) Where does she end up?

4) Is this girl actually a relative by blood or marriage or is this a fictive relationship?

The first three questions when worked through give context to the fourth but it is important to also grapple with why the four questions matter to the theorising above. The questions themselves are part of the creative skills required to undertake the task of genealogical reconstruction; after all too successful find records to add to family trees requires a process of asking questions that generate a pool of records that can be assessed for likelihood.

Alexandria Gordon’s early life arc cuts across much the received ideas we have about western kinship. She lives with people who are related to her who but don’t share a common name, with her or her mother Isobella Smart, a blood-niece of George Mutch. Following Isobella, Mrs Gordon’s death in 1900 Alexandria is sent to a great uncle rather than being looked after by the state, a state which was already involved in schemes that imported British orphans and placing them in households, tackling the national labour shortage.

Working the questions through against the evidence, George Mutch and nuclear-family had departed Aberdeenshire in 1875, Alexandria’s mother a few years later, going initially to differing parts of Ontario and yet a link was maintained that brought a child from Winnipeg to the Manitoba-US border counties 25 years later. This incidence speaks to kinship connectivity whether directly or indirectly, a process explored through archived letters by Erickson.[viii]

In 1906 and 1911 Alexandria was not living with the increasingly elderly Mutch couple but in 1916 as a young bride she is a near neighbour to them. In light of which it is permissible to construe that some form of positive relationship existed between Alexandria and the couple who had been her kin guardians in 1901. Taken as a whole over numerous lifetimes this seriously challenges Adam Smith’s dismissal of kinship in the 1790s as kinship was maintained and then renewed prior to 1875 through to at least 1916.

Kin choice is also captured as George and his wife living near Pilot Mound, Manitoba were surrounded by a slew of relatives, children, grandchildren who had made the move with them from Aberdeenshire, but Alexandria was part of their lives also and may well have been amongst those who stepped in during their later years, reciprocating the kin care they had offered her two decades before.

So to sum up it is a crying shame to limit ourselves to merely identifying who shared a common name, ancestor or for a period of time a household with some other people. Instead the search for indicators of kinship between people least likely to leave archival evidence is vastly more intriguing; the maintenance of long term networks between people and relationships with reciprocity are amongst these and they tell us about the kinship choices past people have made. We are also looking to understand how such chosen kinships functioned within the envelope of wider events like migration and the developing intrusion of the state into family affairs.

[i] A Critique of the Study of Kinship, ed. by David Murray Schneider (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), p. 224., ‘Dividends of Kinship: Means and Uses of Social Relatedness’, ed. by  Peter Schweitzer, European Association of Social Anthropologists (London: Routledge, 2000).

[ii] Daniel Scott Smith, ‘”All in some Degree Related to each Other”: A Demographic and Comparative Resolution of the Anomaly of New England Kinship’, The American Historical Review, 94, 1 (1989), 44-79 [accessed 11/3/2014].

[iii] Leonore Davidoff, ‘Thicker than Water: Siblings and their Relations, 1780-1920’, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 464.

[iv] Marshal Sahlins, What Kinship is-and is Not (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) [accessed 11/18/2014].

[v] John M. McCullough, kathleen M. Heath and Jessica D. Fields, ‘Culling the Cousins: Kingship, Kinship, and Competition in Mid-Millennial England’, The History of the Family, 11 (2006), 59-66.

[vi] Peter Laslett, ‘Family Kinship and Collectivity’, Continuity and Change, 3, 2 (1988), 153-165 [accessed 12/18/2014]., Steven Ruggles, ‘Multigenerational Families in Nineteenth-Century America’, Continuity and Change, 18 (2003), 139-165.

[vii] Maureen Molloy, ‘”No Inclination to Mix with Strangers”: Marriage Patterns among Highland Scots Migrants to Cape Breton and New Zealand, 1800-1916’, Journal of Family History, 11, 3 (1986), 221-243.

[viii] Charlotte Erickson, Invisible Immigrants: The Adaptation of English and Scottish Immigrants in Nineteenth-Century America (Cornell University Press, 1972).

Vicar of Gedney: Genealogical reconstruction to kinship collation

Genealogical reconstruction is recognised as an addictive and enthralling activity, as the number and quality of records available the reliability of the online efforts of dozens of captivated armchair genealogists are coming together in rapidly expanding huge networks of individuals, families, households and kin groups. This has been impacting the world of professional genealogy more and more over the last decade, has drawn the interest of academic archivists, has been supported by data management engineers and has been little noticed by the history academy.

The lack of notice from official historians is unfortunate as what is rapidly being undertaken is a complete refashioning of governmental and other large organisational bureaucratic data, that when grouped around their original subjects, past people, past families and past households create huge webs of inter-connectivity that produces snapshots of past societies. This has intrigued a few amongst the genealogical community like the American Elizabeth Shown Mills, who pointed to the potential of genealogical reconstruction as a powerful research tool about the past if it was put to work through skilful analysis, writing up of findings, development of theories and offering of conclusions (Mills, 2003). Mills called this generational history whereas I have opted for kinship collation as a descriptive.

So what does all of that look like in practice and application?

Thomas Sweet Escott, b.1801 was Vicar of Gedney, Lincolnshire from 1835 – 1856 when he died who became involved in a number of national level historical trends and provides us with a solid example. A number of people have worked up a genealogical reconstruction that includes this Anglican priest, I folded him in from a start point of the widow of his first cousin once removed, Ann Gully, Mrs Rev George Sweet who was likely my great-grandfathers employer in 1911 as I sought to explore a family story about a rebellious working-class west Londoner who refused to curtsey to her husband’s posh employer.

The blood and marriage relatives of Rev Thomas Sweet Escott are relatively easy to track as they had an abundance of rare names and were either involved in the church or state. Amongst his extended network of cousins, in-laws and relatives of relatives are half a dozen bishops, a series of baronets, a handful of peers, a range of mid-ranking Anglican officials and a near dozen members of parliament. Amongst his younger relatives who flourish long after his death are upper middle class women involved with the later Victorian cultural developments and men who prosper as colonial administrators. This large group of individuals are thus brought together in long lists of privileged social elites but the challenge is to then do something with that list of inter-linked egos. As the list of individuals that encompasses Thomas Sweet-Escott 1801-1856 is mostly full of social and political elites there are an abundance of small anecdotes, notes and records available about them available on the internet, especially through the digitized newspapers (which are pay-walled) but also in old books (which are free to view) and as a heavily church based set of families their antecedents can be tracked in Clergy of the Church of England database.

These sources reveal that Thomas Sweet Escott embroiled himself in a local confrontation in Gedney when he refused to have a Wesleyan baptised baby buried in the parish churchyard in late 1839. These events were picked up by newspapers across East Anglia, Yorkshire and London, they made it into national papers and magazines and culminated in a legal case that Sweet Escott lost leading to his suspension as a priest for three months.

The events at Gedney could be used to expose theological or church history, as an isolated local event or as part of a broader cultural history around pluralism and identity, it could be used to examine the history of journalism and newspapers as it was picked up in various parts of the country or it could be used to consider the changing confidence of non-conformists faith communities between the Electoral Reform Act and the opening up of the Universities to dissenters. Most of these are potential examples of history from below and the understanding of local events as national and vice versa which is an important part of modern historical practice. An awareness of social networks through kinship raises an altogether different set of queries, which is exactly what Mills was calling for in 2003 and Moody, a Scottish local history expert called for in 1984.

Kinship collation provides a means to explore the Gedney protagonist Sweet-Escott by establishing and analysing his social networks and therefore make an assessment of his general public influence and more specifically his place within the Church establishment and Anglican factions; the placing centrally of social networks also highlights the potential inter-connectivity of people , like Sweet-Escott, who temporally gain the spotlight to individuals of more standard socio-political significance like politicians and bishops. Thus the popular press and the legal proceedings focused upon Thomas Sweet-Escott as the Vicar of Gedney, which was the capacity in which the case was called, yet this is misleading as to his overall placement in society.

Thomas’s eldest brother Bickham Sweet-Escott was a continual Tory candidate across the south-west of England, eventual gaining the Winchester seat in 1841 a success attributed to his cousin Rev Robert Barter’s local influence (‘Winchester Conservative Association’, John Bull, (London, England), May 26, 1839, p.252). Their -in-law, Edmund Herbert MP, close relative of the Earl of Carnarvon, and their cousins Langston of Sarsden, Oxford and Kekewich of Peamore, Devon served intermittently in the Commons. The Escott-Sweet father and his brother-in-law Barter were also a ranking churchmen in the south-west of England with strong University of Oxford connections as did numerous cousins from Thomas’s generation. Parts of the press linked Sweet Escott to the controversial Bishop Phillpott’s of Exeter who took contrary stances on a variety of issues to the government and other members of the Anglican episcopacy and had a substantial following amongst leading Anglicans both amongst the clergy and the wealthy laity.

So the contentious historical question arises; was Sweet-Escott a lone wolf of an activist taking a determined principled stand or was he what we would described today as the poster boy or fall-guy for a wider network who wanted to make a point in a broader culture war? This is a difficult question to answer but it has to be acknowledged that Sweet-Escott had access to both the financial resources and social capital to see through his burial refusal all the way to the courts. The cumulative socio-political power of the kin group of which Sweet Escott was part can be regarded as meaning it was unlikely he would be easily susceptible to financial, social or political pressure exercised by his own bishop who essentially washed his hands of the Gedney affair.

Kinship collation provides a means to explore the Gedney protagonist Sweet-Escott by establishing and analysing his social networks and therefore make an assessment of his general public influence and more specifically his place within the Church establishment and Anglican factions. The same process could also be attempted with the Wesleyan minister Bond and the Cliff family whose faith decisions put them at odds with the vicar, it could be applied to the local press ‘squirearchy’ who took up the controversy in their publications to understand what the events meant to them and their readers from the perspective of their social networks. Changing the central ego of exploration would create a different societal angle, making a more complete picture and becomes a means of bringing together different genealogical reconstructions to examine the same historical question, which is why I have opted to describe Mills’s challenge as kinship collation rather than generational history.

Festival of Postgraduate Research University of Leicester 7th July 2016

Iain’s work

‘Clinging to privilege, Anglican priestly families during the nineteenth century: An insight into social mobility’

is part of this years research findings festival that is open to the public in University of Leicester’s Charles Wilson building between 11am and 1pm on the 7th July. When Iain will be talking about how the reconstruction of the kinships of Anglican priests’ with power and influence reveals responses to the challenges that the nineteenth century brought to the Church of England and how traditional Anglican leadership families were able to mitigate any challenge to their status within the church and wider society.

This year long project has also been converted into a small teaching program being delivered to year 10 students in a Gloucestershire school via

The Brilliant Club

and is being shaped into an article to be offered up for peer-review

you can read more about the outline of the research here




Women, patriarchy and kinship

In order to get a fuller understanding of the role of kinship in nineteenth century British society it is important to explore the nuance of the kinship-feminism encounter. The importance of women’s kinship especially kinship between women, matrifocality, to societal patterns is often overlooked but kinship reconstruction and collation brings their choices and consequences to the fore. The real excitement is to discern whether women in the past could operate through and within kinship in such a manner as to be able to disrupt the overwhelmingly powerful cultural patriarchy.

An example of this would be Jane Bell of Bridge Street, Lockerbie, in Scotland’s south-west borders, in August 1889 this 30 year old mother went to register her third child, James. By this stage not an uncommon nor especially courageous act. Even her social position as a single mother was not particularly significant as the Dumfries hinterland like Aberdeenshire in the north-east had high rates of out of wedlock births stretching back decades. Jane registered her second son as James Comrie Turner Bell this known fact creates a number of speculative queries.

Jane was amongst the least well-off residents of Bridge Street whilst census records would indicate that Mr. Comrie Turner, as a saddler, in his early forties with a wife and children was probably a better off neighbour . Turner was part of a family of saddlers, the pater of which had died in July 1889 also called Comrie. Did Jane Bell name her new son in order to honour the more powerful family and the recently dead or was she making a much bolder statement regarding the paternity of the new born? Jane’s next child’s naming, Sarah Hill Bell also reflected upon another descendant of the elder Comrie Turner and it is known that the Jarrow born great-grandchildren visited Lockerbie as George James Turner Hill was enumerated in Lockerbie in 1881 aged 10. The births of the younger Comrie Turner’s children also help pinpoint his families removal to Edinburgh as one son is born in Lockerbie in 1888 and the next son is born in Edinburgh in 1890. Was the move arranged in response to the grandfather’s death freeing up capital for a fresh start or was a fresh start required due to tensions around an illegitimate son living up the road? The answer being unresolvable but the question points to a formidable female decision making.

Jane Bell was not the only woman within her matrifocal kin group to be an unmarried mother, her aunt, namesake and near neighbour had five illegitimate children, one of those children had her own out of wedlock child. Jane Bell’s maternal cousins who lived and worked in rural Kirkcudbrightshire had and were themselves illegitimate. Nor were Jane’s male relatives adverse to marrying and gaining a step-child. Jane herself did not marry but her daughter Sarah Hill Bell brought a nine year old daughter and an 30 week foetus to her first wedding in 1919 aged 27. The 19 year old groom having his own illegitimate cousins but by the 1930s the irregularity of family arrangements for Jane Bell’s descendants had become a taboo subject to be plastered over.

In Scotland’s south-west then births out of wedlock were not necessarily the end of the world. it is likely though that Jane as a working class woman was further insulated against disapproval because her father’s relatives were a numerical social force on Lockerbie’s Bridge Street. Whilst Comrie Turner’s departure with his family to Edinburgh (into the area west of the Records Office that became less than salubrious) can only be speculated against for motives it does hint that the kinship of women could exert some influence against the power of patriarchy. Thus working-class women’s relationships raise signs and signals at personal, familial and communal levels about the nuance of kinship-feminism encounters but Bourdieu contended that women within patriarchy are disadvantaged partly due to the internalisation of the patriarchal forms yet some women with capital resources can make cognitive breaks from parts of the patriarchal dominance. So theoretically women with greater levels of access to social and economic influence i.e., women from the middle classes should have an increased likelihood of influencing, challenging and changing patriarchal notions inherent within kinship especially if they themselves are embedded within matrifocal kin relationships.

A longitudinal study based upon a reconstructed female social networks descended from Aberdeenshire collating evidence regarding the history of elite women of British-American backgrounds is discussed in ‘Change and Continuity, Networking, Newspaper, Kinships and Twentieth Century Elite Women’ in Journal of Family and Community History Autumn 2016.

British kinship behaviour and economic security

Kinship studies of the early modern period have pointed to the importance of kinship as an economic structure for both the poor and rich. King has scrutinized the letters of the English poor and discovered not only the imposition the enduring emotional bonds of kinship over long distances but also how relationships form a retention to place and significantly how kinfolk can put themselves out economically to support their relatives even when not required to do so my law. Tadmor has also shown Eighteenth century cross-Atlantic communications between ‘supplicants’ and ‘benefactors’ claiming stretched and nuanced kinships relationships that created a space in which requests could be made. Erikson has also examined cross-Atlantic communiques as part of the nineteenth century wave of migration identifying ongoing economic concerns between separated family members including the movement of elder relatives from one continent to the other.

Kinship and economic security amongst British cultural groups was clearly not as dead or dormant as the likes of Laslett in the mid-twentieth century made it out to be nor was Adam Smith correct back in the late 1700s when he dismissed the ability of kinship to be meaningful without regular, weekly, encounters between individuals. Davidoff’s claims about kinship could also come under pressure if the data-processing exercise of genealogy is worked through. Her stance based within a feminist approach to history, insisted that kinship only existed within society as a support factor for the weakest, marginalized in society, women and children yet biological-marriage linkages between men of all classes can be shown to boost advantage.

For instance reconstruction of networks, made possible by genealogy data-processing in Aberdeenshire points to serial kin-based network formation. This is most obvious amongst and between modest farming families tenanted with the same estate managements on the marginal lands being brought into cultivation across the nineteenth century. This network formation took the form of cross farm marriages that rapidly linked the bulk of farms as an extended kinship raising queries as to kinship as socio-economic resistance and empowerment. Could the estate factor isolate and harass a family farm without risking the anger of the wider neighbours who had all become related?

The same technique of kinship collation of huge social network reconstruction also sheds light on the process of rural to urban migration. A common thought about cities especially growing ones is that they swallow up the new resident, pushing together vast numbers of strangers with no enduring community links. A simple sampling of nineteenth century British cities like Glasgow, London, Cardiff and Swansea can pick out micro-clusters of people from rural districts within a few houses of each other, such as the Gill and Diggins families on Kensington’s Pembroke road during 1881. Both households having members originating from Tiverton, Devon, in Glasgow a mini-Lockerbie emerges at the end of the century across a cluster of the city’s core streets north of the river. When reconstruction and collation is added to this sampling the Gill’s wife and Diggin’s husband are revealed as siblings and in Glasgow a cluster of Lockerbie cousins emerges whose life moments reveal inter-meshing in the city and retaining links back to the borders.

The data-processing of records, conducted by genealogy enthusiasm, of these ordinary people, builders, painters, servants, fixers and toilers removes the limitations enforced by artificial boundaries of counties, parishes, enumeration districts and streets. The closeness and encounter of kin-folk emerges and questions the concept of rising cities as cohorts of strangers, as well as showing the need to understand more about the economic impacts of active relatedness. It has been over 30 years since Grieco flagged up the connection between work-class factory employment and informal kin networks gaining little traction in the debates. On the other end of the economic scale it is possible to see the importance of the cross-Atlantic letters and cross Empire notes convincing, summoning or offering support for relatives to join external migrations bolstering the number of relatives who could fill important economic roles in new European settlements like Milwaukee or Sydney. By noticing the kin-inter-connectivity of British cultural people of the nineteenth century the importance of kinship to British economic culture is stretched from Tadmor’s observation in 1800 through to the post-Edwardian period, it also throws more light upon modern migration into the UK. By acknowledging and studying British kinship rather than considering it an anachronism by noticing the inter-related clusters of the nineteenth century city and countryside the use of kin behaviour to bulwark against potential economic adversity emerges with similarities to the more recent migrations into Britain.