To Alleviate or Elevate the Euroamerican Genealogy Fever

Abstract

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

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 Scotlandspeople.gov.uk 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] Ancestry.co.uk, ‘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] https://deedpolloffice.com/research/private-acts-parliament/1749-23-Geo-2-14 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’, ancestry.co.uk, ‘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] Ancestry.co.uk, ‘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, < https://livingthefamily.wordpress.com/ >

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

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

 

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.

Kinship collation – Moving beyond family-packaged genealogy

It is quite difficult not to notice that parts of British society are in the midst of a fascination with genealogy. The success and endurance of this current phase of genealogical interest is rooted in the packaging and selling of family history, as your family, your history, sustained by increasing body of primary records being readily available at a relatively cheap cost. This is highly effective commercialisation, resulting in a relateable product; it creates a relatively cheap accessible entry point for people to engage with history and has supported the investment in digitization of records. Unfortunately it remains structured around ill-defined concepts of family and households that were designed for bureaucratic measurements, such as how old was the population, how many men could fight, and to gain an understanding of what work people did.

The archivist Hannah Little has said ‘genealogy can be seen as a narrative form, as a way of telling a story about the self’, which exposes the continuing tensions between the historians with proper research goals, insights and theories and the sleuthing popular genealogists finding, crafting and honing their own personal-familial stories. Kramer of Warwick University told the Guardian in 2010 ‘”Genealogy allows people to personalise the past, genealogists have told me: ‘I hated history at school. It was just a series of dates with no connection to my life.’ But then they’ve discovered that their great uncle won a medal during the First World War, and the place where he fought immediately becomes more than just another battlefield.”

Rodriguez writing for Time Magazine in 2014 talked both about a multi-billion dollar cottage industry and a fascination that for the US context now stretched far away from previous generations’ elitist and racist motivations. This is an important observation as previous waves of genealogical interest have been shown to be about both binding new high status families i.e. those with new money into old power networks and were used to draw distinctions about those who properly belong and those who don’t.

In modern Britain it is possible to see the tensions and changes on our televisions throughout the year courtesy of ‘Heir Hunters’, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and during this past spring (2016) John Bullman brought us the ‘secret history of the family’. All featuring people whether celebrity or woman of the street reflecting upon the missed opportunities to connect with a recently dead cousin or the passage of attributes of a great great grandfather with an intense backstory passing through the blood to the latest generation. In a drive to be helpful and relevant the genealogical companies offer resources such as ‘Family Group Sheet – Each piece of information concerning a pedigree ancestor and his/her family is placed on a worksheet. Since the end result of your research efforts will be to compile complete, correct and connected families, the use of family group sheets from the beginning will make the compilation much easier.’ Which is redolent with loaded terms that set and potentially limit expectation, for instance ‘pedigree‘ which speaks of bloodlines, which in a society still pre-loaded with patriarchy directs attention to male lineages and suggests that Rodriguez was too optimistic.

Whilst genealogical efforts remain paired with personal identity and constrained by nuclear family constructs the true potential of the data-processing being under-taken from countless armchairs will be under-used; instead an approach that co-opts Euro-Global models of kinship analysis into the British context is required. Kinship collation by assembling reconstructed genealogies from official data, of the otherwise unrecorded as well as recorded captures at the gross-level indicators of past peoples decision outcomes about their life and choices regarding personal relationships. In the weeks ahead this blog will begin to look at both the practice of kinship collation and the insights that emerge when it is used to query the data-processing exercise that modern genealogical interest has produced.

Why kinshipcollation.net?

As part of the professionalization of nineteenth century academic history, a distinction between historians, archivists and genealogists grew; resulting in a gradual academic exclusion of past waves of genealogical interest. Even the growth of an academic interest in the ‘history of the family’ over the last half century has not lessened this divide.
Accessible digitisation of records has fed the western public’s genealogical appetite at a social depth never been seen before.
Popular endeavours continue an almost unnoticed exercise of data-processing upon bureaucratic records on an unprecedented scale; ignoring imposed political-economic boundaries constructing instead a web of social networks, through relationships captured at regular intervals and via significant life moments. When taken at a gross-level these networks can be assessed, mapped and mined for understandings of the past. They inform upon the un-powerful and powerful alike, revealing enduring geo-spatial, cross-household linkages.
On the continent multi-generational networks of entire small towns have revealed both social dynamics and political machinations. In Britain both the outputs of the exercise and its potential goes un-recognised as the amateur is invited to construe activity around the notion of family-household and not society; whilst  academia remains aloof and wedded to western individualism.