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Nomadic family of Afghanistan.
Family watching television 1958.
Eskimo Family

The history of the family crosses disciplines and cultures and precedes recorded history. In its basic form it explains the sociocultural evolution of kinship groups from prehistoric to modern times.[1] Modern family studies aim to understand the structure and function of a family from many viewpoints. For example, sociological, ecological or economical perspectives are used to view the interrelationships between individuals, their relatives and the historical time.[1]

For the definition of family, residency is carefully examined and the family is described in terms of the household.[2] A co-residential group that makes up a household may share general survival goals and the roof, but may not fulfill the varied and sometimes ambiguous requirements for definition as a family; e.g., regulate sexuality or educate and socialize children.[2] Co-residence and organization by kinship are both integral in the development of the concept of the family.[2]

The family has a universal and basic role in all societies.[3] Study of family history proves that family systems are flexible, culturally diverse and adaptive to ecological and economical conditions.[4]


Family history science

History of the family
  • What is the proper unit for the study of history of the family — the individual? Group? The civilization? The culture?
  • Are there broad patterns and progress? How to present a universal family history?
Family in Los Angeles
Historical perspectives of family studies

These are some approaches to view the history of the family:

Early scholars of family history applied Darwin's biological theory of evolution in their theory of evolution of family systems.[5] American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan published Ancient Society in 1877 based on his theory of the three stages of human progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization.[6] Morgan's book was the "inspiration for Friedrich Engels' book" The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State published in 1884.[7] Engels expanded Morgan's hypothesis that economical factors caused the transformation of primitive community into a class-divided society.[8] Engels' theory of resource control, and later that of Karl Marx, was used to explain the cause and effect of change in family structure and function. The popularity of this theory was largely unmatched until the 1980s, when other sociological theories, most notably structural functionalism, gained acceptance.[5]

The book Centuries of Childhood by Philippe Ariès, published in France in 1960, had a great influence on the revival of the field of family history studies.[1] Ariès used the analysis of demographic data to draw a conclusion that the concept of childhood is a concept that emerged in modern nuclear families.[1]

Since the early 20th century, scholars have begun to unify methods of gathering data.[5] One notable book by W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918), was influential in setting the precedence of systematical longitudinal data analysis.[5] Gathering church files, court records, letters, architectural and archeological evidence, art and iconography, and food and material culture increased objectivity and reproducibility of family reconstruction studies.[9] Studies of current family systems additionally employ qualitative observations, interviews and focus groups, and quantitative surveys.[10][11]

Family of origin

Genealogy, the search for one's origin, seems to be a universal desire. In most cultures of the world, the beginning of family history is set in creation myths.[12] In his Works and Days, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod describes the epic destruction of four previous Ages of Man.[13] The utopia that was the Golden Age was eventually replaced by the current Iron Age; a time when gods made man live in "hopeless misery and toil."[13] Hesiod's second poem Theogony described the Greek gods' relationships and family ties.[14] Ancient Greeks believed that among them were descendants of gods who qualified for priesthood or other privileged social status.[15]

The Judeo-Christian tradition originates in the Bible's Book of Genesis. The first man and woman created by God gave rise to all of humanity. The Bible reflects the patriarchal worldview and often refers to the practice of polygamy, a common marital practice in ancient times.[16] In biblical times, men sought to prove their descent from the family of the prophet Moses in order to be accepted into the priesthood.[15]

Roman families would include everyone within a household under the authoritarian role of the father, the pater familias; this included grown children and the slaves of the household.[17] Children born outside of marriage, from common and legal concubinage, could not inherit the father's property or name; instead, they belonged within the social group and family of their mothers.[18]

Most ancient cultures like those of Assyria, Egypt and China kept records of successors in the ruling dynasties to legitimize their power as divine in origin.[15] Both the Inca king and the Egyptian Pharaoh claimed that they were direct descendants of the Sun God.[15] Many cultures, such as the Inca of South America, the Kinte of Africa and the Māori of New Zealand, did not have a written language and kept the history of their descent as an oral tradition.[15]

Many cultures used other symbols to document their history of descent.[15] The totem poles of indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest were the symbolic representation of their ancestors and a family identity, in addition to being ties with the spiritual world.[15]

European nobility had long and well-documented kinship relationships, sometimes taking their roots in the Middle Ages.[15] In 1538, King Henry VIII of England mandated that churches begin the record-keeping practice that soon spread throughout Europe.[15] Britain's Domesday Book from 1086 is one of the oldest European genealogy records. In the ancient and medieval times, the history of one's ancestors guaranteed religious and secular prestige.[15]

In 1632, Virginia was the first state in the New World mandating with civil law that christenings, marriages and burials were to be recorded.[15] Some modern Americans of European descent belong to organizations for early immigrants to the United States like the National Society of Old Plymouth Colony Descendants, The Society of Mayflower Descendants, Daughters of the American Revolution, National Society Sons of the American Revolution and Society of the Descendants of the Founding Fathers of New England.

Evolution of household

The organization of the pre-industrial family is now believed to be similar to modern types of family.[19] Many sociologists used to believe that the nuclear family was the product of industrialization, but new evidence proposed by sociologist Peter Laslett suggests that the causality is reversed, and that industrialization was so effective in Northwestern Europe specifically because the preexistence of the nuclear family fostered its development.[2]

Family types of pre-industrial Europe belonged into two basic groups, the simple household system (the nuclear family) and the joint family system (the extended family).[2] A simple household system featured a relatively late age of marriage for both men and women and the establishment of separate household after the marriage or neolocality.[2] A joint family household system was characterized by earlier marriage for women, co residence with the husband's family or patrilocality , and co-residing of multiple generations. Many households consisted of unrelated servants and apprentices residing for periods of years and at that time belonging to the family.[19] Due to shorter life expectancy and high mortality rate in the pre-industrialized world, much of the structure of a family depended on the average age of marriage of woman. Late marriage, as occurred in the simple household system, left little time for three-generation families to form. Conversely, in the joint family household system, early marriages allowed for multi-generational families to form.[2]

The pre-industrial family had many functions. These included food production, landholding, regulation of inheritance, reproduction, socialization and education of its members. External roles allowed for participation in religion and politics.[20] Social status was also strictly connected to one's family.[21]

Additionally, in the absence of government institutions, the family was the only resource to cope with sickness and aging.[20] Because of the industrial revolution and new work and living conditions, families changed, transferring to public institutions responsibility for food production and the education and welfare of its aging and sick members.[22] Post-industrial families became more private, nuclear, domestic and based on the emotional bonding between husband and wife, and between parents and children.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Hareven 1991, p. 95.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Kretzer 2002.
  3. ^ van den Berghe 1979, p. 16.
  4. ^ van den Berghe 1979, p. 50.
  5. ^ a b c d "Sociology/Founding the discipline". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  6. ^ Morgan 1877
  7. ^ Encyclopedia, Britannica. "Cultural Anthropology". Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  8. ^ "The Marxists Internet Archive". Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  9. ^ Wrigley 1977, p. 74.
  10. ^ Daly 2007.
  11. ^ Bengston 2006.
  12. ^ Rosenberg 1986
  13. ^ a b Hesiod 1985.
  14. ^ Hesiod 1997
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Potter-Phillips, Donna. "History of Genealogy". Family Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  16. ^ Ellens 2006.
  17. ^ "The Illustrated History of the Roman Empire". Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  18. ^ Letourneau 1904.
  19. ^ a b Hareven 1991.
  20. ^ a b Hareven 1991, p. 96.
  21. ^ Wrigley 1977, p. 72.
  22. ^ a b Hareven 1991, p. 120.


  • Bengtson, Vern L.; Alan C. Acock, David M. Klein, Katherine R. Allen, Peggye Dilworth-Anderson (2006). Sourcebook of family theory & research. SAGE. ISBN 1412940850. 
  • Daly, Kerry (2007). Qualitative methods for family studies & human development. SAGE. ISBN 1412914027. 
  • Ellens, J. Harold (2006). Sex in the Bible: a new consideration. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0275987671. 
  • Hanson, K. C.; Douglas E. Oakman (2002). Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Fortress Press. ISBN 0800634705. 
  • Hareven, Tamara K. (February 1991). "The History of the Family and the Complexity of Social Change.". The American Historical Review (American Historical Association) 96 (1): 95–124. doi:10.2307/2164019. Retrieved 07-02-2009. 
  • Hesiod; Thomas Alan Sinclair (1985). Works and days. Georg Olms Verlag. ISBN 3487054140. 
  • Hesiod; M. L. West (1997). Theogony. NetLibrary, Incorporated. ISBN 058534339X. 
  • Kertzer, David I. (1991). "Household History and Sociological Theory". Annual Review of Sociology (Annual Reviews) 17: 155–179. doi:10.1146/ 
  • Kertzer, David I.; Marzio Barbagli (2002). The History of the European Family: Family life in the long nineteenth century (1789-1913). Yale University Press.. ISBN 0300090900. 
  • Letourneau, Charles (1904). The Evolution of Marriage and of the Family. Scott Pub. Co.. 
  • Mousourakis, George (2003). The historical and institutional context of Roman law. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 0754621146. 
  • Rosenberg, Donna (2001). World mythology: an anthology of the great myths and epics. NTC Pub. Group. ISBN 0844259667. 
  • Thomas, William; Florian Znaniecki (1996). The Polish Peasant in Europe and America: A Classic Work in Immigration History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252064844. 
  • van den Berghe, Pierre (1979). Human family systems: an evolutionary view.. Elsevier North Holland, Inc.. ISBN 0444990615. 
  • Wrigley, E. Anthony (Spring 1997). "Reflections on the History of the Family.". The Family (The MIT Press.) 106 (2): 71–85. Retrieved 07-02-2009. 


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