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September 18, 2007

Illegitimacy and Societies Past

So all these people researching their pasts are finding that out forebears were really rather like us. Illegitimate children, bigamous marriages and so on. At least, that's the Guardian line.

Instead, as the Ancestry findings show, people lived pretty much as they do today. Family life was far from stable, with a high degree of illegitimacy and a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing within the extended family. (How else to account for all those name changes and secret adoptions?)

Well, yes, sorta. Descended, as I am, from a woman one of whose children has the interesting line on the birth certificate: "Born 11 months after husband's death!" I can see what is meant. She went off to Australia as a gel (one of five daughters and one son of a blacksmith, assisted passage in the 1850s as the Govt wanted to populate the place), married, had children, divorced, hooked up again, another child, then married again (not the father of the last), went to Peru with the railway engineer she had married, he died there and she returned to Blighty with the one (I think) surviving child: who may or may not have been the issue of her last marriage (that last, born in Callao, well, it might be Celts and it might be Amerinds leading to the very black hair on one side of the family).

OK; so far, pretty much as the G says: there were indeed some interesting times then, it wasn't the nuclear nor Victorian family of repute. However, look at the note on the birth certificate.

But discovering that they spent most of their time clinging to the perch of respectability, and sometimes falling off, is hardly the stuff dinner party anecdotes are made of.

Clinging to the perch of respectability. The very concept of falling off. That's really rather different from today, isn't it? I'm not saying better or worse, but I am saying that it's different.

September 18, 2007 in The English | Permalink


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