Accepted paper:

Ancestors, class and contingency


Jeanette Edwards (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

to follow

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the recent and burgeoning interest in Family History and Genealogical Research (FHGR) in the UK (a ‘pastime’, it is said, second only to gardening). In the north of England, local family historians are not only intent on 'finding' their ancestors but in adding ‘flesh’ to the bones of genealogy. They are as interested in the social lives of their ancestors as they are in family trees and, through their research, they excavate particular social histories which juxtapose land, labour and love. As well as deepening a sense of class identity (as Paul Basu argues for Australian genealogists), FHGR in England also renders class identity a more arbitrary phenomenon - a result of ‘fate’ or a ‘chance event’ unearthed in the search. From this perspective, genealogical research acts as a leveller, smoothing out differences and inequalities between people which, in other fora, are construed as innate. From another perspective, it firms-up existing social distinctions imagined now in the provenance of one’s ancestors.

panel P28
Social transformation in the United Kingdom: appropriation, class and identity