Until the 18 th century, family, kin and household were not regarded as separate entities and it wasn't until the Victorian period that the term 'family' came to be understood as comprising of a married couple and their children. Families are not rigid groups, but change as we progress through life. As individuals, we can be said to belong to more than one family: that into which we are born -described by anthropologists as 'the family of orientation' - and on marriage the new family we form is called 'the family of
Where there is a blood or biological relationship -such as related through birth.
The organisation of individuals into social groups and categories based on parentage and marriage.
A family composed of parents and their children.
Your brother or sister.
procreation'. When talking to elderly relatives we find it hard to comprehend that they don't know the first name of their grandmother, let alone her maiden name, but in the past there was much more formality between family members.
Knowing exactly what the relationship is between distant relatives is not essential for most of us. However, for the nobility it is vital as there is a very strict procedure for the inheritance of titles. 'Primogeniture' is the system by which the eldest son inherits all of the property and was a means of ensuring that it remained in the family. A title passes from eldest son to son's eldest son, and great lengths are taken to ensure that a title does not die out. In one instance the title was passed to a 16th cousin in the absence of closer family.
Following Henry VIII's break with Rome, it was decided that rulings were needed to prevent people who were related from marrying each other and these became known as the 'prohibited degrees' which were upheld by both civil and canon (church) law. Although they were drawn up in 1563, they did not come into effect until the early 17 th century. Notices were posted in parish churches, and the list of prohibited degrees (some 60 relationships) were printed in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The most recent Marriage Act (of 1949) was amended in 1986 to take into account issues such as divorce and surrogacy.
Next time you meet up with a distant cousin, you can describe your relationship in the correct genealogical terms, but would you really want to be called 'John, my fifth cousin, twice removed' in conversation? □
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