What is a family? A collection of individuals who happen to be related by blood - or something more than that? Perhaps everyone has a different answer to that question just as there may be many different answers to the question: what is a family's history?
For many people who begin to look at their family, pure genealogy is the only interest: who gave birth to whom, whom did they marry, when and how did they die? For anyone interested in family medical history, tracing the diseases that killed or disabled its members is the only real interest. The bloodline - or the gene line - is the only thing to investigate. For them 'family' means biological relationship and nothing else.
Others look outward, they deal more inclusively with the family, recognizing the importance to family history of all sorts of circumstances e.g. occupations, education and dwelling places; as well as all sorts of individuals e.g. aunts, uncles, cousins, adoptions both inward and outward, in-laws and colleagues.
Puzzles abound, why do people move around the country quite so much? At a time when travel was difficult and expensive, and there were jobs locally, what drives people to up sticks and move? Why did the son of a prosperous family near Consett, take off to South Shields and get a job on the railway, not even using his own trade? More importantly, why did he never visit or talk about the family he left behind?
How did a Yorkshire man marry a woman from Westmorland, have a family in Cumberland and yet end up in South Shields?
Interestingly, the 'moral' code which included a supposedly strict 'no sex before marriage' policy was synchronous with marriage after marriage taking place a few, sometimes very, very few, months before the birth of the first child. Sometimes, of course, the marriage didn't take place until after a birth.
One thing that helps to make a family, and a family history, is the family mythology: the tales that are told at every wedding and funeral and family party; like the tale of the lost - or stolen - inheritance; the tale of the horse that died; the ghost that walked; the long lost cousin who went to Australia.
A little digging in the archives, some accurate arithmetic and the application of a little common-sense might mean that the myths are overturned. Perhaps the inheritance went the way of many others, on drink, or perhaps not. Maybe the ghost was a manifestation of grief, or the workings of an under-stimulated mind in an overworked body. Or not. And maybe the cousin who went away and made good, never went anywhere but simply died - or maybe he was a war hero with an everlasting memorial.