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Even though each author studies and focuses on different topics, they always talk about family histories. In each reading we can learn something different and see the difference in how the authors study and do their work, however, we can see that all the articles end up explaining how families were or could be. The most relevant issues in family law, considering that this is the set of norms and legal institutions that regulate the personal and patrimonial relations of the members of the family, among themselves and with respect to third parties. Slavery, family separations, exploitation of families, inhuman treatment, immigration, and rights for women and men were the most important topics in the readings.

While doing my research on searching for family members, all the time I was thinking about Coontz’s entire article, The Way We Never Were, because is dedicated to exploring the absence of a traditional family. That’s what I was doing, exploring the absence of my ancestors. Subtitling her work ‘The Nostalgia Trap’ further makes her point that the idea of a traditional family is just an idea. For as long as there have been families, families have been complicated. Coontz juxtaposes the responses from her students of how they defined this nostalgic perfect family with actual historical data proving how the modern American family has not actually changed all that much; the ‘abstract nostalgia,’ as she calls it, prevents people from understanding the historical facts of the American family, and therein lies the actual crisis (Coontz, 21).

Americans during the 20th century became interested in finding their own family history because of a magazine called, ‘Genealogical Helper.’ Middle-class citizens became more interested in genealogy, and for the first-time public libraries were interested in helping them. Professional genealogists attempted to improve the quality and accuracy of the documents, especially with certification to become a genealogist. This would help people find the correct information and identify ‘…potential quacks.’ François Weil, Family Trees) the 21st century had more credible resources such as, DNA, and We currently have a lot of evidence to try and find our ancestors thanks to technology. Americans seem to be really curious about their family history and even this class proves it. (François Weil, Family Trees, 112)

Ryan supports the idea that there has not been any kind of major change in the structure of the American family. Referencing Edward Shorter, she argues that ‘the American family was ‘born modern’ and thereby deprives U.S. historians of a major turning point in family history,’ (Ryan, 185). She argues against the periodization of the American family, mainly for the reason that it is one-dimensional. Observing only the public structure of a family fails to incorporate all of the actual facts and data that can help us understand what was going on.

“Many people hold an image of how American families ‘used to be’ at some particular point in time, and they propose that we return to that ideal. In fact, however, there have been a wide variety of family forms and values in American history, and there is no period in which some ideal family predominated.” (Coontz 2.)

Families have been known to participate in traditions that have lasted for several generations throughout their family. The purpose is to keep the same morals and values that they had before and to continue these beliefs for future generations. “Family transitions, those innumerable points in time when one generation succeeds another, are critical historical junctures…possibility of change even as they link the past to the future.” (Mary P. Ryan)

However, family historians have used social theory and social science techniques to look at public records of wills, inventories, censuses, vital statistics, house plans, home furnishings, family photographs, opinion pools, social surveys, time budgets, folklore songs, stories, and games where they found that families do not keep their traditions.

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After the 1850s, American families did not have a lot of evidence of physical evidence such as photographs of what happened to their family. In the article, Ryan and Coontz mentioned that families in particular practically vanish in statistics where there were only mentioned family size and the cities they were living in. Mary P. Ryan, 184. Historians determined that this was because of divorces; families lost each other because of family issues and instability. Another example of the traditional family “crisis” was the lack of nuclear families in America. David Schedlder created a typology based on the fact that families in America were considered nuclear. But most Americans did not live with a husband, wife, or child but mostly spent their lives living alone, or with people who were not related to them by blood, or marriage from the seventeenth century to the nineteen-eighties. (Mary P. Ryan, 186-187.)

Heather Andrea Williams’ book, Help Me to Find My People is a haunting tale of the emotional burdens and trials that slaves had to endure. It recounts the experiences of slaves who had their families sold off or forcibly taken from them. Many whites, Williams asserts, did not think that slaves were capable of possessing emotions or having emotional ties with anyone, even their own families. This obvious farce is examined by Williams, by recounting documents of slaves themselves, witnesses to slaves being separated, the owners, as well as observers and reporters who say they are buying and selling people on the auction block. The chapters are based on certain concepts such as marriage among slaves and the subsequent division of husbands and wives by their masters, the separation of children from their parents, and the attitudes of whites towards these occurrences.

In considering the connection between genealogy and family history, I was struck by Coontz’s statement that ‘as time passes, the actual complexity of our history – even of our own personal experience – gets buried under the weight of the ideal image.’ (Coontz, xiv). The ever-persistent pressure exerted by political, social, and religious forces to live up to the ‘ideal’ family can result in distorted personal family histories. Difficult histories that fall short of the ideal can be left unspoken in the hope that they will disappear from the family lore.

Nara Milanich tries to focus more on Latin American families, especially in Brazil, Chile, and Peru, and mentioned a little about Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Talking about Latin America, she started talking about the abandonment of children in Brazil. “Indeed, Euro-American historiography has often set the agenda for family history in other parts of the world. An example is the literature on child abandonment in Latin America, one of the better-researched topics in the history of childhood and family in the region.” (Milanich 450) This is something I was never going to known if I did not read this article, because when people talk about Brazil, people talk about many things, except this. Giving emphasis to this topic (abandonment of children), gives more interest to the article.

Tom Gjelten’sBacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba highlight the major shifts, both physical and ideological that the Bacardi family dealt with during the 20th century. The author’s political posturing aside, the book is interesting and highlights some important things about Cuba, predominantly the culture. The carefree but at the same time prideful country has a lot of problems due to its history as well as some believing that they know what is best for the country above others. A reading of the family history of the Bacardi rum family reveals that “family” takes many different forms – whether biological, relational, or part of a network of friends or associates. Bill Griffeth takes the reader on a journey he takes to figure out who and what family is for him. (Gjeten, Tom, 2018)

In Eileen Findlay’s book, We Are Left without a Father Here, Luis Marin didn’t help everybody how he said he will. He was the patriarch of sorts for the nation and attempted to provide for his people by giving them advice on self-sufficiency and attempting to connect them with jobs in Michigan so that they would be able to do so. What also interests me is whether or not some men stayed on the island and stood their ground. The book showed myriad examples of men calling for better wages, better conditions, and better treatment, as well as wives pleading for assistance from the government. (Findlay, Eileen J. Suárez, 121-123)

To sum up, all the authors have a point in common, and that point is the study of a family in past. Each author studies different centuries, ages, gender, societies, and continents, and we can learn how families lived in the past, which is why I ended up with different thoughts and ideas about families. They all have different arguments, but if we keep reading the articles, everything is explained really well. What I think is that every century families live according to their country, rules, culture, and customs, so every decade or century, everything was and will change. If working together in the past, they have managed to improve human rights, stop slavery, have improved the quality of life, we still need to work together to end the mistreatment of immigrant families and to treat everyone equally so that every family in the world can live in peace.


  1. Coontz, S. (1992). The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap. New York, NY:
  2. Findlay, Eileen J. Suárez, We Are Life without a Father Here: Masculinity, Domesticity, and Migration in Postwar Puerto Rico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 121-123
  3. François Weil, Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013
  4. Gjeten, Tom, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (New York: Viking, 2008)
  5. Griffeth, Bill, the Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2016)
  6. NARA Milanich, Whither Family History? A Road Map from Latin America, The American Historical Review, Volume 112, Issue 2, April 2007
  7. Ryan, Mary P. “The Explosion of Family History.” Reviews in American History, vol. 10, no. 4, 1982, p. 181., doi:10.2307/2701826.
  8. Williams, Heather Andrea. Help Me to Find My People: the African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery. University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

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