Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Family. 1. A word of Italic origin, which came into English, through the French, from the Latin, in which tongue it signified (1) The whole number of slaves belonging to one master; then (2) A house and all belonging to it, a household; and (3) One of the units of which a gens was composed - i.e. a group of persons tracing their descent through the male line back to a common ancestor. Andrew Lang defines the family as "the small community formed by the union of one man with one woman, and by the increase of children born to them." When this union has moral and legal sanction it gives us the family of modern times and the unit of civilised society, though the term is often extended so as to include relatives of both parents.

If families had been formed on one uniform plan at all times, and all the world over, nothing would be easier than to construct a workable hypothesis of how aggregations of families formed groups or tribes, and how these tribes gradually coalesced with others, to form a nation. So far, however, from this having been the case, the family has not only been a most inconstant quantity in the past, but is actually so - though, of course, in a less degree - in the present. The family of the people of London, or Paris, or Vienna, where the children belong to the father is not the same as the family of the Cingalese, where the father has no claim to his offspring, who belong to their mother; and the Cingalese family differs again from that of the Todas of southern India, where "the marriage system is elastic, and when women are scarce several men have to be content with one wife between them; but as women become more numerous, a greater proportion of men are able to procure a wife apiece."

It was till quite recently assumed that the primitive family consisted of the man, as head, with his wife or wives, children, and servants, or slaves, over all whom he exercised unlimited control, necessary in early times, but since limited by law and custom. As the Roman familia in course of time grew into a gens, and as the Twelve Tribes were said to be the descendants of the sons or grandsons of Jacob, it was reasoned that tribes and nations everywhere originated in a similar way. But kinship in the Roman family was reckoned on the father's side only; in many cases in the book of Genesis it seems to be reckoned on the mother's side. Professor W. Robertson Smith (Kinship and Marriage in Arabia, ch. vi.) says that "Eve is the personification of the bond of kinship (conceived as exclusively mother-kinship) just as Adam is simply man, i.e. the personification of mankind." And speaking of the account of the institution of marriage (Gen. ii. 24), he remarks: "It reminds one of the well-established custom of marriage in Ceylon, where the woman remained with her kin, and chose and dismissed her partner at will, the children belonging to her kin, and growing up under her protection." This form of union McLennan calls beena marriage from its native name; and there are many examples of it in the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Lamech seems to have been the first polygamist (Gen. iv. 19), but his example was followed by the Patriarchs. But this polygamy would not of itself militate against agnatic kinship, for the chastity of married women was, in later times at least, rigidly guarded, and any breach of it strictly punished (Lev. xx. 10). Abraham did not dwell with his mother's kindred; but Sarai gives him Hagar the Egyptian, that she, the barren wife - not the husband - "may obtain children by her" (xvi. 13; cf. xxi. 10).

The marriage of Isaac was by purchase, and the dowry was given to the bride's brother and mother, not to her father (xxiv. 53). But marriage of the beena type seems to have been quite familiar both to Abraham and to the "eldest servant of his house," who was to seek out a wife for Isaac, for the servant puts the case to his master thus - "Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou earnest?" [i.e. that he may be received into his wife's family] (xxiv. 5). In this marriage the wife's kindred asserted no claim to her children, for she was purchased (cf. xxiv. 12). But when Jacob carried off his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his children, Laban pursued him, and asserted his right to them, calling them "my sons and my daughters" (xxxi. 28, 55). Another notable example of this type of marriage is that of Samson with the Philistine woman (Judges xiv.- xv. 2). And for direct evidence that kinship on the mother's side was reckoned as kinship by blood, see Gen. xxix. 14, 15; Judges ix. 1-4.

The custom of the Levirate (Deut. xxv. 5-10), by which the brother of a man dying without issue was bound (under penalty of being publicly dishonoured) to marry the widow, must have tended to complicate relationships among the Hebrews. This custom, however, was widely distributed, and still exists in many places among races of low culture, and this whether the surviving brother be already married or not (Lubbock: Orig. Civil, ed. 1882, pp. 141,142). The Levirate seems closely akin to the so-called Tibetan polyandry, where a group of brothers have one wife between them, and the children can trace their descent to a common grandfather, though not to a common father. Something similar seems to have prevailed among our own ancestors in Caesar's time (De Bello Gal. v. 15), though there husbands in succession seem to have joined the union, and all the children were reckoned to belong to him who first married the woman. But in the family of civilised life kinship is always reckoned on the father's side. How then did this originate? Polygamy (q.v.), if the chastity of the wives be ensured, might, and doubtless did, give it, to a certain extent. Polyandry except of the Tibetan type would not do so, so that where kinship is reckoned through the mother one may expect that polyandry has prevailed, probably from scarcity of women - in its turn generally due to infanticide (q.v.) and leading to marriage by capture. The upward struggle from either of these types to the modern monandrous family must have been long and arduous. With primitive man unions were probably temporary. According to Darwin he would either live with a single mate or be polygamous, and the most powerful males would secure, and be able to defend, the most attractive females. But as they would be governed more by their instincts than by their reason children would be numerous; and thus the struggle for existence would be rendered severe. And it is clear that it was not till man had attained a fairly high degree of culture that the monandrous family arose in the form we know it, in which the union is lifelong, and imposes far more important duties on the husband than the mere support of the wife and the procreation of children.

2. In Zoology, a, group of genera agreeing in general characters. The names of families are obtained by adding -idae to the stem of the name of the type-genus. Thus from Otaria we get Otariidae, the family containing the eared seals; from Felis we get Felidac = the Cat family.