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The Changing Space of Families: A Genealogical Approach

  • Alice Bee Kasakoff


This article highlights the usefulness of family trees for visualizing and understanding changing patterns of kin dispersion over time. Such spatial patterns are important in gauging how families influence outcomes such as health and social mobility. The article describes how rapidly growing families, originally from England, dispersed over the US North and established hubs where they originally settled that lasted hundreds of years, even as they repeated the process moving West. Fathers lived much closer to their adult sons in 1850 than they do today and many more had an adult son within a radius of 30 miles. Big Data from genealogical websites is now available to map large numbers of families. Comparing one such data set with the US Census of 1880 shows that the native-born population is well represented, but there are not as many foreign born or African Americans in these data sets. Pedigrees become less and less representative the further back in time they go because they only include lines that have survived into the present. Despite these and other limitations, Big Data make it possible to study family spatial dispersion going back many generations and to map past spatial connections in a wider variety of historical contexts and at a scale never before possible.



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Many thanks to George Marino for helping with the tables and figures and assembling the references to this article. I am also indebted to Diansheng Guo, Yuan Huang, and Caglar Kolyu and Jack Grieve, my colleagues in the Trees and Tweets Project, financed by Digging into Data Challenge (third round), in particular, IMLS, AHRC, ESRC, and JISC. The Yankee Genealogical Data Set was compiled with the support of many institutions and funding agencies, including NICHD Center for Population Research, the National Endowment for the Humanities that awarded a fellowship to work at the Newberry Library, and grants from the National Science Foundation (EPSCOR, Geography Regional Science Program and Anthropology Program). It was also supported by the College of Liberal Arts, University of South Carolina and the Carlisle Award, Women’s Studies Research Award, University of South Carolina. But most of all I am grateful to my late husband and research partner of many years, John W. Adams, whose idea it was to create the Yankee Genealogical Data Set and who worked on it with me for 37 years.



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