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Families in History

The family has traditionally been the most important human group. Early families banded together for protection and to share the activities needed to stay alive, like hunting and gathering food. Historical pictures of dwellings include images of caves, thatched huts, pit-houses, earthen homes including adobe, bark-covered lodges, stone masonry including Egyptian pyramids and European castles and Anasazi cliff-dwellings, log cabins, tepees, yurts, and brick or wooden houses.

Families traditionally join together for meals, portrayed in many historical images. In fact, sharing food is often a symbol of acceptance and kinship, and most traditional family celebrations involve food, whether wedding cake or Thanksgiving dinner.

Families have adapted to a variety of conditions throughout history. In ancient Rome, some people had little family time because of servitude or even separation from each other due to slavery or capture by enemies, while patricians luxuriated in Roman villas seen in historical pictures. Similarly, medieval lords and ladies are pictured with servants in manor homes, while peasants worked the land. Historical pictures show differences between the lifestyles of wealthy families and poor families, differences between urban life and rural life, and distinctions among cultures.

Historical pictures of extended families became less common as kinship groups dispersed. Settlers who colonized the Americas became isolated from relatives who stayed in their homeland, and this happened to later immigrants, as well. Many Africans were sold into slavery, removing them from their native cultures and traditions as well as from family members. Because usually only young people left for new lands, elderly family members were unavailable for helping with chores or for maintaining kinship ties.

Through many historical eras, pictures show families maintaining traditions, while coping with upheaval and change, meeting new cultures, and raising children who could carry on the best of the old but create new ideas as well.


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