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Family continuity in England and Japan


This article examines generational continuity and kinship patterns in Willingham (England) between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries and in Kami-shiojiri (Japan) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In Willingham few families continued to survive in a given locality for more than a couple of generations in the male line. Yet at the same time local testators left bequests to a wide range of kin in their wills, indicating that, despite the mobility of the population, kinship ties remained important and were acknowledged. For Kami-shiojiri, the almost continuous series of Shumon Aratame-cho (religious faith registers) reveals a gradual change towards smaller and simpler household structures (Ie). In addition, occasional abrupt increases in the numbers of households and in the numbers of messuages (dwelling units) imply that the community as a whole and/or the local overlord did sometimes intervene to reconstruct sections of the village economy and the use of household labour. Households in Kami-shiojiri were larger and more complex than those in England and the population was much more stable, with the mobility rate about half that reported for England. The extent of variation in inheritance patterns within both populations is also discussed, showing that some families persisted for several generations in Willingham and that in Kami-shiojiri more than a third of cases of change of headship of the household, involved a successor who was not the eldest son of the previous head.

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Margaret Spufford, Contrasting communities: English villagers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Cambridge, 1974), 18–22.

Reynolds, Glynis, ‘Infant mortality and sex ratios at baptism as shown by reconstruction of Willingham, a parish at the edge of the Fens in Cambridgeshire’, Local Population Studies 22 (1979), 31–7.

Spufford, Margaret and Takahashi, Moto, ‘Families, will witnesses and economic structure in the Fens and on the Chalk: sixteenth and seventeenth-Century Willingham and Chippenham’, Albion 28/3 (1996), 387.

See Table 3, below, and for household size in England, see Peter Laslett and Richard Wall, Household and family in past time (Cambridge, 1972), 138.

The National Archives, Kew (hereafter TNA), E179/81/126, 130: Subsidy Assessments, 1524; E179/81/142, 156, 159: Subsidy Assessments, 1525; E179/82/185, 200, 206: Subsidy Assessments, 1544/46; E179/84/436: Michaelmas Hearth Tax Returns, 1662; E179/84/437 Michaelmas Hearth Tax Returns, 1664; E179/244/22: Lady Day Hearth Tax Returns, 1666; E179/244/23: Lady Day Hearth Tax Returns, 1674; also Cambridgeshire Record Office, Cambridge (hereafter CRO), Li/118: Court Rolls (1547–1602); P50/28/54: nine sheets of parish accounts (1567–1590); P127/28/10: map of town land; R59/14/5/8(a)–(f): Town Terriers and Field Books.

Two further sources, the Great Subsidy Assessments of 1544–1546 and a list from 1593 of the residents who contributed to the establishment of a local school, have been used for Figure 2 only to determine whether particular families were present in Willingham at this time, as the sums assessed or contributed are not compatible with the four-fold categorization scheme used to classify wealthy and less-wealthy taxpayers in the other assessments.

Peter Laslett, Family life and illicit love in earlier generations (Cambridge, 1977), 98–9.

W. G. Hoskins, The Midland peasants (London, 1957), 195–6; Cicely Howell, ‘Peasant inheritance customs in the Midlands, 1280–1700’, in J. R. Goody et al. eds., Family and inheritance in transition (Cambridge, 1983), 123–8, especially Figure 1. See also J. R. Goody, Land, family and inheritance in transition (Cambridge, 1983), 240–4, Figure 16.

Stapleton, Barry, ‘Family strategies: patterns of inheritance in Odiham, Hampshire, 1525–1850’, Continuity and Change 14/3 (1999), 385402, esp. p. 387.

10  The frequency of references in wills to relationships such as ‘wife’, ‘grandchild’ and ‘cousin’ is also reported by David Cressy in his analysis of 120 wills of yeomen from Elizabethan Essex and 276 wills of yeomen and craftsmen in Wiltshire after 1680; see Cressy, David, ‘Kinship and kin interaction in early modern England’, Past and Present 113, 55–9.

11  These wills are classified in Table 2 as including beneficiaries only distantly related to the testator (involving a distance of at least four degrees of kinship), although since terms such as ‘cousin’ and ‘kinsman’ were often applied loosely the precise relationship to the testator is uncertain and could in some cases be somewhat closer.

12  As has been suggested for example by both Nesta Evans and Margaret Spufford; see Evans, Nesta, ‘Testators, literacy, education and religious belief’, Local Population Studies 25 (1980), 43, and Margaret Spufford, ‘Peasant inheritance customs and land distribution in Cambridgeshire from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries’, in J. R. Goody et al. eds., Family and inheritance: rural society in Western Europe, 1200–1800 (Cambridge, 1976). See also Howell, ‘Peasant inheritance customs in the Midlands’, 142–3, and Keith Wrightson and David Levine, Poverty and piety in an English village: Terling 1525–1700 (London, 1979), 92.

13  CRO, R59/4/1: Dr Smith's Charity & the Town House, Willingham. There is no record of any earlier almshouse.

14  According to R. J. Smith, the origin of the Shumon Aratame-cho can be traced back to a registration system established in 1616 (and revised in 1626) to help suppress Christianity. See R. J. Smith, ‘Small families, small households and residential instability’, in Peter Laslett and Richard Wall eds., Household and family in past time (Cambridge, 1972), 431. However, Akira Hayami has argued that the initial purpose of the Shumon Aratame-cho was to record the labour services of the agricultural population; see Akira Hayami, ‘The population at the beginning of the Tokugawa period-an introduction to the historical demography of pre-industrial Japan’, Keio Economic Studies 4, cited in Smith, ‘Small families’, 431.

15  The use of adoption helped maintain the Ie when there was a risk of the blood-line dying out.

16  See H. Hasebe, ‘Human mobility and social organisation’, in Hito no Ido no Shakaishi (Social history in ‘human’ mobility), essays in honour of Professor Yoshiteru Iwamoto (Tokyo, 1997).

17  Masao Takagi has also examined the inter-relationships between landholdings and the family life cycle in Niinuma in Sendai; see Takagi, Masao, ‘Landholdings and the family life cycle in traditional Japan’, Continuity and Change 15/1 (2000), 4775.

18  Calculated from the information on total population, the sex ratios and the numbers of married couples in Table 3.

19  The median age at first marriage of women marrying between 1810 and 1819 was 19.5 compared with a median age at first marriage of 20 for women marrying between 1859 and 1868.

20  That the local community and/or the overlord may have helped decide how land should be allocated, and also the use of household labour, was suggested by Richard Wall.

21  Laslett, Family life and illicit love, 98.

22  Ibid., 99.

23  Focusing on districts in the city of Kyoto, Mary L. Nagata has discussed the important role of women for the headship and succession in early modern society; see Nagata, M. L., ‘Headship and succession in early modern Kyoto: the role of women’, Continuity and Change 19/1 (2004), 73104. In the case of Kami-shiojiri, the headship of households listed in the Shumon Aratame-cho is almost entirely limited to men. Of course, it is possible to find women heading households, but they were often supervised by village mayors or wardens and the entries for their households were annotated with the phrase dai-han (meaning the seal was substituted). Aoi Okada and Satomi Kurosu have shown that a sixth of all heirs were women in the Shumon Ninbetsu-cho (‘census registers by religious sect’) in their study of Niita, Koriyama for the period 1720–1870; see Okada, A. and Kurosu, S., ‘Succession and the death of the household head in early modern Japan: a case study of a Northeastern village, 1720–1870’, Continuity and Change 13/1 (1998), 150–1, in particular Table 2. The proportion rises to as many as a quarter of the total where the reason for the change in headship was death. These data are indeed interesting, but the local custom of succession by women (Ane-katoku) seemed to significantly affect the phenomenon. This custom of female succession is not thought to be present in Kami-shiojiri, a village of central Japan. Also, it is rarer to find cases of retirement as the reason for the change in heirship in Kami-shiojiri than in Niita, where more than half of the changes in headship followed the retirement of the previous head.

24  The inheritance of the family name signified acceptance of the responsibilities of headship of the household, assumption of responsibility for the management of the family's assets and the support of family members. The family name of an individual could change when he (or she) became household head or when he (or she) retired. See Nagata, Mary L., ‘Mistress or wife? Fukui Sakuzaemon vs Iwa, 1819–1833’, Continuity and Change 18/2 (2003), 295 and 297.

25  See Table 3, and for references to the famine of the late 1830 s, see Takagi, ‘Landholdings and the family life cycle’, 69.

26  See for example Souden, David, ‘Movers and stayers in family reconstitution populations’, Local Population Studies 33 (1984), 1128, and Laslett, Family life and illicit love, 50–101.

27  For one such example, see Takagi's account of the history of the Inokichi family in Niinuma in the first half of the nineteenth century: Takagi, ‘Landholdings and the family life cycle’, 69–70.

28  See Laslett, Family life and illicit love, 20–3 and 31.

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Continuity and Change
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