Looked at my family history to get a sense of what my social ancestry is like. I’m a first-generation PhD and my parents are first-generation university graduates. But now I’ve gone back four generations and looked at the men’s professions around 1900. The women among my ancestors didn’t have any recorded professions at the time. These eight men were born between 1816 and 1862.
- Three were farmers: two farm owners, one hereditary tenant farmer on crown land. Of the three, one later became a building contractor.
- One was a sailor and had a smallholding.
- One was a soldier and had a smallholding.
- One was a foreman at a gunpowder factory.
- One was a caretaker at a military hospital.
- One was a rural merchant.
These are fairly humble folks. Neither a desperate proletariat nor any kind of national-level elite. Everyone except the merchant is involved in farming and/or the army. As far as I can reconstruct it, what happened to produce me, a middle-class academic, was the following.
- A daughter of the merchant (with a bit of money and centuries of bourgeois heritage) married a bright son of one of the farm owners (with a lot of bookish talent), who became a well-connected journalist.
- Their bookish son became an auditor with frustrated academic ambitions.
- His daughter got a university degree as part of the great 1960s expansion of higher education, and convinced her smart but completely non-bookish boyfriend to do the same.
- They got married and had me, she recognised my bookish streak and drove me to the library once a week.