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Surviving the Little Ice Age: family strategies in the decade of the Great Famine of 1693-1694 as reconstructed through the parish registers and family reconstitution

Authors
Publisher
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library
Publication Date
Disciplines
  • Agricultural Science
  • Economics

Abstract

This research, undertaken as part of a larger, multi-temporal study of social relations and land use, examines parish registers for the commune of Uxeau (Canton of Gueugnon, Département of Saône-et-Loire, region of Burgundy, France) during the coldest decade of the "Little Ice Age." The work explores the types of analyses and research questions appropriate for very early registers that cover short intervals. Such registers usually lack the supplemental and corroborating records available for later periods, such as census lists, household enumerations and tax records. Analyses performed include some simple aggregative calculations and a thorough family reconstitution. More unusually, this study places particular emphasis on the peripheral entries not always included in the data bases for family reconstitution-those notations in addition to the main facts of baptism, marriage and burial, which provide detailed information on persons acting as godparents, marriage witnesses and mourners. Incorporating this data, allows extended family groups to be reconstructed for up to four generations, using parish records covering a period of only ten years-something that would otherwise have taken several decades worth of data to accomplish. It is the ties represented in the peripheral data that make possible the reconstruction of the social network, parish hierarchy, and economic relations within the parish. For example, the spatial mapping of the occupational data and the patterns of social alliances reveals two distinct agricultural ecotypes within the parish. The ten-year period of the study coincides with the coldest decade of "The Little Ice Age" and surrounds the "Great Mortality" from the famine of 1693-1694. The strategies for marriage and godparent alliances that emerge from the analyses appear to have effectively reduced risk in that precarious decade of harvest failures, uncertain land tenure and exorbitant taxes. Most of the inhabitants of the parish belonged to large communautés, a communal type of farm made up of multiple, cohabitating, extended family groups. The study shows some significant differences in the practices of these communautés from those of later periods and neighboring regions.

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