Every person in every couple or every family, together or apart, has a story to tell. Sometimes these stories are part of the family folklore, told as the hours creep on at family events to laughter or tears; other stories are deeply personal and remain silent, unrecorded. These stories are not the kind of material we find in archives, unless they have touched local legal or administrative bureaucracy; they are usually not the stories we can find in newspapers. These stories are constructed over years of experience, shaped by particular events, but also everyday happenings; and they are as individual as the people at the heart of them.
In the Working-Class Marriage project, we want to get beyond public discourses and official policy to understand what people are actually thinking and experiencing of marriage and cohabitation; and how that experience relates to broader social and political understandings. To do this, we are asking for your help! As far as you are comfortable and able, we are inviting you to tell us your story. In August and September this year, we will be visiting towns across Scotland – Blairgowrie, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Portree and Dumfries – and inviting members of the public to come along, meet members of the team and hear talks about our project and some of our findings so far. We are also inviting people to share their photos and marriage ephemera with us, and find out more about how to contribute oral interviews or written testimony to our ‘memory box’. We want to provide an opportunity for you to share what is important to you about marriage and relationships in Scotland today with the team and tell us what you want to know from our project.
We have been heartened and gratified by the response to our previous invitation to send us photographs, letters and diaries relating to marriage and family, and the generosity people have shown in sharing what are very personal and oftentimes, treasured images. As you can see from wedding pictures gallery, the images offer a window into the public display of getting married – what the couple wore, how the couple stood and who else is in the picture. These images have a common theme, but they are also very personal. Scroll further down and you will also find some of the lovely family pictures which people have sent us: often cross-generational, sometimes simply individuals or couples, the images capture a moment in the life and history of the family they belong to. It is absolutely wonderful to see them; and to have permission to share them on our website.
The images also portray a moment in time – what hopes and dreams, what fears are behind the smiles, or, in some cases, more serious faces? In the case of the wedding photos, how did the couple reach the point of marriage? How did things work out? What was their every day experience of living with their partner? If children came along, what was the experience of motherhood, of fatherhood, and the impact on the parental relationship? These are questions which photographs don’t answer.
Our quantitative research from the census shows that different areas of Scotland had diverse experiences of family forms and distinct marriage patterns, whilst archival research shows local marriage traditions and regional experiences of mobility and employment. High levels of mortality, as well as migration or marital problems meant that single parent or step-families were not uncommon. In some cases, despite the stigma surrounding illegitimacy, people simply did not get married at all. The team have also found a wide diversity of nationalities in Scotland’s past, with people contracting marriages across many different cultures and across international borders. Therefore, the team are keen to involve anyone who is interested, regardless of their marital status or background, in order to make the project as representative as possible of Scottish experience. In other words, every story matters.
Telling us Your story will help us to weave together a history of what marriage meant to ordinary people in Scotland and how that has changed in light of broader social and economic factors. We also hope that meeting people across Scotland will help us address the questions and issues which matter to the population of Scotland by providing a broad and diverse historical understanding of lived experience.