There is a radio programme on at the moment about anthropology – in particular about kinship. As far as biological kin is concerned I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a cousin and so on, but I am also a friend, a colleague , a customer, a client, and sometimes a patient. 


When it comes to the people I am close to a very different group of people become involved. Not that I don’t like my family, or don’t get on with them, but I just don’t live near some of them. So , my ‘kin of choice’ would include my neighbour Pat, the people in my gardening group, the members of my church, my daughter’s in-law, friends I have made through my on-line work, my fellow villagers and so on.

I think of the people I have called ‘Mom’. My mother, who died when I was quite young, then my step-mother, but also my mother-in –law. Only one of these was consanguineous i.e. a blood relation.

If I look back there were lots of ‘aunties’. I come from a very large family, my father being one of 11 children and my mother having a total of 8 brothers and sisters. All of these were married, and most of them had children. There were however other ‘aunties’ – my aunt by marriage’s foster mother Mrs Brown for instance. I saw her more often than I saw my grandparents, because she lived nearer. She would teach me silly jokes and we would dance around to old music hall songs. She was one of the ugliest women you are ever likely to see, but that didn’t matter at all, and I am so glad to have had the privilege of knowing her. Then there were the two ladies who ran the local grocers. I saw them most days and we exchanged cards and gifts on special occasions. There was real affection there.

I belong to some quite large ‘families’ – all those in my year at college for instance or the wider family of the church.
More recently we have been exchanging our home with other families. The strange part of this relationship is that usually we don’t meet each other. Yet we move into each other’s homes. We read each other's books, see each other's photographs, sit on each other's chairs, walk around each other's gardens. Quite often we meet each other's friends and neighbours, especially if we go to each other's church. Quite often we write several times and learn perhaps more about each other than we do some of our neighbours, some of whom we meet several times a week. This is quite an odd kind of relationship.

Then I think of the American nun who is my tutor at the moment. I am doing an online course, but we write rather more often than the course necessitates. We pour out our feelings, describe events and comment upon all kinds of things. I certainly speak to her more than I do my sisters, none of whom are e-mailers with any regularity.

If take the long view I know I am the carrier of a genetic condition – and I know all about the person who it seems is the first person described as having this particular condition - Ivar the Boneless, who arrived in Yorkshire in 866. Strangely, even though it is a very rare condition, only present in a few thousand people, and we were born nowhere each other, I married a man who was also descended from Ivar – modern DNA proves it. So he is my distant kin consanguineously (by blood), but he is also my kin of choice i.e. I decided to marry him.

The poet John Donne said long ago,

No man is an island.’ We are all connected.

Why don’t you try and write about your various kin, by blood and by choice?

You can learn more about Families here, and if you like you can tell us about your family on the forum, in the Home and Family section.