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1985 American Bar Foundation Research Journal 799


This essay argues for the need to study the legal history of the American family. It does so by combining a critique of secondary literature in family and legal history with examples from nineteenth-century domestic relations law. These examples, drawn from family law doctrines on seduction under the cover of a marriage promise, runaway marriages, and bastardy, are used to indicate the benefits of adding a sociocultural dimension to legal history and legal and institutional dimensions to family history. Three main themes in the history of nineteenth-century domestic relations law are developed to make these points: the law's particular fabric of issues, its distribution of authorship, and its chronological development. These themes suggest why a full understanding of the legal history of the American family requires crossing the boundaries between legal and family history.