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Same Sex Love, 1700–1957: History and Research Sources for Family Historians


Even in the twenty-first century, family history is often seen predominantly as the stories of people who were part of a traditional family unit, married to someone of the opposite gender, raising children and living their lives as ‘normally’ as possible. But what of the relatives who could not accept that this was the life for them, and were attracted to same sex partners?

Some of these individuals were indeed married, with children, and buried their own feelings and needs in the bustle of the everyday. Of the rest, some lived a ‘double life’ with a foot in both the normative and the fledgling homosexual communities; still more managed to live openly and proudly as themselves, challenging the prejudices and cultural and legal constraints of the day, often facing ridicule, attack and hindrance. In living openly as themselves, they also risked constant pressure from relatives to conform, or exclusion from their families, never spoken of again.

Whatever path they took, their perceptions and experience of the society they lived in, and the attitudes of most of their relatives towards them, could be dramatically different to that of their less transgressive relatives and neighbours. This complex picture presents many challenges to the family historian, who may not be able to interpret such lives from the usual genealogical sources

Gill Rossini is a pioneer of the study of same sex relationships within a family history context, and has closely researched the resources that can be used to highlight the stories of those who loved outside the ‘norm’ of their day. In this talk she will discuss the challenges of same sex historical research, offer guidance on how to approach and interpret those sources, and using many fascinating examples, will highlight what can be done to bring vividly to life these often elusive ancestors.

Note this talk has been rescheduled from its original 19 Feb 2022 date.


About the speaker: Gill Rossini is a professional historian, writer and lecturer who specialises in researching the lives of the marginalised, the poor, and those who in the past were regarded as transgressive in their behaviour. She attributes her passion for the past to childhood holidays with her parents, touring the ancient and historic sites of Britain and Europe, and her love of history shows no sign of abating.

Gill gained her first degree at Leeds and her postgraduate career was spent at Manchester Metropolitan University; she has taught in the post-18 sector since 1988, at colleges, universities and now for the Guild for Lifelong Learning since 2016.

She has written books about the history of adoption, same sex relationships in history, and a women’s history of Liverpool, and is currently working on a companion volume to the adoption book, focusing more closely on researching adoptions and birth families.  In her teaching, Gill specialises in family history, women’s history, LGBTQ history, and Welsh history. 

She is the author of Same Sex Love, 1700–1957: A History and Research Guide (pub 2020 Pen & Sword).


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