|Changing patterns of witness selection|
|From a nineteenth century Dutch perspective, marriage was not only the union of two individuals but also the union between two families'
members and estate. As a result, witnesses were not just assigned to observe the vital event, but also to safeguard the union in troubled times. Studying the process of selecting witnesses may therefore enhance our understanding of the couples social capital. Although witnesses are generally closely bonded to the couple, industrialization theory implies that the nature of the bond between couple and witnesses has changed over time. With the onset of industrialization, social background and family ties became less important for well-being and success due to the increasing emphasis on individual achievement as opposed to ascription.
For the protection of the union, this suggests a change in the selection process of witnesses emphasizing friendship ties rather than family ties. However, several studies on marriages in the nineteenth and early twentieth century show an opposite pattern (Matthijs, 2003, 2006). The proportion of relatives among witnesses increased over time and was larger in more industrialized and urbanized municipalities. In this study, we aim to resolve this puzzle by deriving new hypotheses from both stratification and social capital theory. We test our hypotheses using marriage data from the Historical Sample of the Netherlands (HSN), a Dutch national representative sample of 40,000 individuals born between 1812 and 1922. On the contextual level, data are available for approximately 700 municipalities for which we have numerous indicators such as urbanization, in-migration, mass communication, and religion.
Preliminary descriptive analyses show stability in the proportion of related witnesses between 1840 and 1890, while they confirm a rapid increase in the proportion of family witnesses between 1890 and 1925.