The family was the smallest of the social units which gave people a sense of identity and purpose. In recognition of the undoubted importance of this grouping, a small band of historians have set themselves the laborious task of unravelling the secrets of the various family types found in early modern western Europe. Begun as recently as the 1960s, and using computers and other sophisticated techniques, this task is still far from complete. Either because of the shortage of qualified historians who are willing to spend years tucked away in scattered provincial archives sorting through parish registers, notarial and court records and wills and inventories, or because of a shortage of the relevant written records, for large parts of Europe the history of the family has yet to be written.