Critical family history illuminates societal relations of inequality through focusing on the experiences and trajectories of particular families. Here, I focus on unequal relations between white settler colonizers and indigenous communities within Aotearoa, New Zealand. I use data gathered from family wills and archival research to sketch aspects of the economic privilege of branches of my own ancestral families in contrast to the economic dispossession and injustices faced by the Māori communities alongside whom they lived. The concept of historical privilege forms the analytic basis of this exploration, beginning with the founding historical windfalls experienced by the Bell and Graham families through their initial acquisition of Māori lands and the parallel historical trauma experienced by Māori at the loss of these lands. I then explore how these windfalls and traumas underpinned the divergent economic trajectories on both sides of this colonial relationship, touching on issues of family inheritance and structural and symbolic privilege. Neither the Bells nor the Grahams accumulated significant wealth, but the stories of such “middling” families are helpful in illuminating mechanisms of historical privilege that we inheritors of such privilege find it difficult to “see” or remember.
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