The current city was founded by Merek Norn nearly a thousand years ago and the descendants of his mercenary company still have an influential part to play in the city. Collectively the mercenaries are called The Founders and their descendants are known as the Old Families. There were originally 188 Old Families, though only 175 have survived to the present day. The fortunes of the individual families varies. Some, like the Heartstars and Hawkwinds, are very rich and own many businesses and houses. Others, like the Blademoons and Greyhawks, are penniless and their only wealth is their name. This doesn't mean that all members of an Old Family are rich, generally only those descended from each generations firstborn control the wealth and resources.
The New Families is a name given, mainly, to the influential immigrants families from Zale, though it is also used as a catch-all term to refer to any influential merchant family that cannot trace it's roots back to The Founders.
Rank within the Old Families is controlled by 'The List', a document drawn up every ten years that lists the fortunes owned by each family. The top 20 ranking families are allowed a position on the Council of Lords and a direct say in Midwinter's rule.