Kinship Diagrams

family reunion photo used to illustrate kinship


In this section, we will look at kinship patterns. These patterns determine how we connect with others through descent and marriage. It is a basic system of social organization. Kin that are related to us through descent (parent to child) are called consanguine or blood relatives. Anthropologists oftentimes discuss how many links there are between individuals. For instance, between a father and a daughter there is one link in the chain of familial connections. Between that daughter and her sibling there are two links, one to the parent and one to the sibling. If that sibling had a child then there would be three links between the daughter mentioned in the first example: one to the parent, one to the sibling and one to the niece or nephew. Kin that are related through marriage are called affine. In the United States, we refer to affine as in-laws.

Kinship Diagrams

Anthropologists draw kinship diagrams to illustrate relationships. Kinship diagrams allow cultural anthropologists to quickly sketch out relationships between people during the interview process. It also provides a means to visually present a culture’s kinship pattern without resorting to names, which can be confusing, and allows for anonymity for the people.

There are some basic symbols that are used in kinship diagrams. One set of symbols is used to represent people. The other set is used to represent relationships or connections between people.

In the diagram below, a circle represents a female, a triangle a male, and a square represents a person self-identified as neither sex or both sexes.

(click on any diagram to enlarge)

To indicate that a person is deceased, a line is placed through the symbol.

Other kinship symbols indicate relationships.

Some anthropologists develop their own kinship symbols. This is an accepted practice as long as a key or description of the symbol is provided.
One individual, usually the informant, is designated as the starting point for the kinship diagram. This person is identified as EGO on the diagram.