A family is a group of people related by the ties of blood, marriage, or adoption. Members of a family most often live in a single residence and perform different duties. Members of a family and their duties vary from culture to culture and at different times in history. Who is considered a family member, and what responsibilities that family member has, may depend on their age, sex, and relationship to other family members.

A nuclear family includes a father and a mother, or a single parent, and their children. A nuclear family often lives in a residence separate from other relatives. Nuclear families are one of the most familiar and oldest types of families. They are common in developed countries such as the United States. In many countries with traditions of nuclear families, married couples are expected to move out of their parents homes in order to pursue careers and set up their own household.

A household in which parents, children, grandparents, and other relatives live is known as an extended family. Extended families are important in agricultural societies because they provide a labor force to work a single unit of family land and perform household tasks. An extended family can also provide care for the elderly and young in the household. In India, for example, extended families usually consist of two or more married couples who share finances and a common kitchen. By sharing responsibilities, an extended family is able to support all members of the household both socially and economically.

Clans are another form of an extended family. A clans members typically claim a common relative. Clans unify people who might otherwise be divided by their different places of residence or distinct age groups. Clan members and their allies often provide one another with economic and social support. Clans, sometimes called tribes, are an important part of cultural and political life in Central Asia. Clans such as the Buguu, the Sarybagysh, and the Adygine continue to dominate the politics of Kyrgyzstan, for example.


A family may be led by either a man or a woman. A patriarchal family is one run by the father or eldest male of a household. He usually decides the duties of the women and children in the family. Traditionally in Nigeria, the eldest male is the patriarch, or leader, of the extended family. In this role, the patriarch solves family disputes and divides the familys wealth. The patriarch is also the spiritual leader of the family because he is thought to be the closest to the spirits of the familys ancestors.

A family in which a woman is the head of the household is known as a matriarchal family. The Mosuo people of southwestern China live in matriarchal families. The Mosuo family is made up of matrilineal members, or people who are related to the matriarch, or female family leader. The family would include the grandmother, mother, the mothers sisters and brothers, and the children of the mother and her sisters. Like the patriarchal family in Nigeria, the mother of a Mosuo family is in charge of the households wealth. If there are many sisters in one family, the smartest and most capable sister will be elected the Dabu, or head of household. Unlike most families in the United States, Mosuo couples do not set up a new family and do not share property. Their children are the responsibility of the female partner. The male partner helps raise the children of his sisters.

Genealogy

The study of a familys origins and history is known as genealogy. Your genealogy includes all the people who are related to you across all of history. Your siblings, parents, grandparents, and even your great-great-great grandparents each represent a different generation in this ancestry.

A generation is a set of family members who make up one step, or stage, in your family history. Siblings and cousins are usually in the same generation. Parents are usually a generation older than their children.

Genealogists are scientists who study ancestry and family history. Genealogists often make a list of all of a persons relatives, and then arrange them in a chart that is organized by generation. This chart is known as a family tree. Newer generations are placed at the bottom, or trunk, of the tree. Older generations, or branches, are placed near the top. The chart resembles a tree in shape because the number of family members is often wider at the top than at the bottom.

A family tree uses a number of symbols to define how people are related. Arrows indicate a birth. A parallel line indicates a sibling. An equal sign indicates marriage.

The study of ones family origins has become very popular, and a number of services exist that can help someone trace his or her family history. The Genographic Project, for example, uses advanced technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from people around the world. DNA is a material in your cells that stores information about your ancestry. The Genographic Project collects individuals DNA and then runs a test to show maternal or paternal ancestry. By tracing each generations history, the Genographic Project has been able to chart human migration over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.


Changing Families

The structure of families is constantly changing. For example, during the Industrial Revolution, a period of technological change in the 18th and 19th centuries, more women began working outside the home. Before the Industrial Revolution, working outside the home was considered a responsibility for male members of the family. Caring for children was considered a responsibility for female members of the family.

A rise in the number of divorces has led to an increase in the number of stepfamilies. Stepfamilies are families in which one or both members of a couple have children from a previous relationship. The number of one-parent families, where one parent or another adult is the sole provider for their family, has also increased.

A couple or individual parent may also choose to adopt a child. Parents can adopt children who are related to them or are from a different community, or even a different country. The process of adoption is often long and difficult. Families who choose to adopt usually must get permission from government agencies. Same-sex couples, couples with disabilities, and couples from different ethnicities sometimes face prejudice and legal obstacles when looking to adopt.

Animal Families

Animals, much like humans, have different ways of creating and organizing their families.

Penguins create families that are similar to nuclear families. The same male and female penguin couple meets every season to mate and bear offspring. Both penguins take turns incubating the egg and going for food. After birth, the penguin chick is taken care of by its parents until it sheds its fuzzy down feathers. The chick is then able to leave the family in order to search for its own food and mate.

Elephants, on the other hand, live in matriarchal families. Each family is made up of three to 25 adult females and their offspring. The females remain close throughout their lifetimes and help raise all of the baby elephants, called calves. The family is led by an older female who makes all the decisions. Male elephants leave their families between the ages of 12 and 15 and have no long-term bonds with any other elephants.

Some animals have family structures that do not resemble human families. All the honeybees in a single hive are usually related, creating a family with hundreds of members. The matriarch, called the queen bee, is usually the mother of all the bees in the hive. She is the only female that can reproduce. She eats food different from the rest of the bees in the hive. The other female bees, called worker bees, create the honeycomb, take care of the bee larvae, gather food, and make honey. Male bees, called drones, mate with queens from different hives to produce offspring.

Scientific Families

The term family is also used in the studies of biology, chemistry, and math. These definitions of family demonstrate how different sets of information are related.

In biology, the term family describes a group of organisms that come from the same ancestors and share common characteristics. Dogs, wolves, and foxes, for example, are members of the same family, canidae. Much like genealogy, taxonomy is the study of these groups of organisms and their common ancestors. The taxonomy of a certain animal or plant is a chart that describes its ancestry, much like a family tree does for people.

In chemistry, a family is a group of substances that share certain chemical characteristics and have a common name. Sometimes, a family is a group of elements that appears in the same column of the periodic table of elements. The noble gases, for example, are a chemical family that appears in the far right column of the periodic table.

In math, a family is a set of equations using the same numbers. There are usually only three numbers in a simple fact family. One, two, and three are the numbers in the family for the equations 1 2=3, 2 1=3, 3-1=2, and 3-2=1.

family
A Malaysian family watches the sunset.

Deep Roots
Roy Blackmore from Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdom, applied to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008 to claim the title for the world's largest documented family tree. Blackmore spent more than 28 years tracing his family tree and has listed a whopping 9,390 ancestors and relatives! He can trace his ancestry through 45 generationsall the way back to King Alfred the Great in 880.

Polygamy
Polygamy describes a family structure in which one person is married to multiple people. Polygyny is one man having more than one wife. Polyandry is one woman having more than one husband. Polygamous families are familiar in some parts of the world today.

adopt
Verb

to formally raise and care for a child of other biological parents.

Adygine
Noun

people and culture native to southern Kyrgyzstan.

Noun

the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

ally
Noun

person or group who supports and cooperates with another person or group.

analyze
Verb

to study in detail.

ancestor
Noun

organism from whom one is descended.

ancestry
Noun

family (genealogical) or historical background.

animal
Noun

organisms that have a well-defined shape and limited growth, can move voluntarily, acquire food and digest it internally, and can respond rapidly to stimuli.

bear
Verb

to give birth.

biology
Noun

study of living things.

blood
Adjective

linked by a common ancestor.

bond
Noun

social link or connection.

Buguu
Noun

people and culture native to northern Kyrgyzstan.

calf
Noun

young elephant.

Canidae
Noun

family of mammals that includes dogs, wolves, and foxes.

capable
Adjective

having the ability to do something.

characteristic
Noun

physical, cultural, or psychological feature of an organism, place, or object.

chart
Noun

diagram, often in the form of a graph or table, with information on the relationships between the subjects represented.

chemical family
Noun

group of substances that share basic chemical characteristics and have a common name.

chemistry
Noun

study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.

chick
Noun

young bird.

claim
Verb

to state as the truth.

clan
Noun

family or large group of people claiming common ancestry.

concurrent
Adjective

simultaneous, or at the same time.

consider
Verb

to think about.

cousin
Noun

relative, usually sharing a grandparent.

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

demonstrate
Verb

to show how something is done.

developed country
Noun

a nation that has high levels of economic activity, health care, and education.

disability
Noun

physical or psychological handicap.

dispute
Noun

debate or argument.

divorce
Noun

legal end to a marriage.

DNA
Noun

(deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule in every living organism that contains specific genetic information on that organism.

document
Verb

to keep track of.

dog
Noun

domestic animal related to the wolf.

dominate
Verb

to overpower or control.

down
Noun

soft, fuzzy feathers of young birds.

drone
Noun

male bee in a hive, which mates with queen bees from different hives to produce offspring.

duty
Noun

responsibility or job.

economic
Adjective

having to do with money.

elderly
Adjective

old.

elephant
Noun

large mammal with a long trunk, native to Africa and Asia.

equation
Noun

mathematical statement of the equality of two sets of numbers or values.

ethnicity
Noun

identity in a group sharing genetic characteristics, culture, language, religion, or history.

extended family
Noun

household in which parents, children, grandparents, and other relatives live.

fact family
Noun

set of mathematical equations using the same set of numbers.

Noun

group of organisms that come from the same ancestors and share similar characteristics. Family is also a classification in chemistry and math.

family tree
Noun

chart of a person's relatives, organized by generation.

father
Noun

male parent.

feather
Noun

one of the light structures that cover the body of birds, often helping them to fly or keep warm.

finances
Noun

budget, or money available for a specific project or goal.

fox
Noun

type of mammal related to a dog with a thin muzzle and thick tail.

genealogy
Noun

study of a family's ancestry, origins, and history.

generation
Noun

group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

Genographic Project
Noun

National Geographic project that uses genealogy to trace the migratory history of the human species.

government agency
Noun

organization serving the government of a country or nation.

Guinness World Records
Noun

yearly reference list of facts and achievements.

hive
Noun

structure where bees live.

honeybee
Noun

insect that, in a hive with other honeybees, produces honey.

honeycomb
Noun

wax structure built by bees to hold honey and larvae.

household
Noun

residence where individuals live as a single family unit.

incubate
Verb

to heat and take care of eggs until they hatch.

Industrial Revolution
Noun

change in economic and social activities, beginning in the 18th century, brought by the replacement of hand tools with machinery and mass production.

King Alfred the Great
Noun

(849899) king of western Britain.

kitchen
Noun

room or area where food is prepared.

labor force
Noun

workers or people who are physically and legally able to work. Also called the workforce.

larva
Noun

a new or immature insect or other type of invertebrate.

legal
Adjective

allowed by law.

marriage
Noun

situation where two people form a legal, religious, or social bond.

mate
Verb

to reproduce or breed.

maternal
Adjective

having to do with a mother.

math
Noun

(mathematics) study of the relationship and measurements of quantities using numbers and symbols.

matriarch
Noun

female leader of a family.

matriarchal family
Noun

group of related individuals led by a mother or other female.

matrilineal
Adjective

ancestry traced through female relatives.

migration route
Noun

path followed by immigrants to a new region.

Mosou
Noun

people and culture native to southwestern China.

mother
Noun

female parent.

noble gas
Noun

one of a group of elements appearing at the far right column of the periodic table of elements: helium (He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), or radon (Rn). Also called an inert gas.

nuclear family
Noun

a mother, a father, and their children.

offspring
Noun

the children of a person or animal.

parent
Noun

organism that produces another organism.

paternal
Adjective

having to do with a father.

patriarch
Noun

male leader of a family.

patriarchal family
Noun

group of related individuals led by a father or other male.

penguin
Noun

bird native to the Antarctic.

periodic table of elements
Noun

chart listing all chemical elements in order of their atomic weights and numbers.

polyandry
Noun

situation of a woman having more than one husband.

polygamy
Noun

situation of a person having more than one spouse.

polygyny
Noun

situation of a male having more than one wife or mate.

prejudice
Noun

unfair feeling for or against someone or something without basis in reason.

property
Noun

goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

pursue
Verb

to seek or strive to accomplish.

queen bee
Noun

only female in a beehive that can reproduce, and usually the mother of all other bees in the hive.

record
Noun

account of a specific observation or event.

relate
Verb

to interact with or respond to.

relatedness
Noun

being connected by similarities.

reproduce
Verb

to create offspring, by sexual or asexual means.

resemble
Verb

to look like.

same-sex couple
Noun

romantic relationship where both partners are either male or female.

Sarybagysh
Noun

people and culture native to northern Kyrgyzstan.

sex
Noun

male or female: division into which sexually reproducing organisms are divided.

sibling
Noun

brother or sister.

society
Noun

large community, linked through similarities or relationships.

spiritual
Adjective

having to do with religion or faith.

stepfamily
Noun

families in which one or both members of a couple have children from a previous relationship.

structure
Noun

system of organization.

taxonomy
Noun

study of the identification, classification, and naming of organisms.

tribe
Noun

community made of one or several family groups sharing a common culture.

wealth
Noun

amount of money or other valuable materials.

whopping
Adjective

very large amount.

wolf
Noun

mammal related to the dog.

worker bee
Noun

female bees in a hive, responsible for gathering food and maintaining the hive.