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how to make a kinship diagram

How to Make a Kinship Diagram

Reading time: about 6 min

Posted by: Shannon Williams

There are many ways to define “family.” The dictionary offers a few suggestions, including “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head” and “a group of persons of common ancestry.” Princess Diana famously said, “Family is the most important thing in the world,” and if you have seen Lilo & Stitch recently, you know that “family” means that no one gets left behind or forgotten.

For those wishing to further explore the dynamics between family, from individuals who’d like to better understand their heritage to anthropologists who study the norms and values of various societies, a kinship diagram could come in handy. Read on to learn how to make a kinship diagram. 

kinship diagram template
Kinship Diagram Template (Click on image to modify online)

What is a kinship diagram?

>Kinship diagrams, also called kinship charts, illustrate relationships. You can use a kinship diagram to visualize your lineage, similar to a family tree chart or a pedigree chart; however, kinship charts are more commonly used by anthropologists to quickly draw out relationships as they interview people and to present a culture’s kinship pattern without showing specific names.

Kinship diagram symbols

Before you get started, you’ll need to know the language of kinship diagrams. All kinship charts use the same basic symbols, shown below, to present individuals and social organizations visually. Don’t get this confused with family tree symbols, which look similar but hold different meanings than kinship diagram symbols.

People

female kinship diagram symbolUse a circle for a female.
male kinship diagram symbolUse a triangle for a male.
square kinship diagram symbolUse a square for someone who identifies as neither sex or both sexes.
deceased kinship diagram symbolsPlace a line through the appropriate symbol if the individual is deceased.

Marriage and cohabitation

marriage kinship diagram symbolUse an equal sign between two individuals to indicate a marriage.
cohabitating kinship diagram symbolUse an approximately equal sign (≈) to indicate a cohabiting couple who are not married.
non-married parents kinship diagram symbolUse a similar sign ( ̴) to symbolize parents who are neither cohabiting or married.
divorce kinship diagram symbolUse a not equal sign (≠) if a marriage ended in divorce.
remarry kinship diagram symbolIf the individual has been married twice, use equal signs on both sides of the symbol, with the first spouse on the left.
remarried kinship symbolIf the individual has been married more than twice, draw lines connecting the spouses below the symbols.

Descent

biological descent symbolUse a solid line, straight down from the marriage or cohabitation symbol, to indicate biological descent.
adoptive descent symbolUse a dotted line to indicate adoptive descent.
common descent symbolIf you don’t know the parents of an individual, indicate common descent between brothers and sisters by drawing a bar above the symbols.

How to make a kinship diagram

Once you’ve got the symbols down, it’s simple to create your kinship diagram online, especially in an intuitive, collaborative platform like Lucidchart. To avoid starting from scratch, check out our kinship diagram template.

1. Add Ego to the center of your page.

Designate one individual, identified as Ego, as the starting point of your diagram. Most kinship diagrams use a different color or style to highlight Ego. For example, in our template above, Ego is the only symbol filled in with color.

2. Add Ego’s kin.

Using the kinship chart symbols described above, add in the relationships that you’d like to visualize. Record Ego’s parents and ancestors above Ego, Ego’s siblings at the same level as Ego, and Ego’s children and descendants below Ego.

If you’re using Lucidchart, the majority of shapes you need are available in our “Flowchart” and “Shapes” libraries to the left of the editor. You can also copy and paste special characters (such as the non-equal sign) from the Internet or your word processor.

3. (Optional) Change colors or style based on descent rules.

Though you can stop there, you might want to customize your kinship diagram a bit further to explain the culture you’re diagramming. For example, you could track descent rules, or the cultural recognition of children as kin. Cultures generally follow one or two decent systems:

  • Cognatic descent system (non-unilineal descent): Traces relations through both the father and mother.
    • Bilateral descent system: Considers both sides of the family as relatives.
    • Ambilineal descent system: Requires children to choose either the mother’s or father’s side of the family to consider relatives.
  • Corporate descent system (unilineal descent): Recognizes only one family line as kin.
    • Patrilineal descent system: Recognizes the father’s line as relatives.
    • Matrilineal descent system: Recognizes the father’s line as relatives.

On your kinship diagram, you can use different colors to show the paternal or maternal family lines to clarify these social relationships.

4. (Optional) Write out relationships.

If your kinship diagram has become too extensive, or if you want to make familial relationships 100% clear, you can add a tag below each shape to show its relationship to Ego. Some kinship charts use shorthand for common terms, such as “M” for mother and “B” for brother.

Get started with your own kinship chart 

Whether you’re charting out your own lineage or attempting to trace historical families, it's easy to create your own kinship diagram. Save time when you use a kinship diagram template in Lucidchart. Our intuitive platform offers plenty of options to customize your diagram just the way you want it.

Chart your own lineage and visualize present social institutions in a professional setting with a kinship diagram.

Try it in Lucidchart

About the author

Shannon Williams profile picture

Shannon Williams graduated from BYU in English and then turned to the world of marketing. She works as a content marketing specialist at Lucid Software. Instead of writing her novel (like she should be), Shannon spends her free time running, reading, obsessing about Oscar season, and watching Gilmore Girls on loop.

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