Kinship and Genealogy: the Importance of Genealogy in Anthropology


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Genealogy is used by many when looking at the past, it can help us to understand where we came from, what it was like and how everything changed and when it changed. Genealogy plays a key role when it comes to understanding who we are as a people.1 Genealogy can be used to discover one’s family and their connections, if one wishes to discover their family lineage and history, they would use genealogy to do so. However, genealogy is not only used for human lineage, it can be used for many different lineages, such as food, primates and so on. One way to represent genealogy is through a kinship diagram. A kinship diagram helps classify a family lineage in a way to help understand lineage better, and more effectively. This paper will look at what kind of information genealogy research produces and why this information is important in the field of anthropology.

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Genealogy is a way of finding out how human life came to be what it is at any given time. In an anthropological sense, it is important to look at human life and all kinds of life to better understand it. Human genealogy is only one of the types of genealogy, and it is used to look at the history of a certain individual, or group. This can be useful and important in anthropology since the studying that is done by anthropologists on humans is to identify and understand people’s ways of life and their cultures. Genealogy can help to explain where certain types of people arose and where their cultures came from. It helps to explain behaviours of certain groups when compared to other groups.

Genetic and DNA genealogy is very helpful for biological anthropologists when they study human variation. You can use DNA genealogy to explain why different kinds of people have specific genetic markers. For example, a human variation would be skin color. Humans who live in much sunnier and hotter climates tend to have darker skin, and this is because those people have more melanin, which results in their skin to be darker. Another study was done by Alondra Nelson in 2008, where she performed genetic genealogy testing to understand African Ancestry.Therefore, genealogy is important because it helps anthropologists understand why there are differences in people and what caused them to be shown.

Through genetic genealogy anthropologists can either group or ungroup certain people from many different categories to better understand them. This type of information is crucial for cultural anthropologists, since they look at humans as a part of society and culture. It helps them understand differences and similarities between cultures and people, which is paramount and a main part of cultural anthropology. The following example is from a study that was done by the Royal College Surgeons in Ireland in medical genetics. What they discovered was that the Irish travellers are distinct from mainland Irish people because they are direct descendent from the settlers in Ireland from about 8000 years ago. The Irish travellers in question separated from mainland Ireland about 500 years ago due to many separation events. This type of genealogy research is extremely important for anthropologists because they must understand the different beliefs, speech, culture etc. of the Irish travellers to distinguish them as their own people and give them a distinct identity. DNA genealogy is very useful to anthropologists since it allows them to trace groups of people back many generations to better understand them.

When examining different types of people, a way to distinguish them from one another is through food. With genealogy of food you can trace food back to see how it changed and how this change affected the lives of people who consumed this food daily. Anthropologists use genealogy of food to look at how humans and other animals developed overtime. Biological anthropologists use food genealogy to look at how the anatomy of the human body has changed over time.5 For example, the size of the human digestive system has significantly decreased over time, this is because we started to use fire to cook our food, which broke down the food and allowed the digestive system to use less energy and time when digesting food.6 When studying food genealogy, you can recognize patterns in food evolution, which means one can tell how food has evolved and what foods will evolve to. This is important to look at for anthropologists since they can identify which groups of people depend on certain foods and how changes in these foods will affects them and to what extent. The ability to talk for humans partly comes from the fact that humans used their jaw to chew more which resulted in a more functional jaw. Through genealogy linguistic anthropologists can look at the history of different types of food which helped in the development of speech. These are the ways anthropologists can use food genealogy to understand ways of functional development in humans.


Kinship is a relationship between one another, where this relationship can be of blood or of possession. Furthermore, Kinship can be a simple connection between two people(s), of land, food, and of past relatives. Kinship diagrams are used to help understand how people/objects are related to one another. A kinship diagram uses many symbols to convey the message. A triangle represents a Male, a circle represents a female, and a square represents that the sex is unknown. To show marriage and equal sign is placed between two shapes, and to represent divorce you put a diagonal line through the equal sign. Parent to child is represented by a straight line from up to down. And siblinghood is represented by a “n” shape in line. The other symbols are M=Mother, F=Father, B=Brother, Z=Sister, D=Daughter, S=Son, W=Wife, H=Husband. A consanguineal kin means that it is a blood relationship, and an affinal kin means a kinship through marriage. The subject of the diagram is a male who has a sister. His parents are divorced. His mother has one sister, the diagram also shows his grandparents from his mothers’ side, and his great grandparents from his mothers’ side. This diagram is a consanguineal kin. Therefore, kinship diagrams are useful, they help to visualize the history of a person(s).

Genealogies are very useful in anthropology since they allow us to better understand how all humans behave and what their beliefs are. It also helps us understand our evolution through many factors, and how those factors might have influenced us. Genealogy is easier to understand through kinship diagrams, which illustrate the historical relationships between people. Therefore genealogy is very significant towards anthropology.

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