[fam-uh-lee, fam-lee]
family, in taxonomy: see classification.
family, a basic unit of social structure, the exact definition of which can vary greatly from time to time and from culture to culture. How a society defines family as a primary group, and the functions it asks families to perform, are by no means constant. There has been much recent discussion of the nuclear family, which consists only of parents and children, but the nuclear family is by no means universal. In the United States, the percentage of households consisting of a nuclear family declined from 45% in 1960 to 23.5% in 2000. In preindustrial societies, the ties of kinship bind the individual both to the family of orientation, into which one is born, and to the family of procreation, which one founds at marriage and which often includes one's spouse's relatives. The nuclear family also may be extended through the acquisition of more than one spouse (polygamy and polygyny), or through the common residence of two or more married couples and their children or of several generations connected in the male or female line. This is called the extended family; it is widespread in many parts of the world, by no means exclusively in pastoral and agricultural economies. The primary functions of the family are reproductive, economic, social, and educational; it is through kin—itself variously defined—that the child first absorbs the culture of his group.

Evolution of the Western Family

The patriarchal family, which prevailed among the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, is often associated with polygamy (see marriage). In Rome, the paterfamilias was the only person recognized as an independent individual under the law. He possessed all religious rights as priest of the family ancestor cult, all economic rights as sole owner of the family property, and power of life and death over the members of the family. At his death, his name, property, and authority descended to his male heirs. The Roman system was transferred in many of its details into both the canon and secular law of Western Europe.

In the 19th cent., when the Western nations began to grant women equal rights with men with respect to the ownership of property (see husband and wife), the control of children (see parent and child), divorce, and the like, basic changes took place in the structure of the family, and the rights and protections associated with it. The state has also intervened to modify the authority of parents over their children. At the same time, education has shifted increasingly from the household to the school. The effect has been to loosen traditional family ties. In Western Europe, where legislation provides equal financial benefits and legal standing to all children, families have increasingly come to consist of one or two unwed parents and children, especially in Scandinavia and other part of N Europe.

Another factor affecting the modern Euro-American family was the Industrial Revolution, which removed from the home to the factory many economic tasks, such as baking, spinning, and weaving. Economic and social conditions have discouraged the presence of the husband and father in the home; in industrial communities the wife and mother also is often employed outside the home, leaving the children to be cared for by others. Sociologists and psychologists find in these changed relations of the members of the family to each other and of the family to the community at large the source of many problems such as divorce, mental illness, and juvenile delinquency.


See W. J. Goode, The Family (1964); R. H. Klemer, Marriage and Family Relationships (1970); P. Laslett, Household and Family in Past Time (1972); T. Hareven, Transitions: The Family and the Life Course in Historical Perspective (1978); J. Elshtain, The Family in Political Thought (1982).

Family Hamamelidaceae, comprising 23 genera of shrubs and trees, native to tropical and warm temperate regions. The six species of the genus Hamamelis include such ornamentals as witch hazel, winter hazel, and Fothergilla, which are outstanding for their early flowering and fall leaf colour. Members of the family are characterized by simple leaves and by flowers with four or five petals and sepals each. American, or common, witch hazel (H. virginiana) flowers in fall and retains yellow, cuplike calyxes (collections of sepals) through the winter. The common name refers to the forked twigs that were sometimes used for water-witching, or dowsing to locate underground water. The fragrant liniment witch hazel is made from the dried leaves and sometimes from twigs and bark. Brilliant autumn leaf colour is an outstanding trait of ironwood (Parrotia persica). Another genus, Altingia, has seven species, all Asian and all valued for their timber. A. excelsa is one of the largest trees of the Asian tropics, sometimes reaching a height of 82 ft (25 m).

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Family Scrophulariaceae, containing about 4,000 species of flowering plants in 190 genera, found worldwide. The family is notable for its many ornamental garden plants, including snapdragon (Antirrhinum species) and foxglove. Antirrhinum contains about 40 species native to western North America and the western Mediterranean. Other members of the family, including butter-and-eggs, are wildflowers. Flowers of the family are tubular and bilaterally symmetrical (two-lipped).

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Family Papaveraceae, containing about 200 species of mostly herbaceous plants and some woody small trees and shrubs. Most species of this family, which is outstanding for its many garden ornamentals (largely of the genus Papaver) and for pharmaceutically important plants, are found in the Northern Hemisphere. All have cup-shaped flowers, a capsule fruit, leaves that are usually deeply cut or divided into leaflets, and coloured sap. Members include the opium poppy and the corn, or Flanders, poppy (P. rhoeas), the seeds of which may lie dormant for years. The latter became a symbol of World War I because it bloomed in fields that had been disturbed by battle. Seealso California poppy.

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Family Passifloraceae, composed of about 600 species of herbaceous or woody vines, shrubs, and trees in 20 genera. Members of this family grow mostly in warm regions. Many species produce edible fruits. Members of the largest genus, Passiflora, are highly prized for their showy, unusual flowers. A pedestal-like structure in the centre of the flower carries the reproductive parts of both sexes. The passionflower blossom is often used to symbolize events in the last hours (Passion) of Jesus, which accounts for the name of the group.

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Family Solanaceae, composed of at least 2,400 species of flowering plants in about 95 genera. Though found worldwide, the nightshades are most abundant in tropical Latin America. Many are economically important as food or medicinal plants. Among the most important are the potato, eggplant, tomato, garden pepper, tobacco, and many garden ornamentals, including the petunia. The medicinally significant nightshades are potent sources of such alkaloids as nicotine, atropine, and scopolamine; they include deadly nightshade (belladonna), jimsonweed (Datura stramonium), henbane, and mandrake. The genus Solanum contains almost half the species in the family. The species usually called nightshade in North America and England is S. dulcamara, also called bittersweet and woody nightshade.

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Family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae), composed of 350 genera of mostly herbaceous plants with peppery-flavored leaves. The pungent seeds of some species lead the spice trade in volume traded. Mustard flowers take the form of a Greek cross, with four petals, usually white, yellow, or lavender, and an equal number of sepals. The seeds are produced in podlike fruits. Members of the mustard family include many plants of economic importance that have been extensively altered and domesticated by humans. The most important genus is Brassica (see brassica); turnips, radishes, rutabagas, and many ornamental plants are also members of the family. As a spice, mustard is sold in seed, powder, or paste form.

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Family Aceraceae, composed of about 200 species (in the genera Dipteronia in China and Acer across the Northern Hemisphere) of ornamental, shade, and timber trees. Maples are important ornamentals for lawns, along streets, and in parks. They offer a great variety of form, size, and foliage; many display striking autumn colour. The red maple (A. rubrum) is one of the most common trees in its native eastern North America, where it tolerates compacted wet soils and city pollution. Box elder (A. negundo) grows quickly to 30–50 ft (9–15 m) and resists drought, so early prairie settlers planted many for shade and for wood to make crates, furniture, paper pulp, and charcoal. The watery, sweet sap of the sugar maple (A. saccharum) is boiled down for syrup and sugar; the wood of certain sugar maples is used for furniture.

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Family Malvaceae (order Malvales), which contains about 95 genera of herbs, shrubs, and small trees. Mallow species occur in all but the coldest parts of the world, but they are most numerous in the tropics. Hairs that branch into starlike patterns commonly cover some or most vegetative (nonflower) parts of these plants. The flowers are regular and often showy. Cotton is the most important member of the family economically. The green fruits of okra are edible. Many species are valued as ornamentals, including hollyhock and rose of Sharon.

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Family Rubiaceae, composed of about 6,500 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees in 500 genera. The leaves usually are large and evergreen in tropical species, deciduous in temperate species, and needlelike or scalelike in desert species. The plants may bear a single flower or many small flowers clustered together. Economically important products of the family include coffee, quinine, ipecac, the red dye alizarin (from the roots of common madder, Rubia tinctorum, and of R. cordifolia), and ornamentals including gardenias.

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Family Lauraceae, composed of about 2,200 species of often aromatic and evergreen flowering plants in 45 genera. Included in this family are ornamentals and plants that produce cooking herbs, food fruits, and medicinal extracts. The genus Laurus includes bay laurel (L. nobilis), native to the Mediterranean, which provides bay leaves for cooking, essential oils for perfumery, and the wreaths that crowned victorious heroes and athletes in ancient Greece. Another genus, Cinnamomum, includes the camphor tree and cinnamon. Also included in this family are the avocado, mountain laurel, and sassafras.

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Family Hippocastanaceae, composed of the buckeyes and the horse chestnuts (genus Aesculus), native to the northern temperate zone. The best-known species of horse chestnut is the common, or European, horse chestnut (A. hippocastanum), native to southeastern Europe but widely cultivated as a large shade and street tree. The Champs-Élysées in Paris is lined with rows of horse-chestnut trees.

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Family Gentianaceae (order Gentianales), composed of some 1,100 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants and, rarely, shrubs, native mostly to northern temperate regions. The four or five united petals that make up the flower may be deeply divided; they overlap and are twisted in the bud. Some species are used in herbal remedies and in the making of dyes. Several species of gentians (genus Gentiana) bear attractive flowers and are cultivated as garden ornamentals. Gentians occur widely in moist meadows and woods.

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Family Linaceae (order Linales), composed of about 14 genera of herbaceous plants and shrubs found throughout the world. The genus Linum includes flax, perhaps the most important member of the family, grown for linen fibre and linseed oil and as a garden ornamental. Reinwardtia species are primarily low shrubs, grown in greenhouses and outdoors in warm climates; R. indica, yellow flax, is notable for its large yellow flowers, borne in profusion in late fall and early winter.

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or family medicine or general practice

Field of medicine that stresses comprehensive primary health care, emphasizing the family unit. Practitioners must be familiar to some degree with medical specialties and, especially in health maintenance organizations, are now often gatekeepers who refer patients to specialists when necessary. Once virtually the only kind of medicine, family practice has been defined as a separate field only since increasing specialization in medicine led to a shortage of practitioners. A 1963 World Health Organization report stressing the need for medical education to focus on the patient as a whole throughout life led to specific programs in family practice.

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Use of measures designed to regulate the number and spacing of children within a family, largely to curb population growth and ensure each family’s access to limited resources. The first attempts to offer family planning services began with private groups and often aroused strong opposition. Activists such as Margaret Sanger in the U.S., Marie Stopes in England, and Dhanvanthis Rama Rau in India eventually succeeded in establishing clinics for family planning and health care. Today many countries have established national policies and encourage the use of public family services. The United Nations and the World Health Organization offer technical assistance. Seealso birth control.

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In pedology, a group of soils that have similar profiles and include one or more subdivisions called series. The primary characteristics that define each of the nearly 6,600 identified soil families are the physical and chemical properties—especially texture, mineral composition, temperature, and depth—that are important for the growth of plants.

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Leading noble family of Poland in the 18th century, known as the Familia. It first achieved widespread power through the efforts of Prince Michal Fryderyk Czartoryski (1696–1775) and his brother August. The Familia, which sought the enactment of constitutional reforms, attained the height of its influence in the court of Augustus III. The family estate at Pulawy was confiscated in 1794, during the third Partition of Poland. However, the Familia continued to wield significant power, notably through the princes Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski (1734–1823), a patron of the arts, and Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770–1861), who worked for the restoration of Poland.

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German theatrical family. Ludwig Devrient (1784–1832) was the greatest actor of the Romantic period in Germany. At the Dessau court theatre he developed his talent for character parts. After his Berlin debut in The Robbers (1814), he played Falstaff, Shylock, King Lear, and Richard III to great acclaim. His eldest nephew, Karl August Devrient (1797–1872), acted in Dresden, Karlsruhe, and principally Hannover (1839–72), where he was popular in plays by Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller. Karl's brother Eduard (1801–77) began his career as an opera singer, then worked as an actor and stage director in Dresden (1844–52) and Karlsruhe (1852–70), where he directed German classics and made new translations of Shakespeare's plays. Karl's other brother, Emil (1803–72), made his stage debut in 1821 and acted with the Dresden court theatre (1831–68); his greatest successes were as Hamlet and as Goethe's Tasso. Eduard's son Otto (1838–94) acted in various companies, then became a director in Karlsruhe and other German cities. In Weimar he produced his own version of Goethe's Faust (1876); he also wrote several tragedies. Karl's son Max (1857–1929) made his debut in Dresden in 1878 and in 1882 joined the famed Vienna Burgtheater.

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Ovenbirds or furnariids comprise a large family of small suboscine passerine bird species found in Central and South America. They form the family Furnariidae. The North American Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) is an unrelated bird, a wood warbler in the family Parulidae.


The ovenbirds are a diverse group of insectivores which get their name from the elaborate vaguely "oven-like" clay nests built by the horneros, although most other ovenbirds build stick nests or nest in tunnels or clefts in rock. The Spanish word for "oven" gives the horneros their name. Furnariid nests are always constructed with a cover, and up to six pale blue, greenish or white eggs are laid. The eggs hatch after between 15 and 22 days, and the young fledge after a further 13 to 20 days.

They are small to medium sized birds, ranging from 9 to 35 centimetres in length. While individial species often are habitat specialists, species of this family can be found in virtually any Neotropical habitat, ranging from city parks inhabitted by Rufous Horneros, to tropical Amazonian lowlands by many species of Foliage-gleaners, to temperate barren Andean highlands inhabitted by several species of miners. There are even two species, the Seaside and the Surf Cinclodes, which are associated with rocky coasts.


Recently, the woodcreepers (formerly Dendrocolaptidae) were merged into this family, following analysis of mtDNA cytochrome b and several nDNA sequences (Irestedt et al. 2002).

The systematics of the Dendrocolaptinae were reviewed by Rajkow (1994) based on morphology and by Irestedt et al. (2004) based on analysis of more nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Using the latter approach, the suspected major lineages of the Furnariinae (foliage-gleaners, spinetails, and true ovenbirds) were confirmed, but some new lineages were discovered and the relationships of several genera had to be revised (Fjeldså et al., 2005).

The taxonomic arrangement presented below is based on a synthesis of current data (e.g. Cheviron et al., 2005). Many species or entire genera have not been sampled to analyze DNA sequences, and as the recent studies have discovered that convergent evolution is commonplace in the family, it seems not advisable to place them in the taxonomic sequence without further research. Several genera are in need of revision too.

Subfamily: Sclerurinae - Miners and leaftossers

Subfamily: Dendrocolaptinae - Woodcreepers''' For a complete listing of species, see the subfamily article.

Subfamily: Furnariinae - Horneros and allies

Affiliations undetermined

  • Genus Lochmias - Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper (Sclerurinae or "Margaronini"?)
  • Genus Heliobletus - Sharp-billed Treehunter (probably Xenopini)
  • Genus Pseudocolaptes - tuftedcheeks (3 species; possibly "Berlepschiini")
  • Genus Premnornis - Rusty-winged Barbtail ("Berlepschiini" or "Margaronini"?)
  • Genus Anabacerthia (3 species; probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Syndactyla (4 species; probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Simoxenops - recurvebills (2 species; probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Ancistrops - Chestnut-winged Hookbill (probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Hyloctistes - Striped Woodhaunter (probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Anabazenops (2 species; probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Cichlocolaptes - Pale-browed Treehunter (probably Philydorini)
  • Genus Hylocryptus (2 species; possibly Philydorini)
  • Genus Ochetorhynchus (2 species; probably Furnarini)
  • Genus Eremobius - Band-tailed Earthcreeper (probably Furnarini)
  • Genus Chilia - Crag Chilia (probably Furnarini)
  • Genus Clibanornis - Canebrake Groundcreeper (possibly Furnarini)
  • Genus Limnornis - Curve-billed Reedhaunter (possibly Synallaxini)
  • Genus Limnoctites - Straight-billed Reedhaunter (sometimes included in Limnornis, but closer to, and possibly better merged with, Cranioleuca; probably Synallaxini)
  • Genus Phleocryptes - Wren-like Rushbird
  • Genus Aphrastura - rayaditos (2 species, includes Limnoctites; possibly Synallaxini)
  • Genus Spartonoica - Bay-capped Wren-spinetail (possibly Synallaxini)
  • Genus Sylviorthorhynchus - Des Murs's Wiretail (possibly Synallaxini)
  • Thistletails (probably Synallaxini)
  • Genus Siptornis - Spectacled Prickletail
  • Genus Metopothrix - Orange-fronted Plushcrown
  • Genus Xenerpestes - graytails (2 species)
  • Genus Acrobatornis - Pink-legged Graveteiro
  • Genus Pseudoseisura - cacholotes (4 species)
  • Genus Pygarrhichas - White-throated Treerunner


  • Cheviron, Z. A.; Capparella, Angelo P.; Vuilleumier, François (2005): Molecular phylogenetic relationships among the Geositta miners (Furnariidae) and biogeographic implications for avian speciation in Fuego-Patagonia. Auk 122(1): 158–174. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0158:MPRATG]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Fjeldså, Jon; Irestedt, Martin & Ericson, Per G. P. (2005): Molecular data reveal some major adaptational shifts in the early evolution of the most diverse avian family, the Furnariidae. Journal of Ornithology 146: 1–13. [English with German abstract] (HTML abstract) PDF fulltext
  • Irestedt, Martin; Fjeldså, Jon; Johansson, Ulf S. & Ericson, Per G.P. (2002): Systematic relationships and biogeography of the tracheophone suboscines (Aves: Passeriformes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 23(3): 499–512. (HTML abstract)
  • Irestedt, Martin; Fjeldså, Jon & Ericson, Per G. P. (2004): Phylogenetic relationships of woodcreepers (Aves: Dendrocolaptinae) - incongruence between molecular and morphological data. Journal of Avian Biology 35(3): 280-288. (HTML abstract)
  • Rajkow, Robert J. (1994): A phylogeny of the woodcreepers (Dendrocolaptinae). Auk 111(1): 104–114. PDF fulltext

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