Introducing the first and only Korean-English kinship measurement chart or Gye Chon Bup (계촌법) with known DNA percentages and segmentations. The original purpose I had in putting this together was as reference material only for myself and my future descendants. I decided to share this because I realize there may be others who might find this useful either now or at some point in the future. I then began to think not only about my own family, but for all Korean-Americans now and in the future.
Roadblocks and Challenges of Korean Genealogy for Korean-Americans
Unlike European genealogy, Korean family tracking is a lot more complex for various reasons including language barriers, the use of Hanja (Chinese), inconsistent Romanization with US documents, all the various family titles, divided country, etc. Many 2nd generation Korean-Americans can’t even tell you the name of our family’s hometown or even the names of our grandfathers. I’d like to encourage Korean Americans to begin thinking about this and taking steps to track our families now for future generations of Americans of Korean descent. I too have a long way to go, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to completely nail down everyone in Korea, but I will certainly do my best.
English and Korean – Major Differences in Family Terms:
Unlike English where there is only one word used to describe various family relationship scenarios, Korean can be seemingly more complex. The Korean language has specific words which describes exactly how one is related. For example, English uses the word “Aunt” and “Uncle” to describe the sibling of either mother or father and that word can also be used for the sibling’s spouses. In Korean….well…not so much. Korean has multiple words that specifically describe how the aunt or uncle is related. For example, rather than only saying “aunt”, there are separate and distinct words for your father’s older sister, your mother’s younger sister and even the wife of your father’s older brother (and this was just to name a few!).
Although my Korean language skills aren’t the best, I felt the one area I had a pretty descent handle on were the various family terms. For example, with the word for cousin, “sachon” 사촌, I can get specific if need be. I can explain that someone is my “sachon dong-saeng” 사촌 동생 (younger cousin); I can get even more specific by explaining that they are my “wae sachon yeo dong-saeng” 외 사촌 여동생” (younger female cousin from mother’s side). But nooooo, I barely scratched the surface!
As I started looking up the various charts in Korean, beyond “mother” “father” “grandfather” there were all these Korean words I’ve never even heard of. Even worse, they weren’t translating properly into English and I could only figure some using a Korean dictionary with Korean explanations. Then there were multiple charts depending on whether it was mother’s side, father’s side, father’s brother, father’s sister, etc. I was totally beside myself and overwhelmed. Luckily my parents were in town visiting, so I showed them. What I came to discover was that these titles I was seeing were the very formal or proper terms for the various relationships. The closest English example I can point out would be for the words “dad” and “mom” which are the common terms for “Father” or “Mother.” Apparently sachon (hyungjae) 사촌 (형재) is just the common term for cousins, there’s yet another more formal word, which is jong hyungjae 종형재. In addition, there are even more terms for cousin which specify that it is a cousin from your mother’s sister or your mother’s brother.
BTW – I have to thank my dad for his help with this project because there is no way I could have figured it out myself, ok I probably could have, but it would have taken way longer. (아빠, 나에게 도움을 주셔서 정말 감사합니다!). I was definitely impressed with my parents’ ability to know all the various family terms I was whipping out at them. It made me realize that my parents’ generation is perhaps the last generation to come from really large families, raised in rural villages and live amongst all their distant relatives. These days, unless you come from a super large family and still live in a rural village, many younger Koreans don’t even know all the various names of relatives; which perhaps explains why there are so many reference charts in Korean to help explain this to other Koreans.
DNA Percentages Among My Real Family
If you read some other posts, you’ll know that I did a DNA test through 23andMe. Adding the DNA percentages and matching segments was a helpful exercise for me personally because I was able to see all the numbers of my various real relatives in a visually concise way. It also helped me to understand at what point is someone a real relative and where I need to draw a line in the sand when it comes to accepting Relative Finder messages on 23andMe (BTW – for me that would be over 0.65% and at least 3 segments). It’s not that I don’t want to connect, per se, it’s just that I’m not their real relative. Especially for those looking to find links back to their biological parents, I will not be able to help in their search in any meaningful way (of course I respond back to all requests).
Tips to help understand Korean Family Terms
Here are a few tips when it comes to understanding all the various family terms. Hopefully it will help to navigate through some of the complexities.
- As I mentioned, some of these terms are very formal and are not really used in everyday conversation, but are important to know since they are used in documents, family records, archives, etc.
- Family titles beginning with “wae”외 represents Maternal side. Wae 외 is not a stand alone word, but rather it is used as a prefix. For example, the word “samchon” 삼촌 can be used as “uncle” on either your mother or father’s side. Adding the “wae” 외 and making it “wae samchon” 외삼촌 differentiates the word and makes it clear that it is an uncle on your mother’s side.
- There may be times, typically in a conversation, when you want to differentiate between wae halmoni 외할머니 and halmoni 할머니 or somehow emphasize that it’s your father’s mother. When those situations happen, you would use the word “chin” 친 as a prefix which means “real” or “true blood.” It can also be used in the same way we use “biological” in English. As an example, 친할머니 literally means “real grandma” and 친아버지 means “real father” It would only be used in a conversation to strongly emphasize the relationship. It would never be used as title nor would you address someone that way. Some sample usages might be: “Even though she is his chin halmoni 친할머니, she pays more attention to her daughter’s children” Or: “While I love my adoptive mother (양어머니), I still yearn for my chin eomuni 친어머니.” (or “chin eomma” 친엄마)
- All the numbers below preceding “chon 촌” would be pronounced using the Sino-Korean number system as referenced in this chart. For example, 5촌 is oh chon “오촌”, not “dahsut chon 다섯촌” (the pure Korean word for the number 5)
- Addressing someone may be different than the family term. What I mean by this, is what you actually call this person when you are speaking directly to them. Everyone is addressed using either: 1) sibling term, 2) aunt/uncle term or 3) grandparent term. Anyone in your same generation or 세대 (4촌 형재, 6촌형재, 8촌 형재) will all be addressed with the sibling terms. For example, regardless of whether someone is your actual older brother, or your 8촌 third cousin, you would still address him as “oppa” (오빠). Those in the same generation as your parents (3촌, 5촌, 7촌) will be addressed with using aunts/uncles terms. Those in the same generation as your grandparents (4촌, 6촌) will be addressed using grandparent terms.
- Keep in mind that some of the words below are used as both the family term and the word used to address that person. Sometimes it is only the word for the family term. Some of the words may only be general words used to describe the relationship, but may not necessarily be a title nor used to address the person. I’ll do my best to point out any specific aspects as they come.
Useful Korean Family Terms:
While I’ve provided Romanization for Korean words in this article, as for the list below all the terms are written only in Korean. It’s not that I don’t want to, but it does require a lot of bandwidth to Romanize each and every word. If you do not know how to read Korean, you can copy and paste the word in Google Translate and it will read out the word for you. (BTW – If anyone is interested in providing Romanization for words on this list, feel free to do it and post it in the comments section…we would be forever grateful!????????)
- 가족 – Family
- 친척 / 친족 – Relatives
- 족보 – Korean Style Family Record Book (Family Tree)
- 호적 – Korean Family Registry
- 성씨 – Last Name (surname, family name)
- 본관 – Family Clan (Where ancestors originated from. For more on this topic, here’s a good site to explore: KoreanClans.com
1촌 – Children (자녀):
- 아들 – Son
- 딸 – Daughter
- 장남 – Eldest/first son
- 장녀 – Eldest/first daughter
2촌 – Grandparents:
- 할머니 – Grandmother (general word)
- 할아버지 Grandfather (general word)
- 외할아버Maternal Grandfather
- 외할머니* – Maternal Grandmother
외할아버지 or 외할머니* is the name of the relationship – however, when addressing them directly, you would drop the “외” and simply address them as “할머니” or “할아버지”
2촌 – Siblings (동기간)
- 형제 – Brothers (general word, it is not used as a title or to address)
- 자매 – Sisters (general word, it is not used as a title or to address)
- 누이 – Older sister of male (general word, it is not used as a title or to address)
- 누나 – Older sister of a male
- 형 – Older brother of a male
- 오빠 – Older brother of a female
- 언니 – Older sister of a female
- 동생 – Younger siblings
- 남동생 – Younger brother
- 여동생 – Younger sister
- 증조 할아버지 – Great Grandfather
- 증조 할머니 – Great Grandmother
- 왕 할머니*
- 왕 할아버지*
While both are commonly used, it seems to me that 왕 할머니, is used for a great grandmother who is/was actually known. For example, “I have fond memories of visiting my 왕 할머니” or “My 왕 할머니 is still a great cook.”
3촌 Nieces and Nephews
- 조카 – Nephew (general word that can be used for either nephew or niece)
- 조카딸 – Niece
- 생질 – Sister’s Son
- 생질녀 – Sister’s Daughter
- 장조카 – Oldest son of oldest brother
- 처조카 – – Wife’s nephew/niece
- 조카사위- Niece’s husband (nephew-in-law)
3촌 Aunts and Uncles:
- 이모 Mother’s sister / Her husband – 이모부
- 외숙부 (외삼촌) Mother’s brother / His wife – (외)숙모
- 백숙부 Father’s Brother (formal term) / His wife – 백숙모 (formal term)
- 삼촌 – Father’s Brother (unmarried)
- 작은아버지 – Father’s younger brother*/ His wife – 작은어머니
- 큰아버지 – Father’s older brother* / His wife – 큰어머니
- 고모 Father’s sister / Her husband – 고모부
With the words for aunt/uncle, these are both the titles and the word you use to address them. *These are used only if the uncle is married. I’ve only heard “숙부” used in Korean historical dramas, so I don’t know if it’s used now to address an uncle. I’ve personally only used the word “삼촌” when addressing my uncle. If anyone wants to chime in….
4촌 Cousins (1st Cousins)
- 사촌 – Cousin (general common word)
- 사촌형제 – Cousins (plural)
- 외사촌 – Cousin from mother’s side
- 종형제 – Cousins (male plural)
- 종자매 – Cousins (female plural)
- 내종사촌 – Father’s sister’s child (고모의 아들이나 딸)
- 내종형제 Father’s Sister’s son (Cousin) (고모의 아들인 형이나 아우 )
- 종형제 Father’s Brother’s Child
- 이종형제 mother’s sister’s child
- 외종형제 mother’s brother’s child
*These are formal terms for the various cousin relationships. For everyday usage, you can simply uses the same term for siblings, but with the added “사촌” at the beginning. Example: 사촌+오빠 = 사촌 오빠 would be the older male cousin (of a female).
4촌 – Grandniece & Nephew
- 종손 – The grandson of one’s brother (Grandnephew)
- 종손녀 – The granddaughter of one’s brother (Grandniece)
4촌 – Grandparent’s Siblings (Great Aunts and Great Uncles)
- 종조부 Grandfather’s Brother
- 숙조부 Grandfather’s younger brother
- 대고모 Grandfather’s Sister
*For everyday/common usage, you would use the same labels as aunts and uncles, but with the added “할머니” or “할아버지” Example: 이모 할머니=Grandmother’s sister; 작은할아버지=grandfather’s younger brother.
5촌 Cousin’s Children (1st Cousin once removed)
- 오촌 조카 – Cousin’s child (General common term to describe this relationship)
- 종질 – Male Cousin’s Son
- 종질녀 – Male Cousin’s Daughter (사촌 형제의 아들)
- 외종질 – Mother’s side cousin’s son (외종사촌의 아들)
- 종질부 – Cousin’s son’s wife (종질 며느리 종질서)
You would address your cousin’s children as nieces and nephews.
5촌 – Parents’ Cousin (1st Cousin once removed)
- 오촌* – General common term to describe this relationship
- 종숙 – Male cousin of one’s father
- 종고모- Female cousin of one´s father
You would address your parent’s cousins using the terms for Aunt or Uncle. I would address my mom’s female cousin simply as “이모” but casual term for the relationship is “오촌 이모” which means my mother’s female cousin.
6촌 Cousin’s Grandchildren
- 재종손자 – Cousin’s Grandson
- 재종손녀 – Cousin’s Granddaughter
6촌 – Parents’ Cousin’s Children (2nd Cousin)
- 육촌 형제* – Common term to describe this relationship
- 재종형제 – Formal term to describe this relationship
- 재종제 – Younger male second cousin
- 재종매 – one’s younger female second cousin
*For everyday usage, you can simply uses the same title used for siblings, but with the added “육촌” at the beginning. Example:육촌+남동생 =육촌 남동생, meaning younger male 2nd cousin.
6촌 – Grandparent’s Cousin (1st Cousin Twice Removed)
- 재종조 – Cousin of one’s grandparent
This person can be addressed as a grandparent.
7촌 – Children of 2nd Cousin (2nd Cousin Once Removed)
- 칠촌 – General term for this relationship
- 칠촌 조카 Second Cousin’s son (육촌 형제의 아들)
- 재종질 – son of one’s 2nd cousin (formal term for this relationship)
- 재종질녀 – second cousin’s daughter
- 재종질부 – wife of second cousin’s son
- 재종질서 – husband of second cousin’s daughter
This person would be referred to as 칠촌 niece or nephew.
7촌 – Parents’ 2nd Cousin (2nd Cousin Once Removed)
- 재종숙 – Male second cousin of one´s father
- 재종고모 – Female second cousin of one´s father
8촌 – Grandchild of 2nd Cousin
- 삼3종손 (칠촌 조카의 아들)
8촌 – Child of Parents’ 2nd Cousins (3rd Cousins)
- 팔촌 – General term for this relationship
- 팔촌 형제 – Common term for this relationship
The common term for this relationship is 팔촌 (palchon) For everyday usage, you can simply uses the same words used for siblings, but with the added “팔촌” at the beginning. Example: 팔촌+오빠 = 팔촌 오빠 Older male palchon (of a female).
I realize there are probably so many others that I’m missing here. I didn’t get into in-laws which is another hot mess. If I’ve missed any other direct bloodlines, please feel free to add it in the comments section. Please feel free to share. 🙂