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Ancestry is, on the one hand, a biological term based on kinship , which is based on the transmission of genes over the generations (also called consanguinity or physical descent), i.e. the biological origin of an individual. On the other hand, the expression is used as a legal term in family law.

In family sociology and ethnosociology , descent describes the derivation of descendants from their ancestors with corresponding group affiliations.

In the case of stepchildren, adoptive or foster children, there is no parentage in this sense. After the birth of a child, the parentage is entered in a parentage certificate in Germany, which is then stored with other civil status documents in a family 's register.

In a figurative sense, ancestry is also used for the transmission and further development of ideas and abstractions .


In biology, the term ancestry is used to describe the direct ( genetic ) origin on the one hand, and the evolutionary history on the other (“humans and chimpanzees descend from common ancestors”). Descent is understood here as the origin of an individual from a specific female parent from whom the egg cell originates (“ mother ”) and from a male parent from whom the sperm originates (“ father ”), i.e. biological parenthood . In a broader sense, the term also refers to the parents of the parents (the grandparents ), the parents of the grandparents and all other immediate ancestors back to so-called spontaneous generation , that is, to the biological theory of descent .


Belonging to a family

The term descent is used in Germany in Section 1589 of the German Civil Code (BGB) to define kinship or consanguinity . The focus is not only on biological parenthood, but in §§ 1591 ff. BGB an independent legal regulation in terms of family origin, which in some cases can deviate from biological parenthood.

The determination of motherhood used to be problem-free, which was expressed in the Latin legal sentence “ Mater semper certa est ” (German: “The mother is always secure”). Since it has become medically possible (albeit forbidden in Germany, see Section 1 Embryo Protection Act ) to implant a fertilized egg cell from another woman into a woman, a regulation has been required as to who is the mother in such a case. According to § 1591 BGB, this is the woman who gave birth to the child.

The basic regulation for determining paternity can be found in § 1592 BGB. After that, legally father is the man

  1. who was married to his mother at the time of birth,
  2. who has recognized paternity or
  3. whose paternity has been determined by a court according to § 1600d BGB or § 182 FamFG.

This means that biological and legal paternity can fall apart. In order to remedy this situation, there is the possibility of contesting paternity in certain cases ( § 1600 BGB). Unless due to marital birth or a paternity father is established, it requires a judicial determination of paternity , in case of doubt, a pedigree certificate or a parentage is necessary. The parties involved can also request each other to participate in a determination of parentage in accordance with Section 1598a BGB ( parentage clarification ).

Legal norms can provide that the legal consequences of parenthood are abolished and - especially in the case of adoption - replaced by legal parenthood . By adopting a minor, parenting is legally separated from parentage. The relationship to the previous relatives expires ( § 1755 BGB), the court order creates a new parent-child relationship with the adopting person ( § 1754 BGB). In the case of adult adoption, the legal effects go less far (cf. § 1770 , § 1772 BGB).

The Hamm Higher Regional Court ruled in February 2013 that a person conceived in a test tube (the plaintiff is a young woman) has the right to have the name of his / her biological father revealed. It gave priority to the right to know one's parentage over the anonymity that sperm donors had been assured of at the time. The judgment is final. A revision is not permitted according to the OLG. Prior to this judgment, numerous “artificially” conceived people complained that they did not know and could not get to know their biological father.

Belonging to an ethnic group

In states where citizenship is determined according to the principle of descent ( jus sanguinis ), a person's ancestry from existing citizens is of crucial importance. According to the Ius sanguinis z. B. those who descend from German citizens can easily become German citizens . In addition, the Basic Law introduced the status Germans in accordance with Article 116, an ethnically defined category of Germans within the meaning of the Basic Law , which has now largely become obsolete. Within which is the privilege German people Related (and partially also of German origin ) have been compared to those who can not have German ancestry, legitimized. In 2000, through the introduction of the “option model” into German citizenship law, an element of the place of birth principle (jus soli) was added, which is intended to facilitate the integration of non-Germans with a migration background into German society. Conversely, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Germans in Russia and in other post-communist states to find admission to the Federal Republic of Germany as Spätaussiedler based on their German ethnicity , mainly due to a lack of knowledge of German .


In the understanding of family and ethno-sociology, "descent" is a system of ideas, a social construct , the focus of which is the relationship between the descendants and their ancestors , with the corresponding transmission and inheritance of social group affiliations , positions , prestige , offices, privileges and Property . This results in a pedigree for every person (" ego ") , which is important for their family relationships , marriage rules and other social contexts. Two main groups of derivation are distinguished:

  • unilinear , one-line descent:
    • patrilineal: exclusively through the line of the father, his father and so on (see also stem line , Agnat );
    • matrilineal: exclusively through the line of the mother, her mother and so on;
    • bilinear: double, across both lines, one depending on the social context;
    • ambilinear: a self-chosen, mixed line adopted by the mother or father;
    • parallel: the mother transfers her line to daughters, the father his to sons.
  • cognatic-bilateral ancestry: both lines simultaneously and equally.

By a unilineal , single-line with respect to a common ancestor ( progenitor or stem nut ) arise clearly separated and non-overlapping lineages ( lineages , clans ), which can be distinguished in exogamous ( marriage outside their own social group) and endogamously (marriage within).

The cognatic , bilateral rule of descent corresponds to the kinship relationships customary in modern societies: children belong to the line and family of the mother and to the line of the father at the same time .

Other meanings

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: ancestry  - explanations of meanings, word origins , synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Message (dpa): Judgment of the OLG Hamm: Daughter may find out the name of the sperm donor. In: Der Spiegel . February 6, 2013, accessed March 13, 2020.