Kinship Groups and Descent. The Turkmens are organized into a segmentary system of territorial descent groups. The largest descent groups are usually referred to as tribes. Each tribe is further subdivided into increasingly smaller and more closely related descent groups. Descent is traced patrilineally to a common ancestor, Oghuz Khan. The Turkmens preserve knowledge of their descent group and its relation to other groups in oral genealogies. Individual Turkmens know their recent genealogy—at least five to seven generations—very well, although they often conceal knowledge of the fifth and sixth generations to avoid becoming embroiled in more distant blood fueds. When two strangers first meet, they inquire about each others' descent group to establish their relationship to each other. When households that are not closely related camp together in the same oba, a tenuous kinship tie is often discovered. Marriage does not serve an important function in linking Turkmen descent groups. Although agnatic ties are very close and require political, social, and economic cooperation, uterine and affinal ties seldom go beyond limited economic assistance.
Among the Turkmens five sacred lineages exist, which trace their descent not to Oghuz Khan but to the first four caliphs in Islamic history. These groups, known as Owlad tribes, are strictly endogamous, rarely intermarrying with other Turkmens, although they live interspersed among all Turkmen tribes. The Owlad are especially revered by the Turkmens and carry out important religious and social functions in the communities where they live.
Kinship Terminology. Turkmen kinship terminology is highly specific and serves to indicate the important distinctions in Turkmen society. For example, separate terms differentiate agnatic and nonagnatic relationships, as well as the important societal distinction of senior and junior positions between and within generations. Affinal and uterine relations are often addressed with broad classificatory terms.