As the database of three-dimensional protein structures expands, it becomes possible to classify related structures into families. Some of these families, such as the globins, have enough members to allow statistical analysis of conserved features. Previously, we have shown that a probabilistic representation based on means and variances can be useful for defining structural cores for large families. These cores contain the subset of atoms that are in essentially the same relative positions in all members of the family. In addition to defining a core, our method creates an ordered list of atoms, ranked by their structural variation. In applying our core-finding procedure to the globins, we find that helices A, B, G and H form a structural core with low variance. These helices fold early in the folding pathway, and superimpose well with helices in the helix-turn-helix repressor protein family. The non-core helices (F and the parts of other helices that interact with it) are associated with the functional differences among the globins, and are encoded within a separate exon. We have also compared the variablity measure implicit in our core structures with measures of sequence variability, using a procedure for measuring sequence variability that helps correct for the biased sampling in the databanks. We find, somewhat surprisingly, that sequence variation does not appear to correlate with structural variation.