Understanding Family Relationships in Genealogy

understanding family relationships in genealogyUnderstanding family relationships in genealogy is easy when you understand the terminology. Most people understand a relationship of “mother,” “father,” grandmother,” “grandfather,” “aunt,” “uncle,” “sister,” and “brother.” But what about those cousins? Second cousin; first cousin, twice removed; and third cousin may throw you for a loop. Let’s take a look at these terms to make figuring out family relationships easier.

A cousin is your “first” cousin. A first cousin is the child of your aunt and uncle. You share a set of grandparents with your first cousins. CAVEAT: In the 1700s and early 1800s, you may find the term “cousin” in a will or other document. The term was much more loosely applied back then—it could indicate a cousin in today’s terminology, or it could indicate a niece or nephew.

Second Cousin
A second cousin is the child of your great-aunt and great-uncle. You share a set of great-grandparents with your second cousins. One way to think about it is second cousins (think of the number 2) share great-grandparents (think of 2 letter Gs in great-grandparents).

Third Cousin
You share a set of great-great-grandparents with your third cousin (3 Gs).

Fourth Cousin
You share a set of great-great-great-grandparents with your fourth cousin (4 Gs). And so on.

The word “removed” describes a relationship that is from two different generations. You and your first cousins are from the same generation, so the word “removed” does not apply to first cousins.

  • Once Removed – a difference of one generation. Your mother’s first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. You and your mother are in different generations, but your mother and her cousin are in the same generation.
  • Twice Removed – a difference of two generations. Since you are two generations younger than your grandmother’s first cousin, you and that cousin are first cousins, twice removed.

This might be a lot to remember. Fortunately, there are relationship charts available for free on the internet. Genealogy In Time magazine offers a free download here. If this one does not meet your needs, there are plenty more to be found.

Now you can identify all those “cousins” with accuracy!