When family members start talking with each other about family history, inevitably the question arises, “How are we related?” Genealogists have a relationship shorthand that uses terms like “2nd Cousin Once Removed”, or “4th Cousin on my father’s side”. What do these terms mean, and how can we figure out our relationships, once we get beyond brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, and nephew?
Typically, we use the generic term “cousin” to describe anyone in our family tree who is beyond our immediate family unit. Sometimes, however, we might like to be more precise, so here are some general guidelines:
- First Cousin: First cousins have the same grandparents.
- Second Cousin: Second cousins have the same great-grandparents.
- Third Cousin: Third cousins have the same great-great-grandparents; and so on…
Note that all persons who share one of these relationship types (e.g., first cousins) must be from the same generation.
“Removed” means that the relatives are from different generations. “Once removed” indicates a difference of one generation. “Twice removed” means there is a difference of two generations; and so on.
For example, how are you related to your father’s first cousin? The common ancestor between the two of you is your grandparents. Your father’s first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents. You are two generations younger than your grandparents. The difference of one generation between the two of you gives rise to the term, “once removed”. Therefore, you and your father’s first cousin are “first cousins, once removed”.
Father’s Side or Mother’s Side
This distinction merely specifies whether to climb the father’s family tree or the mother’s family tree in order to find the common ancestor between the two relatives in question.
So, now you have the explanation of relationships, which may be more information than you wanted to know! Try to figure out how you are related to some of the people mentioned in this website. Do you find this relationship information useful, confusing, or just an esoteric exercise for genealogists to ponder. Please leave us a comment or question below. We love to get your feedback.