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Cousins

During the 2005 reunion there was a good bit of discussion about cousin relationships.  I got the sense that most of the folks there believed that if their parent was a first cousin to a person then they were that person's second cousin.  The fact of the matter is that the child would be a first cousin once removed of the parent's cousin.  So, what then is a second cousin? Before I answer that question let's look at a little background.

Over the years the term cousin has been used to describe many relationships, some by blood, some by marriage and relationships between two people that have no connection other than close friendship.  In colonial times, it most often meant nephew or niece.  In the broader context, it could also mean any familial relationship, blood or otherwise, (except father, mother, brother, sister), or the contemporary meaning of a child of one's aunt or uncle.  Modern usage includes qualifiers such as first, second, third, and once removed, twice removed, etc.1

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary2 gives us the following definitions for the word cousin: 

  1. a: a child of one's uncle or aunt b: a relative descended from one's grandparent or more remote ancestor by two or more steps and in a different line c : KINSMAN, RELATIVE <a distant cousin>
  2. : one associated with or related to another : COUNTERPART
  3. -- used as a title by a sovereign in addressing a nobleman
  4. : a person of a race or people ethnically or culturally related <our English cousins>

 

First cousin is what most people commonly call their cousins, that is an aunt's or uncle's child.  Second cousin is a child of the first cousin, as is a first cousin once removed.  Similarly, a first cousin twice removed and a third cousin denote the same member of the family--a first cousin's grandchild.  We can put this in a small chart like so:

Persons sharing same PARENT are SIBLINGS.
Grandparent are FIRST cousins.
Great Grandparent are SECOND cousins.
G-Great Grandparent are THIRD cousins.
etc., etc., etc., etc....

A CHILD of your cousin is your cousin ONCE Removed.
A GRANDCHILD of your cousin is your cousin TWICE Removed.
A GREAT GRANDCHILD of your cousin is your cousin THREE TIMES Removed.
etc., etc., etc., etc....

The whole thing is based on two people's relationship to a "shared ancestor."  Let's look at a chart based on the example of Alicia's son Blake and Dusty's daughter Alexis.

 

Shared Ancestor

Ancestor 2

Ancestor 3

Ancestor 4

Ancestor 5

Ancestor 6

Shared Ancestor

Omer & Carletta

Leslie Eldrige

Kenneth

Connie Rose

Dusty

Alexis

Ancestor 2

Bernice

SIBLING

Aunt / Nephew

Great
   Aunt / Niece

G/Great
   Aunt / Niece

G/G/Great
   Aunt / Niece

Ancestor 3

Barbara

Uncle / Niece

FIRST COUSIN

1st Cousin
Once Rmvd 

1st Cousin
2 x Rmvd  

1st Cousin
3 x Rmvd

Ancestor 4

Alicia

Great
   Uncle / Niece

1st Cousin
Once Rmvd 

SECOND COUSIN

2nd Cousin
Once Rmvd

2nd Cousin
2 x Rmvd

Ancestor 5

Blake

G/Great
   Uncle / Nephew

1st Cousin
2 x Rmvd

2nd Cousin
Once Rmvd

THIRD COUSIN

3rd Cousin
Once Rmvd

Ancestor 6

 

____________

G/G/Great
   Aunt/Uncle /
   Neph/Niece

1st Cousin
3 x Rmvd

2nd Cousin
2 x Rmvd

3rd Cousin
Once Rmvd

FOURTH COUSIN

Track vertically or horizontally from each of the persons
for whom you are seeking to establish relationship.  
Relationship will be found where the extended tracks intersect.


You might find it's easier to figure out cousin relationships using one of the cousin calculators or the relationship chart found below.

Cousins Calculators

(Note: If nothing happens when you try the table version it's most likely because you have popups blocked.
Try holding down control key when you click.)

 

Genealogy Relationship Chart

If you'd like to download a copy of the above chart it's available in both Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat (pdf) formats.

So, why does any of this matter?  Well, generally speaking it doesn't make much difference in our day to day lives, it's just nice to know.  It is important to genealogists (but we're all strange anyway, huh), attorneys and other legal professionals (in dealing with the probate of estates), and to folks who want to be married but are somehow related.  Did you know that there are quite a few states that permit first cousins to be married?  Take a look at the map3 below.

 

Cousins Marriage Map

 

There are other cousin relationships, the most common are double cousins and half cousins.  A double cousin relationship most frequently occurs when siblings from one family marry siblings from another family.  The resulting children are double first cousins, because they share all four grandparents (assuming that each set of siblings shared both parents).  Essentially half cousins result from half sibling relationships.

References:
(1) Glossary Of Familial Terms at <http://www.uwm.edu/People/baugrud/helpfiles/family.html>
(2) Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary <http://www.m-w.com/>
(3) State Laws on Marriage to Relatives map from National Conference of State Legislatures web site <http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/cousins.htm>



 
 

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