Genealogy | Figuring Out Relationships

So Many Relationships!

Once we realize how interconnected we all are, and how many direct-line ancestors we have, we suddenly start to come forward again, and realize that we probably have quite a few living relatives, many of whom we many have never even met.

Of course, most folks are very aware of near-relations such as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. That’s the easy part.

We have many ancestors and living relatives we may not even be aware of
We have many ancestors and living relatives we may not even be aware of | Source

The Cousin Tangle

Then we get into cousins. First cousins; kissing-cousins; quasi-cousins; removed cousins; the list goes on.

Some of us know many of our cousins; even grew up with them. Others have no idea of who their cousins may be, or at least not all of them.

The extent of that knowledge to most people is that “cousins get confusing.” Yes, you have all those ‘removals,’ and number designations. What are those numbers for, anyway?

There are many charts out there to read and figure out where they all fit in, but personally the easiest type chart I have found is the “Christmas Tree” type chart. It shows the removals in the clearest way, in my opinion. In the chart below, I’ve invented a fictitious family to stand in for everyone’s relatives.

Even with the help of the chart, this can get confusing, so I’ll start out slowly, with first cousins. Most of us know those. They are the children of our aunts and uncles, who themselves, of course, are our parents’ brothers and sisters.

I’ve included generation numbers at the left side, so you can see the progression through the years. The first generation is the common ancestor set of parents/ grandparents/ great-grandparents, or what have you, depending upon the generation you are in as you work your way back.

In the case of our made-up family, that is Charles and Mabel White. They have two children, Kate and Dan. Obviously, they are brother and sister to each other. So far, clear enough.

When Kate and Dan each marry, and have their own families, their children are all first cousins to each other, regardless of how many children they each have. (And they are aunt and uncle to each other’s children; likewise the children are their nieces and nephews.)

That much, I’m pretty sure everyone understands. So let’s move down one more generation, to the third level. Janet and Dorian, (Kate’s children) and Taylor and Ruth (Dan’s children) all grow up and have kids of their own as well. In the interests of keeping it simple, I have put names at random for each generation, without separating which sibling had which child. (I do hope it is clear that the siblings did not engage in incest. ;-))

Sample Cousin Chart

This is the simplest chart I've found for visualizing how the cousins compute down through the generations
This is the simplest chart I've found for visualizing how the cousins compute down through the generations | Source

Calculating Years and Generations, Genealogically Speaking

For purposes of simplicity, when figuring out generations and years involved, it is a standard protocol in genealogy to figure each generation as being twenty-five years.

Most people will have married and have children by that age, thereby starting the next generation.

Of course, there are those who begin families sooner or later, but that is a middle-ground number to use for easy calculating how far forward or past a given ancestor or descendant will be.

Look back at the chart, and you will see that Judy and Jane, the children of Janet and Dorian; and Max and Leah, the children of Taylor and Ruth; will all be second cousins to each other.

And so it goes, on down the line. Each next generation goes up one in the degree of cousin number, and it can go on virtually forever.

Much as I hate math, it’s kind of like fractions: the larger the number, the smaller the part, or in this case, the further apart the relationship. By the time you get to eighth cousin, you might as well not be related.

Remember that bit (from my article for beginners), about having approximately 256 direct-line ancestors at two-hundred years back? That’s about where you are with eighth cousins. Starting from ancestors of old, as we do in this chart, we have come forward somewhere around two hundred years by the time we get to eighth cousins. So no, you’re not going to meet your eighth cousin, at least not in this world.

Meeting Distant Cousins

But you very well might meet your fourth or fifth cousin several times removed! It happened to me. A friend of mine and I were at a party, at which I introduced her to my mother. Not only did she stop, ask the spelling of my mom's surname, but pronounced it correctly. Something hardly anyone was ever able to do; it's a three syllable French name.

Mom and I were flabbergasted, and asked how she did that. She explained that it was her own maiden name! You could have knocked us over with the proverbial feather.

Of course, this led to research, and we did discover that we are distant cousins to one another, something on the order of fifth cousins six times removed. It was quite amusing, and a stunning example of the "small world" phenomenon.

Now, About Those Removals...

No, we can’t remove your cousins, but they do get ‘removed’ generationally from each other. Now this is where it can get horribly confusing, so again, I’ll start slowly.

We have already seen that all children beyond the first set of siblings from the common ancestors, on whatever successive generation, are direct cousins to each other, regardless of how far down the years they are; first, second, fifth, eighth, etc.

Now, you might want to take notes; for sure refer back to the chart. I did not mark the chart for removals or aunt/uncle/niece/nephew, for that would just be too many criss-crossing lines.

Let’s being at the simplest level, with the first set of cousins, Janet and Dorian, first cousins of Taylor and Ruth. I’m going to leave out the aunts and uncles thing, as I’m pretty sure everyone knows that.

So: here the lines criss-cross. We start reading the chart on the diagonal. Janet and Dorian will be first cousins once-removed from the children of their own first cousins, Taylor and Ruth. Therefore, Janet and Dorian are first cousins once-removed from Max and Leah. Likewise, Taylor and Ruth are first cousins once-removed from Judy and Jane, the children of their own first cousins, Janet and Dorian.

This happens at every generation. That makes Judy and Jane second cousins once-removed from Shari, Nadine and Joy; Max and Leah then are second cousins once-removed from Trixie and Katy.

Are You With Me So Far?

Have you had trouble figuring out cousins?

  • Yes! It's terribly hard
  • No--easy-peasy!
  • I kind of struggle, but get it after a while
  • I did, but this chart and explanation has helped
  • Cousins? I have cousins?
See results without voting

A Bit More Complicated

Ah..but now, let’s throw in the complicated part. Janet and Dorian (our first cousin pair) are now first cousins twice-removed from Shari, Nadine and Joy; likewise Taylor and Ruth are first cousins twice-removed from Trixie and Katy.

You get ‘removals’ like that at every generation. Now, lets jump down a few steps. Shari, Nadine and Joy are third cousins three-times-removed from Sally; Trixie and Katy are third cousins three-times-removed from Brenda and Brandon.

At any level of cousinship, moving down one generation gives you the first removal, and each successive generational jump gives you another removal.

For example, fifth cousins Tonia, Lucy and Bob, are going to be fifth cousins once-removed from Brenda and Brandon, while Robert, Sharon, Judy and Sally, are going to be fifth cousins once-removed from Sally J.

When you get that far back in time, it is not uncommon to find names getting duplicated, (whether by chance or design), so be careful which line you are tracing.

Quasi Cousins

We all have them. They may be only very close family friends, whom we call ‘cousin’ out of affection, or they may be marginally part of the family by way of in-laws, but not truly related to us. It’s more a matter of social convenience to refer to them as cousins.

Quasi is an adjective, meaning, having a likeness to something; or resembling. The pronunciation is “KWAY-zee” (rhymes with ‘crazy’). That’s fitting, as this is a crazy definition of cousin, and in our family we often did just say ‘crazy cousins.’

Here’s an example. When I was a young child, we visited my mother’s family in Massachusetts several times. There was another girl about my age who was often at my grand-aunt’s house when we visited. I’ll call her “Casey,” here, as she is still living, so a pseudonym is appropriate.

I could not understand why we were not related, because, I sobbed, “Casey is related to Auntie Eunie, and so am I, so Casey and I must be related, too!”

I was so sad that my dear aunt invented a crazy, made-up non-existent relationship such as her being my second great-grand step cousin three times removed. I was satisfied.

However, there was no relationship even between Casey and my aunt, for she was the granddaughter of auntie’s husband by a prior marriage. And my uncle (auntie’s husband) was only uncle-by-marriage to me, so again, no blood ties. But, it was so much easier to just call her “Cousin Casey.”

You do have to be careful of such situations as these when people start throwing the word ‘cousin’ around.

Kissing Cousins

Here’s an interesting one, and a term that is variously defined. Some people take it simply to mean very close cousins, to whom you would offer a kiss and hug on greeting. You probably grew up together and have a lot of fond, shared memories.

Another definition considers that a kissing cousin is one of far enough ‘removal’ that it would be legal to marry them. First cousins are not allowed to marry. Second cousins may, and so can third cousins, on down the line.

I’m sure ‘removals’ would be allowed to marry as well, but that might get weird; like marrying someone the age of your grandchild (or grandfather, in the reverse viewpoint), even if they were of legal age.

Greats and Grands

This is fun. You have grand parents, great grand parents, great-great grandparents, and even going back to more ‘greats’ than you can keep count of to rattle off. So we often shorten it, after the great-great grandparent to simply saying, ‘my 3-times-great grand father,’ or ‘my 6-times- great grandmother.’

Aunts and uncles come into play, but they don’t get to be ‘great’ right away. As with grand parents and great-grandparents, that takes another generation back.

Since we know from our chart that we are aunt and uncle to our siblings’ children, likewise, they become aunts and uncles in their own time. I’ll keep it to a single name on each generation from the chart, for clarity.

Let’s look back at our fake family, and see that Janet will be aunt to Max. She will in turn be Grand-Aunt to Shari; and Great-Grand Aunt to Blanche. It keeps going like that, until you are saying ‘my 4-times great-grand aunt.’

The ‘grand’ comes in at the first generational step after “just plain" aunt or uncle; grandma or grandpa,” and after that, the ‘greats’ start getting added on top.

© 2015 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 40 comments

PAINTDRIPS profile image

PAINTDRIPS 16 months ago from Fresno CA

I always wondered what removed really meant. Someone told me it had something to do with cousins divorcing but that didn't make sense. This was very helpful... if a little confusing. Thanks.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 16 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi there Paintdrips!

Yes, it can be confusing, but this chart is simpler than most I've seen, because if follows straight down, instead of having to read columns across and down to figure out an intersection between great-grand parents and a great-great-great grandparent, which you may not even know where they fall.

Let me know if there's something that would help you even more. I'm glad you did find it at least somewhat helpful. ;-)

PAINTDRIPS profile image

PAINTDRIPS 16 months ago from Fresno CA

It was useful my friend. I am the oldest of 21 grandchildren. And I was the first to marry and have children. But most of my cousins waited to marry and have kids so my kids were in their teens when the cousins had kids. Now that they are all grown and having children, my daughters children are about the same age as my first cousin's children. We get so confused that we have just started calling them all nieces and nephews, which of course, isn't right. Now I can see that they are second cousins once removed to my children and third cousins once removed to each other. Wow.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 16 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

LOL, Paintdrips!

I had "kind of" a similar generational disparity in my own family. My dad was 25 years older than my mom, and it was his family that lived here in CA, while mom's family lived in MA.

So, my first cousins that I actually got to know well were my mother's age, and their children were babies and toddlers when I was between about 9 and 12 years old. My dad and his siblings were, of course, about the same age as my maternal was a unique situation.

My first cousins "back east" I saw rarely, maybe 8 or 9 times in my growing up years when we'd go for visits...(and lucky to be able to do that, as my dad worked for the airline). So, I did not get to grow up with cousins my age to play with. As an only child, that meant I grew up better able to relate to and chat with adults than with my peers.

bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 16 months ago from Central Florida

Interesting. I didn't know about grand aunts and uncles. I thought that only applied to grandparents. So, would my grandmother's sister be my great aunt or my grand aunt?

billybuc profile image

billybuc 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

Being adopted kind of makes genealogy a moot point for this boy. I wouldn't even know where to begin. :) Maybe someday I'll petition the courts and find out who my birth parents are. Until then, I remain blissfully ignorant. :)

drbj profile image

drbj 16 months ago from south Florida

Confusing at first, Liz, but with patience and rereading, your extensive generational explanation becomes easier to understand. Thank you for simplifying cousins that are 'removed.'

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Shauna - ;-) Nope--it applies to all, except those tangled cousins. There is no such thing as a grand-cousin. (Though some may have egos that lead them to think so. LOL)

Your grandmother's sister would be your grand-aunt. Your great-grandmother's sister would be your great-grand aunt.

Hi there, Bill - Yes, I am sure. The thing, though, about not having such records open anyway, is that sometimes there are health issues that are genetic, and it is good to have the family history. A friend of mine went through such a mess a few years back--it was a nightmare before she was finally able to get the information.

Thanks much for stopping by and adding your perspective.

Hi, drbj - Yes it can be confusing. I tried to simplify it the best way I could. Please let me know if there is any thing I can do to make it even easier. I'm glad you were able to understand it in the end, though. Thanks very much.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 15 months ago from The Caribbean

I've studied the family tree and am usually the one to explain the cousins and cousins removed. It is fun explaining it. You did a very good job and I commend you.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Thank you very much, MsDora! I'm glad you found that I managed the topic well enough. ;-)

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 15 months ago from England

Phew! so confusing! lol! but at least I understand it better now. I recently found a relative on facebook! we sort of chatted, then a bit of confusion happened, and we haven't chatted since! long story! lol! interesting stuff, great hub!

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 15 months ago

I knew about the "removed" but it makes me dizzy to even think about it. Your chart makes it much easier, so I may try this in my own family. I am friends with a cousin many times removed and would like to figure it out our kinship. We have a common progenitor who goes back to pre-Revolutionary War days, and we met because of our genealogy interests.

I grew up in a large rural family, and I never made any distinction between a blood uncle or aunt and the spouse. I loved them all equally. I was somewhat knocked into reality one day when I was helping my late uncle's widow clean up and rearrange some of his belongings in the garage. A friend of hers dropped by, and she introduced me as "Bill's niece". Although it was a proper introduction from a proper Southern lady, it kind of stung a little bit because I'd always though of her as my Aunt Cecilia, and had always introduced her as "Aunt Cecilia" to my friends. I mean, after 50 years, I felt like we were kinfolk.

We always jokingly called the spouses' nieces and nephews (who were not blood kin) "kissing cousins". Great lesson. Voted up, useful and interesting.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hey there, Nell! - LOL.. Yes, it is fun to discover connections in ways we never had before, such as on Facebook! My husband found a couple that way, simply by asking them due to similarity of surname.

Hello, MizB - Yes, it can get quite confusing, and the "inlaws and outlaws" (giggle) can really add to the tangle. I can see where you would be somewhat flabbergasted by that introduction. Thanks for sharing your story, and your use of the 'kissing cousins' term.

annart profile image

annart 15 months ago from SW England

I've done family trees and so on for years now and my sister is still making that tree grow. I have only one direct cousin but I also have second and third cousins. Our family isn't huge so it doesn't get too complicated. However, I love finding out about everyone. It's great to learn about ancestors, peers and future generations.

Great hub, sorting it all out in a logical way which, of course, it is - just logic with a bit of maths!


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 15 months ago from Germany

It sounds confusing but your chart above is helping me to understand what removed is. I have started my Genealogy book a few years ago and I am not finished yet. Thanks for the explanation you share.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

@ Ann - Thanks--glad you found it useful.

I have to giggle at your 'not too complicated.' ;-) Just wait until you go back a few generations to where it was not uncommon for there to be 8, 10 or even 14 children in a family. Now, we're talking lots of cousins... ;-)

@ Thelma - I'm glad you found the article helpful. That chart is, to my mind, the least confusing of all I've seen on the matter. A cousin of mine actually showed me that method. And just a heads-up: genealogy books are never finished. ;-) LOL Thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback.

annart profile image

annart 15 months ago from SW England

Yes, we've gone back a long way, into the early 1800s. The problems come when people have not been recorded correctly or have in fact lied on birth or marriage certificates, particularly young ladies who've been in service and their employers have 'taken advantage'! My sister has travelled to Ireland and driven to churchyards at all points of the compass in Britain to weedle out the required information. It's like a detective story!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello again, Ann!

It IS like playing detective! Fun, but can sometimes get frustrating. I've got a couple of brick walls I'm trying to break through in my family.

I know what you mean about incorrect information. Even the census can trip you up, if you don't already know the info. I think I mentioned in one of my other genealogy articles--they had both my father and one of his sisters recorded by their middle names! Had I not known that information, I would have perhaps thought I had the wrong family.

Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

I've never done genealogy myself. Sounds like a fascinating world.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Oh, it is, Larry--but you have to be prepared to find things that may stun you. Such as a mother being second-cousin once-removed to her own child; or a Quaker ancestor mixed up in a war; or any other of a number of skeletons we all probably have in the family closet! ;-)

Thanks for stopping by--I'm glad you enjoyed the read.

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 15 months ago from California

Liz, I didn't fall off the face of the earth. My son is getting married on Saturday and they are moving.

We really need to get together. I was in Linden, near Stockton, last Monday. Long story short, I found out my great grandmother and great great grandfather are buried there. I also talked to my second cousin. By my calculations my grand kids could be seventh generation in this state. There were graves with the family name dating back to 1806.

Genealogy is crazy stuff. -Judy

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Judy!

Wow, you've been busy! Congratulations to your son...what a wonderful thing..and a hectic time, especially with moving on top of it.

What a great bunch of discoveries you made! How fun! We should get together, indeed!

Good to hear from you!

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 15 months ago from USA

The whole removed thing always threw me for a loop so thanks for the explanation. I think I am a little clearer.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Flourish!

Good--I'm glad I was able to clarify that for you to some extent. It can be quite confusing, and I can't always figure it out in my head without the chart, so don't feel bad. ;-) Thanks so much for stopping by!

brakel2 profile image

brakel2 15 months ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Hi Liz - It can be very confusing, and we often get it wrong. I get confused about illnesses and questions about cousins having illnesses that might strike you. What cousins? I think that came up once about my daughter being susceptible due to my relative. Thanks for the lesson that also has some humor along the way. Sharing, Blessings, Audrey

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Audrey--

LOL--yes, cousins are among the single most confusing relationships there are. At least with grandparents and aunts and uncles you are not dealing with those pesky 'removals.' You might have 7-times great grandfather, but no grand or great-grand cousins. ;-)

Thanks for your comment--it is true that genealogy can assist in tracking down genetic tendencies to certain illnesses and conditions. I'm pleased to have been able to offer a bit of insight.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Great hub Lizzy. I've met my mom's cousin twice before she passed away last year--both were a decade ago or so for two events. Well written and informative too.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Kristen Howe -

Thank you very much! I'm delighted you found the article informative. How fun for you, to have been able to meet up with cousins from the prior generation. That seems to happen less often than meeting and knowing those of our own or subsequent generations.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

You're very welcome. Yes it was fun to meet my mother's cousin and his wife back then. I wished they could've been there last year, though my mother wanted her ashes scattered and have no memorial. I did find it very interesting too.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Awww, Kristen--that is so sad. I know what you mean. We did have a memorial for my mom back when she passed, and her ashes were interred in the same grave with my father who had passed 22 years prior. Thanks for sharing your story.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

You're welcome. It is, no memorial. I only saw her cousin at my brother's wedding 15 years ago and my grandfather's funeral a decade ago. Her ashes were spread on Lake Erie (frozen last March) and the rest were interred over my grandfather's grave--along with my aunt's ashes last July of last year.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 15 months ago

I come from a large family and figuring out how we're related is sometimes fun and fascinating. Thanks for the interesting read on genealogy.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

@ Kristen - Awww....well, better to see each other once in a while than never, but sad in such circumstances.

@ teaches12345 - Yes, it is fun, and most fascinating indeed.. Thanks much for stopping by; I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Lizzy, that's true. I wish I could've sent him a letter to let him know. Oh well.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 15 months ago from South Africa

Very interesting. My great-grandparents were first cousins! This could be the reason why I was born with club feet, which had to be rectified via operations.

Genealogy is a very interesting, but time-consuming, hobby.

Thanks for this information!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 15 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

@ Kristen - :-(

Hello, Martie,

Hmm..well, that could be, but I was always led to believe that the likely result of first cousins marrying might run along the lines of mental deficiencies of one sort or another. Maybe that's not true; it might have been just an old wives' tale designed to scare folks away from doing that. It is true that any defects, including recessive ones, are more likely to show up in such cases.

My professional genealogist cousin told me, in the case of my finding a mother second cousin once-removed to her own son in my family tree, that back then society was not as mobile, and after a while, folks ran out of people to marry besides their cousins... :shrug:

Thanks much for sharing your experience, and I'm glad you liked the article.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 14 months ago from North Texas

I have dozens of cousins, but I know the names at least, of my first cousins. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins, are another matter. I worked on my family's genealogy back in 2000 and haven't done anything with it since. All but one of my aunts by blood have died and 2 aunts through marriage are still alive. All uncles are dead, so I'm glad I got the information I did 15 years ago.

A great hub to help people in search of their roots better understand the cousin situation, along with who is a blood relative and who is related through marriage.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 14 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Au fait,

It's good that you were able to figure out everyone before the people with the direct knowledge passed on. I was very lucky in having ancestors on my mother's side who kept detailed written records that were passed along to me, and also a cousin on my father's side.

I'm glad you enjoyed the article; many thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences. It is a fun hobby.

DaphneDL profile image

DaphneDL 13 months ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

A great diagram and description of the genealogical relationship and the use of the term "removed." When my mom began doing some family history years back, we finally figured it out but your diagram would have been a great help to us then. It is a fun hobby and can become almost addicting. Great hub!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 13 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello there, DaphneDL,

I'm most pleased you found the diagram useful. It can be an addicting hobby, for sure; I've spent many hours "lost" on Ancestry, trying to find various connections and documents.

Thanks so much for stopping by and your great comment.

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