What is a Second Cousin Once Removed?

Genealogy has been an interest of mine since I was a child and listened to my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles talk about the family and who came from where, and who married who, and who looks just like great-grandpa! Among other people I know who are amateur as well as professional genealogists, most will tell you that their interest began at the family table, listening to the adults talk about people and times they have known. As a child, this either interests you or it does not.

Many of those of us who sat quietly among the adults and listened – or stood quietly with our ear to the door because the stories might have been “too grown up” for us! – grew up with an interest in family history! As for those other children? They grew up wondering why the rest of us get so excited by old cemeteries, dusty family bibles and original vital documents at the county courthouse.

Genealogy became a full-blown obsession when I married my husband and realized that his father did not know his grandparents’ first names despite that fact that he grew up near them and knew them very well! He knew them as “Grandma and Grandpa Vogel” and “Grandma and Grandpa Greenwell”, and that was the extent of it.

I just could not understand how information as basic as their first names could have slipped by him when I knew grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ names and even where they came from despite the fact that only one set of grandparents were still living by the time I was born.

After my husband and I married, I took his ancestors into my fold and began researching them as well as mine. I hit the State Library right after our honeymoon to scour the records and did not stop until I found his maternal and paternal grandparents in the census. I presented my father-in-laws grandparents’ names to him as a Christmas present, along with a paternal family tree going back to the first ancestor to move to the Province of Maryland around 1650!

I have never forgotten the pleasure I got from providing this information to my father-in-law. This experience taught me that although we don’t all share the interest in researching our family history, most of us still enjoy learning facts about our ancestors and how they contributed to the lives we live today.

In all the years I have been researching my family history, friends and family have asked me one question that crops up again and again. It is apparently a point that causes confusion for nearly everyone at one time or another.

That question is: What does it mean when someone says they are a cousin “once removed”?

The answer is actually easy to understand one the information is presented clearly.

What is a Cousin?

We probably all know that the children of our parent’s brothers and sisters (our aunts and uncles) are our cousins. Most of us also already know that these cousins are also known as “first cousins”.

When counting generations of cousins, we count from the common ancestor. In the case of first cousins, we do not all share the same parents, but they do share the same grandparent or set of grandparents. So we have one set of cousins from our father’s parents (assuming the brothers and sisters all shared the same set of parents), and a second set of cousins from our mother’s parents (assuming the brothers and sisters all shared the same set of parents).

First cousins are the children of siblings, so are of the same generation to each other, but are one generation removed from the common ancestor (grandparent).

Second cousins are the children of first cousins. They are of the same generation to each other, but are two generations removed from the common ancestor (great grandparent).

Third cousins are the children of second cousins. Third cousins are of the same generation to each other, but are three generations removed from the common ancestor (great-great grandparent).

What Do You Mean By “Removed”?

A cousin is “removed” if the two people in question share a common ancestor, but are not themselves of the same generation.

Removed means that after identifying the shared ancestor, the two individuals count down generations until they identify the last generation where their direct ancestors were of the same generation.

The number of generations from the last shared generation is referred to as the number of times your are removed in the cousin relationship.

So, A "Second Cousin Once Removed" Is ...

A second cousin, once removed means that one individual in one additional generation away from the shared ancestor.

The answer is actually pretty easy to understand but I think it helps to have a visual aid:

Relationship Table - An Example

 
 
Shared Ancestor:
 
 
Andrew Smith is the:
 
Andrew Smith
 
Andrew Smith is the:
 
 
 
 
 
FATHER -->
Bradley Smith
<-- Siblings -->
Charles Smith
<-- FATHER
 
 
 
 
 
GRANDFATHER -->
David Smith
<-- 1st Cousins -->
Eugene Smith
<-- GRANDFATHER
 
 
 
 
 
GREAT-GRANDFATHER -->
Frederick Smith
<-- 2nd Cousins -->
George Smith
<-- GREAT-GRANDFATHER
 
 
 
 
 
2nd GREAT-GRANDFATHER -->
Henry Smith
<-- 3rd Cousins -->
Ivan Smith
<-- 2nd GREAT-GRANDFATHER
 
 
 
 
 
3rd GREAT-GRANDFATHER -->
Joseph Smith
<-- 4th Cousins -->
Kenneth Smith
<-- 3rd GREAT-GRANDFATHER

Bradley and Charles are brothers.

David and Eugene are first cousins: they are of the same generation from the common ancestor, one generation removed from the common ancestor.

Frederick and George are second cousins: they are of the same generation from the common ancestor, and two generations removed from that ancestor.

Frederick and Ivan (George’s son) are second cousins once removed: they share the same ancestor Andrew. Frederick is two generations separated from Andrew, as is George. This creates the relationship of second cousin. Ivan, as George’s son, is one more generation removed from the shared generation (Frederick and George), making them 2nd cousins, once removed.

In the same manner, Henry and George are also second cousins once removed.

Henry and Ivan, however, are 3rd cousins.

A Blank Relationship Table for You to Try

 
 
Shared Ancestor:
 
 
The shared ancestor is the:
 
_________
 
The shared ancestor is the:
 
 
 
 
 
FATHER -->
_____
<-- Siblings -->
_____
<-- FATHER
 
 
 
 
 
GRANDFATHER -->
_____
<-- 1st Cousins -->
_____
<-- GRANDFATHER
 
 
 
 
 
GREAT-GRANDFATHER -->
_____
<-- 2nd Cousins -->
_____
<-- GREAT-GRANDFATHER
 
 
 
 
 
2nd GREAT-GRANDFATHER -->
_____
<-- 3rd Cousins -->
_____
<-- 2nd GREAT-GRANDFATHER
 
 
 
 
 
3rd GREAT-GRANDFATHER -->
_____
<-- 4th Cousins -->
_____
<-- 3rd GREAT-GRANDFATHER

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Comments 2 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

You've done your research for sure. I'm sorry to say I have lost track of most cousins....and I'm adopted so I have no clue about my real family.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

Esatchel, good to meet you. This confused me until I did the research for my article, "Roles That Make Cousins Special." Family relationships are very important,and for me being an only child, I surely cherish my cousins.

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