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First Cousin Once Removed: What Does That Mean? Solving the Mysterious Connections of Your Family Tree

Updated on May 22, 2011

You hear it thrown around to demonstrate word of mouth:  I heard it from my best friend’s brother’s wife’s third cousin once removed.  But who actually knows what it means?  Not many.  It sounds complicated; how can family be removed?  Many people assume it relates to divorce or relation through marriage, but in reality, “removed” refers a generation gap.

Understanding Cousins

Before you can really understand what it means to have a cousin “removed,” it’s important to understand the actual connection between cousins, which itself, I’ve found, is misunderstood by most people.

Everyone knows what a first cousin is—children whose parents are siblings.  But from there it gets confused.  I, and most everyone I know, grew up thinking that my mom’s first cousin was my second cousin—not true.  Second cousin, third cousin, fourth cousin, and so on refer to how many generations away from the siblings you are; they are equal in generations down, so while my mom’s first cousin is not my second cousin, her first cousin’s kids are my second cousins because we are two generations away from the sibling pair—our grandparents.

6th Cousins

My great-grandmother and J.P. Morgan are 6th cousins--they are both six generations removed from the Parsons siblings.
My great-grandmother and J.P. Morgan are 6th cousins--they are both six generations removed from the Parsons siblings. | Source

Cousins Removed

Now that second cousins, third cousins, etc. are understood, removed cousins are easier to understand.  Removed refers to how many generations removed someone is from the equal generations of cousins.  For example, fourth cousins are equally removed four generations from the set of siblings, but what if you want to know your connection to your grandmother’s fourth cousin?  You and her cousin are not of the same generation; you are separated by two generations, so you are two generations removed.  Your grandmother’s fourth cousin would then be your fourth cousin twice removed.  Going back to the previous example of your mom’s first cousin, you are one generation apart, so your mom’s first cousin is your first cousin once removed.

5th Cousins Twice Removed

My great-grandmother and Emily Dickenson are fifth cousins twice removed because Emily is five generations away from the Fairbanks siblings, and my great-grandmother is seven generations from them.
My great-grandmother and Emily Dickenson are fifth cousins twice removed because Emily is five generations away from the Fairbanks siblings, and my great-grandmother is seven generations from them. | Source

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    • profile image

      jeremy parker 3 years ago

      i am going to use an example with my own family

      my great grandparents bessie estella borden roy bryan rutland common ancestor

      GRANDFATHER JIM HIS BROTHER IS JERRY SAME GENERATION

      JIMS DAUGHTER MONA 1 st cousins jerry's daughter DELANNA SAME GENERATION

      jims grandchildren 2nd cousisns jerry's granddaughter jerica same generation

    • AzmaeB profile image

      Tiny Sass 5 years ago from Houston

      FINALLY! I know what the removed means.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 5 years ago

      Interesting! I thought the word to describe the relationship was "distant" cousins o relatives, but obviously there's some more math to do with the "removed" cousins! I've learned something new and useful. Voted up! Thanks :)

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Very good article about confusing familial relationships.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      This is a great article on cousins. What most people do not realize that cousins are also siblings.

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