Monday, May 22, 2006

Apple #172: Second Cousins and More

The other day, an intrepid young Alice Fox asked the Apple Lady the following question:

I'm visiting relatives this summer, and I'm confused by the whole first, second, third cousin thing. Also what's with once, twice, thrice removed? Can you tell us what these distinctions mean? Thanks.

The Apple Lady has wondered about these relationships herself. She has heard definitions explained before, but she can never remember what they are. So here are the answers:

  • First cousin: your aunt or uncle's child, or the child of the brother or sister of your parent's.
  • Second cousin: you have the same great-grandparent.
  • Third cousin: you and your third cousin share at least one great-great-grandparent.
  • Fourth cousin: you share at least one great-great-great-grandparent. And so on.
  • Removed: This term is used to indicate that people are from different generations.
Already this isn't helping, so I've made a family tree.

In reference to the family tree above, we'll talk about Betty, and how various people are related to her.

  • John & Mary are Betty's grandparents. Adam is Betty's uncle, or her mother's brother.
  • The children of her uncle are Bob & Bill. They are her first cousins. They share with Betty the same grandparents, John & Mary.
  • Betty's kids, Carol & Candy, are second cousins to Bob's kids, Chuck & Clark. They share the same great-grandparents, John & Mary.
  • So people are cousins of some sort when they're at the same "level," so to speak, in the family tree.
  • The "removed" term comes into play when you talk about how people are related to each other when they're at different levels of the family tree.
  • Betty is Chuck's first cousin once removed. Her grandparent is Chuck's great-grandparent. They are cousins one level away from each other in the family tree.
  • Betty is Drew's first cousin twice removed. Her grandparent is Drew's great-great-grandparent. They are cousins two levels away from each other.
  • If Carol or Candy had had children, they would be third cousins to Don & Drew, but sadly, neither Carol nor Candy gave birth.
Does that help? I feel like I've got it, finally. If you want to see another depiction of the same thing, check out Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.

Here are a couple of other family-relationship terms:

  • Double first cousins: you are first cousins through two relationships, that is, you are cousins on your father's and mother's side both, since your father's sibling married your mother's sibling.
  • Half: you share only one parent. In the above tree, if John & Mary had had Alice, then gotten divorced, and John had married Matilda and then had Adam, then Alice & Adam would be half-brother and half-sister to each other.
  • Step: you are not related by blood but legally, usually by a re-marriage. Matilda would be Alice's step-mother. Alice would be Matilda's step-daughter. Mary would be Adam's step-mother. Adam would be Mary's step-son. And so on.
  • In-law: no real relationship, but you've married into somebody's family, so you've all become related to each other in law, but not in blood. As far as I can tell, the difference between "in-law" and "step" is that you get "in-laws" through a first marriage, while you get "step" relatives when there's been any marriage after the first.
Some of these distinctions are different in different countries or languages. For example, the French don't distinguish between "step" and "in-law," and Polynesians do not distinguish between cousins and siblings.

Also, the above definitions have evolved over time. If you're digging back into your family history and you come across someone described as a "cousin," that might mean something different than it does to us today.

Everyone has approximately 4 trillion 20th cousins. Which means essentially that everyone is somehow related to nearly everyone else.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, "What is 'Second Cousin Once Removed?'" January 17, 2005.
Retracing Our Family Legacy, Definition of Family Relationships
Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems, Relationship Terms, March 29, 2006
The Free Dictionary, second cousin, Second cousin

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