13 May 2006

Working out Relationships

13 May 2006
One of the things that many people find difficulty with when researching their family tree is how to figure out relationships between people, especially when it comes to 2nd and 3rd cousins, etc. - especially when those cousins are "removed." It's actually really simple, when you know the rules.

What Cousin Am I?
First of all, for all intents and purposes there is no such thing as a half-cousin - you're either dealing with a first, second, third and so on cousin, or they're not a cousin at all.

So, how do you work out which degree of cousinship you're talking about. The key is in counting the Gs for the closest common ancestors.

First cousins share the same grand-parents and are in the same generation. Notice the one "G" in "grand-parents." For example:

  1. Andrew and Amy get married and have children, Brian and Caroline.
  2. Brian grows up and marries Betty, producing child David.
  3. Caroline grows up and married Carl, producing child Emily.
In this scenario, the closest common ancestors between David and Emily are their grandparents, Andrew and Amy, therefore they are first cousins.

Now, the children of first cousins are second cousins because they share common great-grandparents (note the 2 Gs).

To illustrate, if David married Dora and has a child, Fred; and Emily marries Eric and has a child, Gwen; Fred and Gwen are second cousins because their closest common ancestors are their great-grandparents. Similarly, the children of Fred and Gwen would be third cousins (common great-great-grandparents), and so on.

What's This "Cousin Removed" All About?
Going back to our previous example:

1.Andrew (m.Amy)
+--2.Brian (m.Betty)
| |
| +--3.David (m.Dora)
| |
| +--4.Fred
+--2.Caroline (m.Carl)
+--3.Emily (m.Eric)

"Removed" comes into play when looking at cousins that are not in the same generation. For example, the relationship between David and Gwen. Now, Andrew and Amy are the closest common ancestors, who are David's grandparents but Gwen's great-grandparents. To work out their relationship we start with the generation closest to the common ancestors, in this case, David's generation. At David's generation the relationship is one of first cousins (because David is first cousin to Gwen's ancestor at that generation). Thus, they are first cousins something removed. In order to work out how many times removed, we merely count the number of generations apart they are. In the example, David is in generation 3 and Gwen in generation 4. Therefore, they are 1 generation apart, or once removed.

Thus, David and Gwen are first cousins once removed. If Gwen had children, they would be David's first cousins twice removed, and so on. Easy, isn't it!

This relationship chart at About.com may help.

Aunts and Uncles
There are a couple of common misconceptions about aunts and uncles too.
  1. First, from a genealogy point of view, aunts and uncles can only be blood relatives. Thus, suppose your father has a brother, Zack, and Zack marries Zelda. Zelda is not your aunt - she is "the wife of your uncle."
  2. There is also no such thing as a great-uncle or great-aunt - the correct term for that is really grand-uncle (like grand-parent) or grand-aunt. Thus, using the example above, if Andrew had a brother, Aaron, Aaron would be David and Emily's grand-uncle.

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