From the Ancestry
Cousin Removal!Precisely determining and documenting "cousin" relationships can be difficult, especially between genealogists and non-genealogists. But even genealogists occasionally have difficulty explaining and understanding family relationships.
There are several reasons for the confusion. Frequently, the major cause is the convoluted nature of many family relationships, which can easily involve multiple spouses, one person with children by several different individuals, extended members of the family living in the household, relatives by marriage becoming confused with relatives by blood, and so on. It doesn't help when a widowed family member then marries another non-blood family relative.
In addition, there are different ways by which "cousin" relationships are determined. One method frequently used is what I'll call the "removed" system of determining relationships. I had never heard of this system until I started doing genealogy; in my own background, determining the degree of cousinship was a simple matter of counting down the generations—the "counting" system.
Both systems agree on what a first cousin is: two individuals who share a grandparent. I'm not going to make a distinction between those "first cousins" whose parents were siblings and those whose parents were half-siblings. To introduce half-first cousins into our discussion would only muddy already murky waters.
Let's visit the non-removed system first with an example.
Bruce is the father of Caroline.
Oscar is the father of Theodore.
Anne's father, George, and Oscar's father, Henry, were brothers, sons of John.
Below is a chart that will help further illustrate the examples that follow:
Under virtually any system, Anne and Oscar are first cousins.
Using the Counting System
Anne and Theodore: second cousins
Anne and Thomas: third cousins
Bruce and Oscar: second cousins
Caroline and Oscar: third cousins
And so it goes. Caroline's children and Thomas would be sixth cousins. This system basically counts a degree of cousinship for each individual in the chain, counting back from the common ancestor. This system is easy to count. One significant drawback is that one cannot determine exactly how far back the common ancestor is solely from the degree of cousinship. For example, Anne and Thomas are third cousins; Bruce and Theodore are third cousins; and Caroline and Oscar are third cousins. This is one reason the system is confusing.
Using the Removed System
Anne and Theodore: first cousins, once removed
Anne and Thomas: first cousins, twice removed
Bruce and Oscar: first cousins, once removed
Caroline and Oscar: first cousins, twice removed
To keep things straight in my mind, I think of cousins without any removed notations as "pure" cousins (this does nothing to indicate their moral qualities). "Pure" cousins are the same generation of descent from the common ancestor. In the example above:
Caroline and Thomas are both great-great-grandchildren of the common ancestor. Their grandparents shared one set of great-grandparents.
In some cases, an easier way to chart the relationship is to do the following:
John (common ancestor)
It gets a little more confusing when the number of generations is uneven, but it can still be done.
John (common ancestor)
There are online charts that one can print to assist in determining the exact degree of relationship:
How Important Is All of This?
Does Cousin Always Mean First Cousin?
What about Double Cousins?
Can It Get Even Worse?
My grandfather and this female relative were also second cousins (his maternal grandfather and her paternal grandfather were siblings).
My grandfather and this female relative were also third cousins (his maternal great-grandfather and her paternal great-grandfather were siblings).
I have numerous double cousins on my father's side because three of the children of my great-great-grandfather married three of the grandchildren of another great-great-great-grandfather. And I have more double cousins on my maternal side than I can even count. Sometimes figuring out the relationships is more difficult than problems I had in logic class!
If you can't spout off exactly where fifth cousins, twice removed connect, it's OK. Remember, it's better to be able to DOCUMENT the relationship than to be able to remember it off the top of your head.
Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or visit his Web site.
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