Ever heard “he’s my second cousin twice removed” and wondered what it meant? Perhaps you’ll remember Pippin similarly explaining how he is related to Frodo Baggins in the motion picture The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.
Family relation explanations can be quite difficult to follow; you can easily become lost in “8th cousin once removed” jargon and talk of half cousins and so forth.
How this designation for distant relations works is actually quite simple once you’ve seen a few examples. Diagrams really help me, so that’s what we’ve included here.
Common Ancestor - This “second cousin twice removed” and similar designations are used if you have a common ancestor with someone else. The jargon we’ll talk about describes how you and your second cousin, for example, are related to the common ancestor and to each other.
Terms - The “second cousin” portion of the explanation is termed the degree and represents the number of generations in between the common ancestor and the closer of you or your “cousin” to the ancestor. The “twice removed” portion indicates the number of generations you and your “cousin” are separated or removed from each other. My head hurts already. Let’s show some pictures and that will help.
Finding the Degree – You and another person (your cousin to some degree) share a common ancestor. To figure out the relation, count the number of generations in between your “cousin” and the common ancestor. Then count the number of generations in between you and the common ancestor to determine who is closer to the ancestor.
Whoever is closer (has the fewest number of generations to get back to the common ancestor) is the person that defines the “degree” or the “second, third, fourth, etc. cousin” designation. It doesn’t matter who is closer. The important thing is the number in this case.
Finding the Removal - Following the example above, the “twice, third, fourth, etc. removed” designation of the relation is defined by the generations separating you and your distant cousin. For example if both you and your distant cousin in this example were equally separated from the common ancestor by 2 generations, you’d be second cousins with no removal phrase attached. In this example, there is a difference in the number of generations back to your common ancestor; the difference in generations between you and your distant cousin becomes the “removed” portion of the description.
So, for the example above, you are second cousins twice removed. There are a lot of different charts you can use to figure these relations out, but simply writing numbers or names of the generations in between the ancestors has been helpful for me.
More Relation Examples – If you prefer text examples as opposed to picture examples, the following examples are for you.
First Cousins - The children of my uncle and aunt are my cousins. Hopefully, we all understand that. We are considered first cousins because there is only one generation in between us and our common ancestors (our grandparents).
Second Cousins – If your cousin has a child, and you have a child, both children are separated from their common ancestor by two generations (remember we count the number of generations in between the subjects and the common ancestor). So, your child and your cousin’s child are second cousins.
First Cousins Once Removed - To find the relation of your father’s cousin to you, count the number of generations separating you to the common ancestor (your great-grandfather) which is two generations for yourself (your father and your grandfather). For your father’s cousin, there’s only one generation (the cousin’s father who is also your father’s uncle). Since the “cousin” is closer to the common ancestor, and there is one generation difference, the “degree” is one, meaning first cousins. To determine the removal designation, count the number of generations to “equalize” or bring your position to the same generation count that your “cousin” has to the common ancestor. In this case, it would only take one step. You are thus once removed from the position of your “cousin” and are thus first cousins once removed. Your father and his cousin both have only one generation in between them and their grandpa, that’s why they’re first cousins without any removal designation.
Quizzes - Test your knowledge of family relations. It’s one thing to read it, it’s another to try to figure it out. Go ahead, I dare ya! Turn your computer screen upside down to find out if your answers are correct (just like quizzes on the back of a cereal box) except cereal won’t fall out when you try it.
Quiz 1 (Easy) - What is the degree and removal (if any) between you and your cousin’s child?
Quiz 2 (Moderately Difficult) – What is the degree and removal (if any) between you and your great uncle’s great-great grandchild?
Quiz 3 (Difficult) – What is the degree and removal (if any) between you and your grandpa’s cousin’s child?
Answers to the Quiz – Use caution when adjusting your monitor. Alright, alright, print the results and turn the page upside down.
Hopefully that helps. If you want to have some fun, find out if you’re related to famous individuals. I found out that I’m Walt Disney’s 8th cousin 3 times removed. I’d better make a trip to Disneyland to let them know they found their long lost 8th cousin 3 times removed! I also found out that I’m related to Abraham Lincoln (6th cousin 5 times removed). Now I have to make sure I spell his last name correctly.
Cousin. (2007, October 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:52, October 8, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cousin&oldid=161876177