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Do You Know Who’s Who In Your Family?

Do you know your first cousin from your second cousin once removed?

We are all familiar with the standard terms for our immediate family members but do you really know who’s who in your family?  Mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin are all terms that most family members would understand straight away. But what about the more complicated patterns of family relationships?

If someone introduced themselves as your first cousin once removed, would you know what he or she meant? We rarely speak in such specific terms, often preferring to speak in terms of ‘distant relations’, and we are not familiar with what the correct terminology actually means.Here is a quick guide to help you through the minefield of family name descriptions!


Cousin (also known as ‘first cousins’)

Starting with a phrase that we are all familiar with, your cousins are the people in your family who share the same grandparents as you, on either your mother or father’s side. Put simply, the children of your aunts and uncles (brothers and sisters of your mother and father)

Second cousin

These are your relatives that share the same great-grandparents as you, but not the same grandparents.


Third, fourth and fifth cousins.

Your third cousins have the same great-great-great grandparents as you, fourth cousins have the same great-great-great-grandparents as you and so forth.

All clear so far?! Now it’s time to look at slightly more complex relationships….

We often hear the term ‘removed’ being used to describe relationships within families. Put simply, this means that the two people being referred to are of different generations.

You are in the same generation as your cousins because you are both two generations younger than your grandparents but do you know who’s who in your family?

The phrase ‘once removed’ means that there is a difference of one generation. To give an example, your father’s first cousin is known as your cousin, once removed. This is because your father’s first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents and you are two generations younger than your grandparents.

This one-generation difference equates to ‘once removed.’ Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference. You are two generations younger than a first cousin of your grandmother, so you and your grandmother’s first cousin are first cousins, twice removed.

A relationship chart helps to simplify things and is a handy, quick-reference tool. Have a look at the chart above., which will hopefully give you a good idea of how the different members of your family are related.


To use the chart, follow these simple instructions:

1. It’s fairly easy to find out who’s who in your family. Choose two members of your family and work out which ancestor they have in common. For example, if you pick yourself and your cousin you would have a grandparent in common.

2. Look at the top row of the chart to find the first person’s relationship to the common ancestor. (For example, in this instance, that first person is you, so you are the ‘grandchild’)

3. Then look at the column on the left, and find the second person’s relationship to the common ancestor. (In our example, that person is a grandchild of the common ancestor, like you are).

4. Find where these two columns meet. In our example, the chart shows that those sharing a grandparent as a common ancestor, are first cousins.


We hope that this quick reference guide will help you to discover the correct terminology when referring to distant members of your family.

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