Home > Genealogy > Cousins


An apology, before we go into cousins. About half the time I try to explain something I go into so much detail I bore people, and the other half I leave out so much detail I confuse them. Once in a while I manage to be boring and confusing at the same time. This page assumes you don't know anything about cousins, so it will probably tell you some things you already know. There is a navigation bar at the bottom of the page, so you can leave now if you like.

There is a separate page if you are wondering: can cousins date?

On with the explanation. It depends heavily on a chart. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a chart is worth a couple of paragraphs. The chart is only 6 KB, so I put it in between each paragraph. If you click on
View -> Text Size -> Smallest,
you should be able to see the chart and the paragraph below it without scrolling. It's the same chart, shown five times.

Family Tree

Here is a family. Mr. A had two children, B1 and B2. B1 and all of his offspring had two children. B2 and all of his offspring had one child. For simplicity, I'm not showing the spouses.

Family Tree

B1 and B2 are siblings.
Children of siblings are first cousins. C1 and C2 are first cousins to C3.
Children of first cousins are second cousins. D1, D2, D3 and D4 are all second cousins to D5.
Children of second cousins are third cousins. E01 through E08 are all third cousins to poor, lonesome E09. E01 through E08 borrow each others' sweaters and go on double dates. E09 wishes he had a close relative.

Family Tree

Everyone on the same level is the same degree of cousin and is in the same generation. Counting Mr. A as the first generation, the B level is the second generation, C the third and so forth. Everyone in the E level - the third cousins row - is in the fifth generation from Mr. A. He is their great-great grandfather. Most of them have a picture of him in his Civil War uniform over their mantles.

Family Tree

So, where does the removed business come in? When you relate cousins who are in different generations, that's when. The red line shows why C3 is E08's first cousin twice removed. If two cousins are on different levels, they are removed from each other. C2 has a grandson, E08. C2 has a first cousin, C3. The red line from E08 to C2 goes up two generation levels - where I put the short blue lines. Those are removeds. It is also a removed if you go down. If you start on D3, go left to his first cousins D1 and D2, then drop down a level to E01, E02, E03 and E04, you've reached D3's first cousins, once removed.

Mr. A, E01's great-great-grandfather, is four levels up from E01. Any of Mr. A's cousins would be E01's cousins too, four times removed.

Lets try it a different way. Look at C3. He has two first cousins, C1 and C2. His first cousins have children, D1 through D4. They are C3's first cousins once removed. (One level down.) D1 -D4's eight kids are two levels down from C3. They are C3's first cousins twice removed.

Family Tree

To summarize, when cousins have children, you add a degree. Children of first cousins are second cousins.
Children of second cousins are third cousins.
Children of third cousins are fourth cousins, ...

When you go up or down a generation level, you add a removed but you don't change the degree.
Your father's "Nth" (1st, 2nd, 3rd . . .) cousin is your "Nth" cousin too, but once removed.
Your grandfather's "Nth" cousin is your "Nth" cousin twice removed.
Your great-grandfather's "Nth" cousin is your "Nth" cousin three times removed, ...

You can keep adding removeds and degrees:
Your grandfather's second cousin is your second cousin twice removed.
Your great-grandfather's third cousin is your third cousin three times removed ...

If this makes cousins really clear, please share the URL with thirty or forty of your closest friends. I have a monthly bet on whose site gets the most hits with a fellow at work. The loser treats for lunch. If it doesn't makes cousins really clear, please send me an E-Mail message with the link below. I'll revise the explanation.

This is part of the Genealogy section of my web site, but most people who use it just want to settle a bet, not trace their family tree, so I don't have the Genealogy navigation bar on this page. Feel free to look around via the navigation bar below:

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This page updated: June 21, 2014