One of my favorite genealogy projects is figuring out if someone is related to me.  The two most common terms used to describe related ancestry are degree and removal.

  • Degree is the level of kinship.  First cousins have the same  grand-parents.  Thus “first” is the degree of relationship.  Second cousins have the same great-grandparents, etc.  The degree is one number more than the number of greats we share.
    • If Jane’s grandfather and grandmother are also my grandparents, we are first cousins.
    • From there, take the number of greats we share (like 6x great-grandparents (great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents) and add 1 to get the number of our “cousins” relationship (this would be 7, and that makes us 7th cousins).
  • Removal indicates that our ancestors are not at the same level of ancestry.  Once removed means that our common set of ancestors is different by one great.  Or that my great-great-grandparents are your great-grandparents (or vice versa).  The degree of kinship is based on the lowest number of greats.
    • If Jane’s great-grandparents are my grandparents, then we are 1st cousins once removed.  “Removed” describes the difference in the levels between Jane and I.
    • If Jane’s 6x great-grandparents are my 4x great-grandparents, we are 5th cousins twice removed.  The 5th degree comes from taking my 4x great and adding one.  The removal comes from the difference (6-4=2).
  • Other terms used to describe cousin-ship:
    • Half cousins share only one of the grandparents (for example, we share a great-grandfather, but we are descendants of different grandmothers.)
    • Double cousins share both sets of grandparents (for example, my father’s brother married my mother’s sister, their children would be my double first cousins.)
    • Paternal indicates that we are related through my father’s line.  Maternal means we are related through my mother. 

If you want more information on cousin relationships, this article from Wikipedia gives some excellent examples:

Almost all people who have French Canadian ancestors are cousins, so if I find out you have that background, I will try to determine our connection.

Happy cousin hunting!


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