Calculating Cousin Relationships Throughout the Generations

If you’ve done work on your family tree, you’ve probably come across numerous cousins, first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and cousins “removed”.

What does the term removed mean? How does that happen? Does it make them any less of a cousin?

I’ll be honest, in my first days of genealogy; I thought “removed” referred to family members who had been dissociated from the family. I heard this term on television and in movies. Of course, it was never explained what that actually meant. Sometimes, the context around how it was said seemed negative.

As my genealogy skills and knowledge improved, I figured out that I was wrong. That’s okay! It means I learned something.

The Meaning of “Removed”

I discussed what removed meant with a person who happens to be my third cousin, twice removed. She is a long-time genealogist herself. She explained to me what the term “removed” actually means.

The word “removed” is used to describe a relationship between two people that appear to be from different generations.

If someone is referred to as “once removed”, it because one person is a cousin who is one generation younger than the grandparents and the other person is two generations younger than the grandparents. This one generation difference equals “once removed.” Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference.

Defining Cousins

Cousins/First Cousins refers to a person and their first cousin appears in the same generation. These two people share the same grandparents.

Second Cousin refers to people in a family who have the same great-grandparents but not the same grandparents.

Third, Fourth and Fifth Cousins Third cousins have the same second great grandparents, fourth cousins have the same third great grandparents, this goes on as you count the number of generations back to the originating grandparents.

Check out this story from my personal blog on how I was able to identify my half-brother and best friend as 7th cousins. It was an interesting discovery and I was amazed that there weren’t any “removed” situations within the generations.

Resources for Calculating Cousin Relations

If you insert people into your family tree on online resources such as with accurate information, you can determine a person’s relation by clicking on their profile. The headline will tell you that person’s relation to you.

This chart is a handy resource for manually determining a relation of cousins, aunts/uncles, and grandparents.

Does the Distance of a “Removed” Cousin Make Them Less of a Cousin?

Family is family. How you choose to acknowledge, accept and maintain a relationship with someone who may be your third or fourth cousin, twice or three times removed is entirely up to you.

In terms of DNA, cousins can share as much or as little DNA that was given from the parents. In the case of my brother and best friend being 7th cousins, their relationship was discovered through research. The DNA tests reveal that they do not share any measurable amount of DNA. But, just because they don’t share DNA, it doesn’t make them any less of a cousin to each other.

It’s always good to include cousins at any level in your family tree as they can lead you to hints and other family members. Try to connect with some of your distant cousins found through DNA matches. They might be on the same mission you are with genealogy research. You can help each other and share information.