What Is ‘Once Removed?’ A Guide to the Family Tree

Universal

| LAST UPDATE 11/21/2022

By Amie Alfaro
Family Portrait Thanksgiving Dinner
John Eder via Getty Images

As the holiday season approaches, people are figuring out what to cook for their gatherings, what presents to buy and getting ready to spend a lot of quality time with their families. If you are one of those people who have no idea how you are related to Aunt Dorothy or how exactly your grandpa’s brother’s grandchildren are related to you, then here’s a guide to understanding the family tree.

Everyone knows the term cousin. They are typically the relatives eating at the kids’ table with you at every family event. Usually, the term cousin is used to describe your first cousin, who is the child of an aunt or an uncle. Cousins share a common ancestor that is at least two generations away, like a grandparent. However, any blood relative that is not an ancestor can be described as a cousin. So, who is considered an ancestor? Only people you are directly descended from are your ancestors. Therefore, your ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-great-great grandparents, and continuing. However, any of your parents’ brothers or sisters would be considered cousins. Now to go into the meaning of the numbers. What is the difference between a first and second cousin? And when does the “once removed” come into play?

Romonav Family Tree explained
KaterBegemot via Wikimedia Commons
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The difference between a first and second cousin is the number of generations between two cousins’ parents and their nearest common ancestor. So, first cousins share a grandparent, and second cousins share a great-grandparent. The trend continues. Another way to look at it, as described by Family Search, is that the number associated with your cousin correlates directly to how many generations away your common ancestor is. First cousins are two generations, and third cousins are four generations. The “removed” refers to the number of generations separating the cousins themselves. In other terms, your first cousin once removed can refer to your mom’s first cousin or the child of your first cousin. While this part may seem confusing, it is best to think of it as the removed means how far away they are to you in terms of generation.

While it may not tell you what Thanksgiving present to buy or how to pretend you enjoy your first-cousin-once-removed's stuffing, hopefully, this guide to the family tree has helped you understand more about how you are related to everyone in your family. 

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