In previous blog posts you’ve heard me talk about 2nd cousins, 8th cousins, cousins that are once or twice removed, and so on. What does this genealogy jargon mean and how do I figure out the relationship between all of those cousins?
Surprisingly, we all have a multitude of distant cousins. If you take an autosomal DNA test (a combination of both parent’s DNA) through Ancestry.com or Family Tree DNA, you will be matched up with others who have snippets of the same DNA. The more pieces of their DNA that match, the higher the likelihood that they are a close relative of yours. A first cousin may match up to 25% of your DNA. A sibling should match close to 50%. The more distant the cousin, the less DNA will match. We’ll save the DNA discussion for another time, since it is rather complicated. But just keep this info in mind as we discuss different degrees of cousins.
To determine a cousin relationship you first need to find your Closest Common Relative or CCR. You then count each generation away from this CCR to determine the cousin level.
Here’s is an easy way to remember cousin levels:
– Siblings or half-siblings: you share a parent.
– 1st cousins: you share a grandparent and are from the same generation.
– 2nd cousins: you share a great-grandparent and are from the same generation.
– 3rd cousins: you share a 2nd great-grandparent and are from the same generation.
– 4th cousins: you share a 3rd great-grandparent and are from the same generation.
And it continues from there. I have traced some people to the level of 8th cousins! Usually I can figure out the relationships up to 4th cousins in my head. For really distant cousins (5th and beyond) I have to look at our family tree and physically count each generation from our Closest Common Relative. The further back in time that the CCR lived, the more distant the cousin. After discovering several 8th cousins, I found our CCR was born around the mid-1600’s.
Now comes the difficult part of the equation – what does “once removed mean”? This means that you share a CCR, but are from different generations. For example: the child of my first cousin would be my “first cousin, once removed”. Or in other terms, my grandparent(s) and their great-grandparent(s) are the same person – this is our shared CCR. A first cousin, twice removed would be the grandchild of my first cousin. Yeah, I know, it sounds complicated! But once you get the hang of it, the system really isn’t difficult to understand. The cousin relationship is one of the most important tools you have when researching genealogy to help discover family connections.
And in answer to several people who have written me – sorry, a second cousin is not the same as a first cousin, once removed. Second cousins share a great-grandparent. First cousins, once removed share a grandparent/great-grandparent (same person).
Let’s talk about the photos that accompany this post. The first image is of first cousins Bill Genetti and Jean Branz Daly, they share a set of grandparents and are also my father’s first cousins. My relationship to both Bill and Jean is first cousin, once removed – we have the same Closest Common Relatives, but I am from the next generation – or one generation removed.
The second photo shows Lidia Genetti from Italy with her two daughters and a granddaughter. Lidia’s 2nd great-grandparents and my 3rd great-grandparents are the same, Antonio and Veronica Genetti, (Antonio was born in 1789). That makes me Lidia’s 3rd cousin, once removed. Since I am from the same generation as Lidia’s daughters, I am their 4th cousin (we share the same 3rd great-grandparents, Antonio and Veronica). Laura’s daughter is my 4th cousin, once removed because she is from the next generation.
And the third photo pictures myself with Valeria Genetti Bozek and Marianne Genetti. Valeria and I are second cousins, we share a set of great-grandparents, Damiano and Oliva Genetti. But Marianne was my first cousin, once removed. Marianne’s grandparents were Damiano and Oliva, but since I am from the next generation, Damiano and Oliva are my great-grandparents. (To read more about Marianne Genetti, please visit her Tribute.)
Just one more fact to make your head spin – every person has sixty-four 4th great-grandparents or 32 sets! Yep, that’s a whole lot of great-grandparents! If each family had on average of three surviving children, that makes 96 fifth cousins. If you multiply that same equation out over five more generations, you end up with an average of 23,328 cousins! At last count my great-grandparents, Damiano and Oliva Genetti, have five generations of descendants – over 250 people!
Now you understand why you have so many cousins!
Here are two excellent Wikipedia articles that explain cousin relations and the DNA connection: