Although the terminology of cousin relationships is complex, the method of working out the relationship between two individuals with an ancestor-in-common is relatively straightforward using the chart below. The definition of first cousins is clear - they are individuals who share at least one set of grandparents. How do you describe yourself when you meet a distant cousin for the first time? Rather than introducing yourself as 'I'm your third cousin, twice removed' it's easier to say - or, at least, easier to understand: 'Our great-great-grandparents were siblings'.
Although we don't use long-winded terminology in our everyday speech, we do need to be precise when writing up the relationships in our family's history. Generally speaking, cousins of our own generation can be described as:
• FIRST COUSIN The people with whom you share two grandparents - the children of your aunts and uncles
• SECOND COUSIN The people with whom you share great-grandparents
• THIRD COUSIN The people with whom you share great-great-grandparents.
This is known as the 'counting system' as you add the prefix 'great' to each earlier generation. In this way, your second cousins are the children of your parent's first cousins - one of your grandparents was the sibling of your second cousin's grandparent.
This refers to people of the same generation. Where the term 'removed' is used, this indicates that the cousins are of different generations. The number refers to the difference in generations between them. Therefore, 'once removed' indicates a one-generation difference, 'twice-removed' means two generations and so on.
More complicated relationships can arise where family members are related in more than one way. The chart of descendants of Queen Victoria shows that she was related by both blood and marriage to many of the royal houses of Europe, and following the marriages of her children, she became mother-in-law to many monarchs and rulers. The relationship of 'double cousins' happens when siblings from one family marry siblings from another family, and share all four grandparents.
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