Untangling Cousin Relationships

Determining cousin relationships while performing your family research or interpreting your DNA test results can get confusing. If you can’t keep your second cousins and your first cousins twice removed straight, you are not alone.

Recently, I read a post on a popular Facebook genealogy page asking this question: What is a first cousin removed? I found the list of comments very interesting and a bit perplexing. One commenter even questioned whether a cousin counts as a relative.

In this article, I’ll help you understand the basics of cousin relationships, starting with the answer – yes, a cousin is your relative. A relative includes parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, nieces, and nephews. A relative can be connected to your family through blood or by marriage.

Cousin: Your cousin (also known as your first cousin, full cousin or cousin-german) is the child of your parent’s sibling (your aunt or uncle). You and your first cousins share one set of grandparents. Typically, you share 12.5 percent of your first cousin’s DNA.

Cousin-in-law: The spouse of your first cousin is your “cousin-in-law.”

Second Cousins: Your second cousins are the children of your parent’s first cousins. You and your second cousins share a great-grandparent. Typically, you share 3.125 percent of your second cousin’s DNA.

Third Cousins: If you are third cousins, you have a great-great grandparent in common. You share .781 percent of your DNA.

The degree of cousinhood – first, second, third, etc. – denotes the number of generations between two cousins and their nearest common ancestor.

Removed cousin: The term “removed” refers to the number of generations separating cousins. So your first cousin once removed is the child of your first cousin. Your second cousin once removed is the child of your second cousin, and so on.

Twice-Removed: Your first cousin twice-removed is the grandchild of your first cousin.

Double Cousins: There is a special cousin category for the offspring of brothers-and sisters-in-law. For instance, in a scenario where your brother marries your husband’s sister. Instead of sharing a set of grandparents, double cousins share both sets of grandparents. Double cousins have more DNA in common than first cousins, about 25 percent.

Kissing Cousins: All jokes aside, you’ve probably heard the phrase “kissing cousins.” This phrase simply refers to a distant relative you know well enough to greet with a friendly kiss at family gatherings, but your relationship is not well defined. Perhaps you’re related by marriage, rather than blood, and not actually a cousin.

Obviously, it doesn’t take many generations before cousin relationships become confusing. Your number of grandparents doubles with each generation. Therefore, you could have literally thousands of fourth cousins, second cousins three times removed, tenth cousins twice removed…and I could go on.

coffee mug
Cousins necklace perfect as a gift or to share at a family reunion
Cousins by blood, Sisters by heart, Friends by choice metal braclet

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