Why are my cousins removed?

I came across this article, and had to borrow it. All credit goes to the original authors Ed and Becky Thomson Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Why are my cousins "removed"?

There is a lot of confusion about the term "cousin", especially as it relates to distant cousins. The concept of "first cousin", "second cousin", etc... is hard enough, but what the heck is a "first cousin once removed"? Why are they removed? Did they do something wrong? How can I get MY cousin removed? So I am going to take a stab at explaining the concept, complete with pictures. Warning, having this knowledge will NOT make you popular with friends and family. I can tell you from personal experience THEY DON'T WANT TO KNOW. If you thought that having this insight would make you the belle of the family reunion, stop reading NOW!

Counting cousins

Still here? OK, we will start off easy: Maggie and Mary are sisters. They both have kids. Those kids are first cousins. Their grand kids are second cousins. Their great grand kids are third cousins. Perhaps a picture...

first cousins

  • John and James are first cousins because they share the same grandparents.
  • Billy and Eddie are second cousins because they share the same great grandparents.
  • Jane and Emma are third cousins because they share the same great great grandparents.

Notice that all the arrows stay in their own generation. Another way to think of it is "first generation of cousins", "second generation of cousins", "third generation of cousins" (all relative to the sisters that started this whole thing). But what happens if we cross generations?

"Removing" Cousins

What about James and Billy? Or John and Emma? They're related too, aren't they? Well, yes they are...

first cousins
In this picture, since John and James are FIRST cousins, James's kid Eddie and John, are FIRST cousins ONCE removed. They are removed by one generation, which is another way of saying they are separated by one generation.

first cousins

John and Emma? FIRST cousins, TWICE removed, since they are separated by TWO generations. If we continue in this manner, since Billy and Eddie are SECOND cousins, then Billy and Emma are SECOND cousins, ONCE removed.

Are we even related?

At what point are we so far apart it doesn't even matter? Well, that is up to you and your family, but technically, as long as you share a common ancestry, you are still related. 1st cousin 23 time removed? Well, YES... because it all goes back to those two sisters.

Cousins by marriage

What about John and James's spouses - are they related? Is Mrs. James, Johns first cousin by marriage? "First cousin-in-law"?

The answer is tricky, and I will cop out by saying it's a cultural thing - some cultures recognize that kind of ancestry, some don't. In the US, not so much. In our family, yes, they are.

But are John and Mrs. James family? Well, that depends on how one defines family. There are a whole lot of cultural mores and obligations that go with defining someone as family. My definition of family may be broader than yours.

Personally, if I eat Mrs James's carrot cake at Aunt Mary's 79th birthday party, I consider her family.


Hopefully you found this helpful. I'll close by saying that not ALL family relations can be defined. In the words of The Youngbloods:

  • Come on people now
  • Smile on your brother
  • Everybody get together
  • Try to love one another right now

first cousins

With Thanks to the original authors Ed and Becky Thomson No Copyright Infringement intended