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The Levels of Cousins

by Amy Guertin, studioD

The next time you’re at a family reunion -- take a look around. You’re likely to see your grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and your cousins’ kids. If you’re old enough, you may even see your cousins’ grandkids. Your cousins’ kids are your second cousins -- or, maybe your cousins, once removed. You never could keep those terms straight.

First Cousins

When discussing cousins in terms of first cousin, second cousin -- or even further in the genealogical line -- remember, cousins are the same generation. Your first cousin is the same generation as you. Your parents and your first cousin's parents are siblings. Think of it this way: a first cousin's closest shared relative is always a grandparent, writes genealogist Mary Harrell-Sesniak of the Hellenic Historical and Genealogical Association. That’s about as far as the simplicity goes. After first cousins, things become more difficult.

Second Cousins and Beyond

Second cousins are first cousins' kids. Your children and your first cousin's children are second cousins to each other. They are in the same generation. Your second cousin's children are third cousins to each other. Your grandchildren and your first cousins’ grandchildren are third cousins to each other. Your great-grandchildren and your first cousins’ great-grandchildren would be fourth cousins to each other. A second cousin's closest relative is a great-grandparent and a third cousin's closest relative is a great-great grandparent. Cousins with ordinal numbers -- like first, second or third -- are always in the same generation.

First Cousins, Removed

Cousins that are “removed” are in different generations, writes genealogist Amy Johnson Crow on Archives.com. You are first cousins, once removed to your first cousins’ children. You are related through your first cousin, but you are removed by one generation. Your first cousin’s grandchildren would be your first cousins, twice removed. You are still related through your first cousin, but you are now removed by two generations. You are also a first cousin once removed to your parents' first cousins, as you are one generation removed from their relationship as first cousins.

Second Cousins, Removed and Beyond

Once you get to second cousins, once removed, and even further -- the relationships start to get distant. Your second cousin’s child is your second cousin, once removed, writes Johnson Crow. You are related through your second cousin, but removed by one generation. Your second cousin’s grandchild is your second cousin, twice removed. Your third cousin, once removed would be your great-grandparent’s first cousin’s child. You are related by your third cousin, but removed by one generation. It gets pretty complicated after second cousins, especially once different generations are added. After second cousins, most people do what older genealogical records frequently show and simply call everyone a “cousin.”

About the Author

Amy Guertin has a master's degree in counseling psychology and will earn her Ph.D. in 2014. Guertin is a licensed counselor and has 15 years of experience practicing psychotherapy, primarily working with children, adolescents and their families. She is also a college psychology professor and is the happiest when she is in the classroom.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images