First Cousin, Once Removed? Huh?

Once removed, twice removed, etc., is a complicated-sounding system used by genealogists to describe the relationship between two cousins (related people) and the ancestor they have in common (also known as the “common ancestor” or “CA”).  Many people hear “once removed” and think it means the people divorced.  This is false.  It has nothing to do with divorce and everything to do with “generations.”  Allow me to further elaborate.

Again, the word “removed” is nothing to be afraid of and not at all complicated. I thought I’d never understand once removed, etc., but acutally it’s quite intuitive.

“Removed” simply indicates the number of generations, if any, separating the two cousins (two people with a common ancestor or CA) from each other.

For example, the child of your first cousin is your “first cousin, once removed” because the one generation of separation represents one “removal”.

Another example:  Let’s take your mother’s cousin.  She or he is also your first cousin, once removed.

Why?  Because the “once removed” aspect works in both directions along your family tree.

Basic Genealogical Cousin Chart (please click on image to enlarge)

First, let’s identify some of the abbreviations in the above chart:

• CA = common ancestor.  Two cousins always have a unique common ancestor.  You and your uncle’s children are your first cousins, right?  Think about this situation for a minute.  Do you have any first cousins?  Who is your common ancestor?  Your grandma, that’s right!

• C = child

• GC = grandchild

• GGC = great-grandchild

• 2GGC = great-great-grandchild (meaning there are two “greats” before the word “grandchild”.  Look at it this way: 2GGC can be separated into: “2G–GC.”  And, 2G = great-great. And, GC = grandchild.  Put it all together, and you get great-great-grandchild!

For example: I am William Jones’s 3GGC. Remember to read 3GGC as just 3G-GC.  That simply translates to “I am William Jones’s great-great-great-grandchild.”  See?  Three “Gs” is just an easier way to describe my relationship to William Jones than writing or speaking “great-great-great.”

• S = sibling (brother or sister)

• N = niece (or nephew)

• GN – grand-niece (or grand-nephew).

Note about grand-aunt, etc…. Many people confused with the words “great-uncle,” “great-aunt,” “great-neice,” on so on. Remember that genealogists use the word “grand-aunt,” grand-uncle, ” etc…  No greats are involved unless it’s your direct bloodline.

• 1C = first cousin

• 2C = second cousin  (easy, so far, right?)

• 1C1R = first cousin, once removed (don’t panic).

• 1C2R = first cousin, twice removed (don’t worry; it’ll all make sense soon.)

• 3C6R = third cousin, six-times removed.

Note: Grammarians say once, twice, and thrice, but after thrice it’s always 4 times, 5 times, 6 times, etc…

Okay, so now you have the definitions of the abbreviations, but how do you read the chart?

Let’s break it down: How you find a relationship between you and another cousin.

Step 1:   Go to the upper left corner of the chart where it “CA” is written.  Recall CA = common ancestor, or the person you and the other cousin have in your family tree that’s the same person.

Step 2:   Use your finger to follow along the row heading to the right from the “CA.”

Step 3:   This is where you need to think a little. You need to calculate your relationship to the CA (common ancestor). Put a little “x” in the box that matches this relationship. Are you his or her child?  Grandchild?

For example:  I first go to the CA box.  I am trying to figure out how I am related to my great-great-grandfather.  I am his great-great-grandchild (remember great-great-grandchild could also be written 2GGC).  I will now make a little check in this box.

Step 4:   Go again to the CA (common ancestor) box in the upper left corner.

Step 5:   Now simply repeat Step 3 considering the cousin your comparing yourself with, but this time, head down the chart, not across.

Let’s say, for example, he or she is also the great-great-grandchild of your common ancestor. So next you slide your finger down the chart until you get to the box that states “GGGC.”  (Remember, GGGC = 2GGC or 2G-GC or great-great – grandchild.)  You can always break it down this way.  Bravo!

Step 6:  Slide your finger along the row where your cousin’s box was, and move it to the right until you’re at the column where your box was checked.

Step 7: Now, move your finger down to where the two lines (your column and your cousin’s row) intersect.

Step 8: Way to go!  You now have the relationship between you two.  What is it?  Did you get that you two are “3C” or, in other words, third cousins?

What does this mean?  It means both of you are the great-great-grandchildren of the same person.

Let’s try some practice examples.

Example 1:

1) You are the grandchild (GC) of Bob.

2) Your relative is the great-great-grandchild (GGGC) of Bob.

Question: What is your relationship?

Answer: You are the other person’s 1C2R, or first cousins, twice removed! Did you get it right?  Good!

Example 2:

1) You are the child of the CA (common ancestor).  (In other words, your mom or dad IS the common ancestor.)

2) Your relative (a female) is the grandchild of the CA (common ancestor).

Question: What is the relationship between you and the other person?

Answer: Niece. She is your niece.

Example 3:

1) You are the 2GGC (great-great grandchild) of the CA (common ancestor).

2) Your relative  is the 7GGC of the CA (common ancestor). In other words they are the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchild (7 greats) of the CA.

Question: What is the relationship between you and the other person?

Answer: 3C5R or third cousins, five times removed.

Okay, now that you’ve started to master the “cousin chart,” what does removed mean again?

Removed just means how many generations are between you and the person you’re trying to figure out your relationship with.

Once removed = one generation separates you.

Twice removed = two generations separate you.

For example, your grandma’s first cousin, is your first cousin, twice removed.

Your mother’s first cousin is your first cousin, once removed.

Don’t worry. With time and practice this chart will come naturally to you. But, in the beginning, it sure can look confusing.

Just remember, the next time someone asks you if “removed” means they were divorced, you can say, “No.” “Removed,” you reply is about measures generations, not degree of marital bliss (or lack thereof).

Good job, and keep at it.  Trust me.  It gets easier with practice.

As my grandma used to say, “Practice makes better…” Don’t worry about being perfect.  Even I have to refer to the chart now and then!

Good luck!


Published on May 21, 2014 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  

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