Ever found yourself asking “So what exactly is a second cousin?” or debating with your family and friends about what it means to be “once removed”? We’re here to settle the debate once and for all!
What Is a Cousin?
Cousins are people who share a common ancestor that is at least 2 generations away, such as a grandparent or great-grandparent. You and your siblings are not cousins because your parents are only 1 generation away from you.
Simple enough, right? But what does it mean to have a second or third or fourth cousin?
What Is a Second Cousin?
The number associated with your cousin has to do with how many generations away your common ancestor is. For example:
- First cousins share a grandparent (2 generations)
- Second cousins share a great-grandparent (3 generations)
- Third cousins share a great-great-grandparent (4 generations)
- Fourth cousins share a 3rd-great grandparent (5 generations)
Quick Tip: Count how many “greats” are in your common ancestor’s title and add 1 to find out what number cousin your relative is. Note that grandparents have no “greats” in their titles, so cousins who share grandparents are first cousins because 0 + 1 = 1.
Sometimes you and your cousin may share a common ancestor, but you each call this ancestor something different. For example, the common ancestor may be your great-grandparent, but your cousin’s great-great grandparent.
This is where the phrase “once removed” comes in handy.
What Does it Mean to be “Once Removed”?
To be “removed” from a cousin means you are separated by 1 or more generations.
If you look at the cousin chart above, you’ll see that each row is color-coded by generation. You, your siblings, and your first, second, and third cousins are all of the same generation.
You may have noticed that cousins labeled “once removed” are either from one generation above or below you. You are “once removed” if you are separated by 1 generation and “twice removed” if you are separated by 2 generations, and so on.
Quick Tip: Your parent’s first, second, and third cousins are also your first, second, and third cousins—but once removed. This is because your parents and their generation are 1 above yours. Likewise, your grandparents’ first, second, and third cousins are also your first, second, and third cousins, this time twice removed. This pattern continues throughout each generation.