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He's Not My Uncle!?

OK.  You know that your mother's or father's brother is your uncle.  But you probably had the same experience that many of us had, while growing up...that is, you found out, after many years, that your beloved "uncle" was really your cousin, or your great-uncle, ornot "family" at all! Do you want to know what you really should have called him or how he was actually related to you?  The notes and charts below, gathered from various web sources, will help you understand our often complicated family relationships.

Blood Relatives

Most of the words used on family trees are ones we use every day - father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter. Common to all terms is the fact that they define people in terms of their relationships with one another, and particularly with you the researcher. The following glossary sets these out to help you to describe the relationships between family members that are related through blood (as opposed to marriage).

  • uncle - the brother of your father or mother
  • aunt - the sister of your father or mother
  • sibling - your brother or sister
  • cousin - the son or daughter of your uncle or aunt
  • second cousin - the son or daughter of your parents' first cousin
  • nephew - the son of your brother or sister
  • niece - the daughter of your brother or sister
  • grandfather - the father of your father or mother
  • grandmother - the mother of your father or mother
  • grandson - your child's son
  • granddaughter - your child's daughter
  • great grandfather - the father of one of your grandparents
  • great grandmother - the mother of one of your grandparents
  • great (or grand) uncle - the uncle of one of your parents
  • great (or grand) aunt - the aunt of one of your parents
  • great granduncle - the uncle of one of your grandparents
  • great grandaunt - the aunt of one of your grandparents


Related by Marriage

There are also terms that describe the people that are related to you when you marry (through your spouse). Although they share no blood-ties, they become part of your family tree. There are also specialist terms to denote the relationships created by subsequent marriages.

It is important to remember that these terms were not used so accurately in the past. Even documents such as wills may describe people as cousins or brothers when they were, in fact, no such thing - they may legitimately be half-brothers or related solely through marriage, rather than "by blood". Even today the phrase 'uncle' or 'aunt' can be used as a term of endearment to describe someone who is not an uncle or maybe not be related by blood or marriage...someone who would be more accurately described as a 'close family friend'.  (Or, as mentioned initially, the uncle may be a relative but, by no means, an actual uncle.)

Counting the Generations

All of your siblings and cousins form one generation. Going backwards in time: your parents and their siblings form another generation; and your grandparents and their siblings make up a another generation, and so on. It's the same thing going forward in time: Your children and  and your siblings' children are first cousins and constitute the same generation, your grand children and your siblings' grandchildren are of the same generation, and so on.. Starting with the oldest generation known, the top level of the family tree will be the first generation, followed by their children (second generation) and so on, assigning each successive generation a higher number. To describe someone from a generation prior to your grandparents, simply add 'great' or 'grand' to their title - hence the mother and father of your grandparents are your great grandmother and great grandfather; and the siblings of your grandparents are known as great aunts or great uncles; or grand aunts/uncles. Each time you move back another generation, simply add another great! 

Cousins & the Generations: Going forward past siblings is where it starts to get "fun"...confusing, that is: You could be related to people from several, or many, generations, and yet you are all still "cousins". How does one more accurately describe the relationships? With cousin-numbers and numbers "removed". How far you and another cousin are decended from your common ancestor will determine what number cousins you are; and the differences between what generation you are your cousin are part of will determine how how many times "removed" the later cousin's generation is from the cousin that is part of the earlier generation. Got it?  

For example: If you and your cousin are both part of the 4th generation after your common ancestor (say, your great-great grandfather), then you are 3rd cousins. [Going backward, the generations that are intervening between yourselves and the common ancestor were, or are...in relation to others of their same generation: 2nd cousins, 1st cousins, & then siblings.] But, each of you is a 2nd cousin, once removed from each other's parents [who are in the same generation & second cousins to each other]. You are each a first cousin, twice removed from each other's grand-parents (who were in the same generation & are/were first cousins to each other). And, their parents, the children of the common ancestor of the both of you, are you and your 3rd cousins' respective great, grand uncles/aunts.

Just remember that there is no "removed" if you are talking about the relationship between 2 people that are part of the same generation after a common ancestor. The number of times removed only comes into play when discussing the relationship between cousins in different generations. And, the convention is that the person in the later generation is "so many times removed" from the earlier of the two generations that the cousins are part of. Thus, you and your third cousin would be a 3rd cousin, once removed, to each other's children...and vice versa. You would be 3rd cousins, twice removed, of each other's grandchildren...and your third cousin's grandchildren would also be 3rd cousins, twice removed from you. But, in this example, the children & grandchildren, discussed, would be 4th & 5th cousins, respectively, of the cousins that are in the same generation number after the common ancestor. Simple, huh? 

For your "final examination", watch & listen to "I'm My Own Grandpa", by Ray Stevens, below, and try to follow along:

If you did follow along, then you figured out that the strange relationships referenced in the song, are somewhat "bogus". The confusion arises from a failure of the song to differentiate between "blood relatives" & "pseudo-relatives"...that is, those resulting from the close marriages, as "step-" this or "step-" that; or failure to differentieate between "blood relations" and "in-laws". Thus, you certainly can't be your own physical grandfather, but it is very possible to be your own step-grandfather in-law, or some such nonsense. In fact, these types of "relationships" do occur and, as in the case of the song, it's legal! There is no intermarriage if a parent marries a step grand-child from a former first marriage. And, it does make for a good song and a great riddle!

Family Tree Symbols

Certain symbols or abbreviations are typically used to denote relationships between family members, and as well as other information, in genealogy or on the family tree. Vertical lines show relationships between parents and their offspring; whilst horizontal lines link the siblings from one set of parents. Dotted lines signified presumed or unconfirmed links. The symbol '= ' is used to indicate a marriage. It is best to use the following abbreviations when assigning information to key events on family trees, because they are more or less universal:

  • aka - also know as
  • anon - anonymous
  • b - born
  • barm bar-mitvahed  (our abbreviation)
  • batm bat-mitvahed  (our abbreviation)
  • bil  - brother in law
  • br/bro - brother
  • bu/bur - buried
  • ca - circa (about/approximately)
  • cem - cemetary
  • coll - college
  • cous/csn - cousin
  • d - died
  • dau - daughter
  • dil - daughter in law
  • div - divorced
  • dy - died young
  • E - east or eastern
  • educ - educated
  • et vir - & husband
  • ft - foot
  • gch - grandchild
  • gdn - guardian
  • gs - grave stone
  • hers - herself
  • hims - himself
  • hus - husband
  • illit - illiterite
  • k - killed
  • lb. - pound
  • li/liv - living
  • m - male or married
  • mo - month or mother
  • ms - manuscript
  • nd - no date
  • neph - nephew
  • np - no place
  • POA - power of attorney
  • pvt - private
  • rec - record
  • = - married
  • mi - mile(s)
  • (2) - second marriage
  • m - married
  •  inter - interred
  •  

    GENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS GENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS

     

    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

    1

    Common Ancestor

    Son or Daughter

    Grandson or Daughter

    Great Grandson or Daughter

    2nd Great Grandson or Daughter

    3rd Great Grandson or Daughter

    4th Great Grandson or Daughter

    5th Great Grandson or Daughter

    6th Great Grandson or Daughter

    7th Great Grandson or Daughter

    2

    Son or Daughter

    Brother or Sister

    Niece or
    Nephew

    Grand Niece
    or Nephew  

    Great Grand  Niece or Nephew

    2nd Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    3rd Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    4th Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    5th Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    6th Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    3

    Grandson or Daughter

    Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin

    First Cousin Once Removed

    First Cousin Twice Removed

    First Cousin Three Times Removed

    First Cousin Four Times Removed

    First Cousin Five Times Removed

    First Cousin Six Times Removed

    First Cousin Seven Times Removed

    4

    Great Grandson or Daughter

    Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Once Removed

    Second Cousin

    Second Cousin Once Removed

    Second Cousin Twice Removed

    Second Cousin Three Times Removed

    Second Cousin Four Times Removed

    Second Cousin Five Times Removed

    Second Cousin Six Times Removed

    5

    2nd Great Grandson or Daughter

    Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Twice Removed

    Second Cousin Once Removed

    Third Cousin

    Third Cousin Once Removed

    Third Cousin Twice Removed

    Third Cousin Three Times Removed

    Third Cousin Four Times Removed

    Second Cousin Five Times Removed

    6

    3rd Great Grandson or Daughter

    2nd Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Three Times Removed

    Second Cousin Twice Removed

    Third Cousin Once Removed

    Fourth Cousin

    Fourth Cousin Once Removed

    Fourth Cousin Twice Removed

    Fourth Cousin Three Times Removed

    Fourth Cousin Four Times Removed

    7

    4th Great Grandson or Daughter

    3rd Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Four Times Removed

    Second Cousin Three Times Removed

    Third Cousin Twice Removed

    Fourth Cousin Once Removed

    Fifth Cousin

    Fifth Cousin Once Removed

    Fifth Cousin Twice Removed

    Fifth Cousin Three Times Removed

    8

    5th Great Grandson or Daughter

    4th Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Five Times Removed

    Second Cousin Four Times Removed

    Third Cousin Three Times Removed

    Fourth Cousin Twice Removed

    Fifth Cousin Once Removed

    Sixth Cousin

    Sixth Cousin Once Removed

    Sixth Cousin Twice Removed

    9

    6th Great Grandson or Daughter

    5th Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Six Times Removed

    Second Cousin Five Times Removed

    Third Cousin Four Times Removed

    Fourth Cousin Three Times Removed

    Fifth Cousin Twice Removed

    Sixth Cousin Once Removed

    Seventh Cousin

    Seventh Cousin Once Removed

    10

    7th Great Grandson or Daughter

    6th Great Grand Niece or Nephew

    First Cousin Seven Times Removed

    Second Cousin Six Times Removed

    Third Cousin Five Times Removed

    Fourth Cousin Four Times Removed

    Fifth Cousin Three Times Removed

    Sixth Cousin Twice Removed

    Seventh Cousin Once Removed

    Eighth Cousin

    Instructions:

    Select two people in your family and figure out which ancestor they have in common. For example, if you chose yourself and a first cousin, you would have a grandparent in common.***  NOTE: If the two people have more than one common ancestor, determine which ancestor is the closest to both people.  (For example, if a grandparent is common to both, great-grandparents would be also.  But the grandparent is the one that would be used in the chart.)  

    Look at the top row of the chart (in blue) and find the first person's relationship to the common ancestor.

    Look at the far left column of the chart (in blue) and find the second person's relationship to the common ancestor.

    Move across the columns and down the rows to determine where the row and column containing these two relationships (from #2 & #3) meet. This box is the relationship between the two individuals.

    ***NOTE: If the two people have more than one common ancestor, determine which ancestor is the closest to both people.  (For example, if a grandparent is common to both, their great-grandparents would be also.  But the grandparent is the one that would be used in the chart.)  

    If this chart is confusing, a somewhat less detailed chart can be found here.

    Source: About.com, et al

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