AreWeCousins-graphicAre you easily able to calculate all those cousin numbers we encounter in our genealogy research….without using something to help you?! If you’re not in a genealogy program that calculates the relationship for you, what do you do?

I found myself in such a situation recently when I was trying to explain a relative on my maternal side of the family to someone. I was pretty sure she was some level of a great Aunt, but then again, maybe she was a cousin?

If I have worked on a line of my tree long enough, I can go through the various levels up and down but am not so good sideways. In other words I can name my direct ascendants up a line, but their siblings and children? Not that good….yet!

Luckily I was able to consult the Ancestry app on my phone and had it calculate my relationship: “wife of 1st cousin 1x removed.” OK, that sounds simple enough. Until I tried to go backwards and sideways and then down (I think).

She’s my mother’s father’s brother’s son’s wife. Accckkk! What does that make her kids? Second cousins? First cousins 2x removed?? Second cousins 1x removed???

All these cousin titles spinning around in my brain gave me a headache! So I did a little research to see if I could come up with a way to help me calculate these uncommon (at least in my poor brain) relationships.


The first thing I found was a Canon Law Relationship Calculator chart.

Canon Law Relationship Chart

a file from the Wikipedia Commons. Click for larger view.

Has anyone ever used one of these? I have not been researching genealogy a real long time yet. So I’ll admit I’d never run across one of these before. I was scratching my head trying to figure out how to use it.

Thank goodness Wikipedia provided an example.

Canon Law Relationship Chart Example

a file from the Wikipedia Commons. Click for larger view.

Maybe with a little practice I could use one of these with ease. Presently it’s a little more than my brain can handle. So I kept looking for a simpler solution.


Genealogy.com provided this explanation.

    • Cousin (a.k.a “first cousin”) – Your first cousins are the people in your family who have two of the same grandparents as you. In other words, they are the children of your aunts and uncles.
    • Second Cousin – Your second cousins are the people in your family who have the same great-grandparents as you, but not the same grandparents.
    • Third, Fourth, and Fifth Cousins – Your third cousins have the same great-great-grandparents, fourth cousins have the same great-great-great-grandparents, and so on.
    • Removed –  When the word “removed” is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations. You and your first cousins are in the same generation (two generations younger than your grandparents), so the word “removed” is not used to describe your relationship.
      The words “once removed” mean that there is a difference of one generation. For example, your mother’s first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. This is because your mother’s first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents and you are two generations younger than your grandparents. This one-generation difference equals “once removed.”
      Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference. You are two generations younger than a first cousin of your grandmother, so you and your grandmother’s first cousin are first cousins, twice removed.

Now this makes more sense in my brain than the chart. I suppose it’s a graphics-visual-thing versus a visual-thing. At any rate, my brain digests this easier than the chart. This explanation would get placed in my genealogy notebook before the chart would!


Steve Morse has an interesting calculator on his website called Calculating Relationships in One Step. I learned about this in a seminar a few years ago, but had forgotten about it until this situation came up.

If you know the connections between the relatives you’re trying to figure out, his calculator works great.

Brothers and Sisters have I none
But that boy’s father is my father’s son

Charts vs. definitions vs. calculator: Which do you use? Or don’t you bother by just saying they’re a cousin by a common relative?!

P.S. Her kids are my second cousins.