Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Are your relatives great, grand, or just need removed?

We're familiar with family terms such as cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews.  But at that last family reunion did you get a headache trying to determine what the proper term for one of those more distant relatives?  Or did someone refer to another relation as a "second cousin, once removed" and all you wanted to do was remove yourself from the conversation of genealogical gibberish?  Surprise!! There are charts to help make sense of it all.  They're called Consanguinity Charts.  Besides being an excellent candidate for "Word of the Day," consanguinity is defined as a relationship by descent from a common ancestor. (See the definition, phonetic spelling, and hear it pronounced by following this link to an online dictionary.)

One common misconception about relationships I hear quite often is referring to the siblings of grandparents as a "Great Aunt or Great Uncle."  This is not a true relationship. Think of it this way, your parent's siblings are your aunts and uncles.  Your parent's parents are known as your grandparents.  Guess what?  The siblings of your grandparents are labeled grand-aunts and grand-uncles.  The addition of "great" throws you back yet another generation, the generation of your GREAT grandparents and their siblings become your GREAT grand-aunt or -uncle.  Go back another generation and you'll add yet another "great" to those relatives.

This order works for descendants as well.  Children of your siblings are nieces and nephews.  Their children are your grand-nieces and grand-nephews and in the next generation, their children are your GREAT grand-nieces and GREAT grand-nephews.

Now, for those "removed" relatives.  Cousins, second cousins, third cousins, etc., are all belong to the same generation.  That is, they share the same distance back to a common ancestor.  Someone is considered "removed" when they belong to different generations.  Each generation creates another "removed".  For example, a cousin twice removed is separated by two generations but third cousin once removed is one generation different.  Another way to look at this is to think of your grandmother's cousin.  Okay, easy enough. Your relationship to her cousin is that of a first cousin, twice removed because there is a difference of two generations.

Is your head spinning yet?  Need a visual aide to make sense of all that?  Try this great, easy to use consanguinity chart on the Chickasaw County Iowa's website.  My best advice is to use a chart and plot out your relationships until you become comfortable enough to do it off the top of your head.  Just like learning math, you start out using your fingers to count before you can do it in your head as you get older and more comfortable with it.  Genealogy programs, such as Family Tree Maker, will let you choose two individuals and it will calculate the degree of relationship for you.  (That's the easy way out!)

You'll get there, just practice, practice, practice!  Then you can impress those cousins at the next family reunion!

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