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Now that we have entered the holiday season, relatives are gathering together to share memories and celebrate Christmas and New Year's Day. My advice for anyone who is attending a family gathering of any kind is to learn how to identify their cousins by their proper blood relationship to them. Americans have a bad habit of referring to their first cousin once removed as their second cousin.
Too many Americans believe that their first cousin's children are their second cousins and that their first cousin's grandchildren are their third cousins, when nothing could be any further from the truth. Genealogists are constantly struggling to get family relationships straight whenever they research a family tree, because Americans are simply refusing to use the proper terminology to name their blood relationship with relatives of theirs. I have found that even the most educated Americans are refusing to use any genealogical term that includes the word "removed" in it to describe their blood relationship with another member of their family tree.
None of us have to become expert genealogists to get this entire system right whenever we are trying to determine how we should refer to a particular relative. Distinguishing the proper way to specify your blood relationship to a cousin of yours can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be so if you are able to learn some basic tips to get it all right. Let me show you how to do so herein.
Your Second And Third Cousins Have To Be In The Same Generation As You
When I was a little kid, there was this one relative of mine named Nancy on my father's side of the family. Her father was my father's first cousin. I asked my mother how I was related to her.
I said to my mother that I believed that Nancy's father was my second cousin and that Nancy was my third cousin. My mother corrected me and told me that my father's cousin was really my first cousin once removed and that Nancy was my second cousin. I asked my mother to explain how she came to that determination, because until then I had never heard the term "first cousin once removed."
Because I was a little kid, my mother ultimately decided to allow me to go on using the system to which I was most accustomed in determining my blood relationship with any particular cousin of mine. I did not hear about this system of genealogical terminology until over a decade later, because even people in my family and friends of mine never used the term "removed" in making reference to any of their cousins.
After my sister had given birth to my oldest niece over a decade later, her family and I met up at my paternal grandfather's house in Staten Island, New York for a family gathering at Thanksgiving. My first cousin, Stephen, told me that my niece was not his second cousin but rather his first cousin once removed. I had thought that he was merely being a smart aleck with me and my sister, but he really was trying to steer us both in the right direction regarding how we referred to one another on our family tree. In any event, I continued to give him pushback on that narration of his, because I had become set in my ways in how I identified my cousins by then.
I recently realized the importance of utilizing the proper genealogical terminology to identify any cousin on either side of my family. I recently had a telephone conversation with my maternal first cousin, Michael, about it, and he did not like the idea of using the word "removed" upon making reference to any cousin in our family. Michael is an educated man, but even he was asking my mother whether this entire genealogical system regarding how cousins should really be identified was accurate and my mother told him that it was.
Cousin Michael told me that he would continue to identify his first cousin's children as second cousins and their children as third cousins. I wasn't going to jump on his case about refusing to accept the above-described genealogical system in identifying his cousins, because I was guilty of fighting against it in the past myself.
Fact has it that most Americans are stubborn about using genealogical terms that they perceive to be too long-winded. Perhaps Americans are this way, because we, as Americans, like to keep matters plain and simple and right to the point. It's like when you hear a single mother refer to the biological father of her child as her "baby daddy." The term "baby daddy" allows her to cut to the chase without bogging her down with too much details in identifying her child's biological father.
In a nutshell, your second cousins, your third cousins, your fourth cousins, and even your fifth cousins all have to be in the same generation as you are on your family tree. It may seem confusing to keep all these details straight at first. However, once you learn how to identify your cousins properly on your family tree, little by little you begin to realize the importance of doing so.
Identifying Your Cousins' Exact Blood Relationship To You Is Easier Than You Think
There are some very basic rules in identifying how a cousin of yours is related to you. In fact, none of it is rocket science. Keep in mind that you and your first cousin have at least one grandparent in common. You and your second cousin have at least one great-grandparent in common, and you and your third cousin have at least one great-great-grandparent in common.
Your first cousin's children are your first cousins once removed. Your first cousin's grandchildren are your first cousins twice removed. Your first cousin's great-grandchildren are your first cousins thrice removed. If you have a child, that child will be the second cousin of your first cousin's children. Your first cousin's grandchildren will be your child's second cousins once removed.
If your maternal grandmother has a first cousin, that first cousin of hers is your first cousin twice removed. Why? The answer is plain and simple. Your maternal grandmother's first cousin is your mother's first cousin once removed. Therefore, your maternal grandmother's first cousin would be your first cousin twice removed. If that first cousin twice removed of yours has a kid, that kid is your second cousin once removed inasmuch as that kid is also your mother's second cousin. The video below will fill you in on all the ins and outs of figuring out how everyone in your family is related to one another.
The Formula Used To Identify Your Cousins Is Easy As Pie Once You Learn It
After I learned how the system above worked, I did not want to go back to my old ways of identifying my cousins. Once you learn it, perhaps your cousins might get a little irritated with you at family gatherings if you push it on them too aggressively, but genealogists will love you for making their jobs easier once one of your descendants hires them to research your roots and your family tree. So long as you keep it easy, it will be easy. Honest, it will be.
Genealogists Need Americans To Learn How To Identify Cousins The Right Way
Being a genealogist is not as easy as people may think it is. It requires a great amount of time and effort to research through archives, scrapbooks, pictures, and any record that one can get their hands on to map out the details of a customer's family tree.
It is nice that many Americans still keep photograph albums with pictures of them and their relatives, even though such a tradition is gradually fading away as digital technology continues to evolve and people are starting to store their memories on their laptops instead. However, it is futile for anyone to provide information for each picture in their photograph albums or even scrapbooks, if they are misidentifying relatives of theirs.
If you are using the wrong genealogical terminology to describe and identify relatives of yours in your memoirs, scrapbooks, photograph albums, and the likes, it is not going to help a descendent or yours or a genealogist when they begin researching your family tree 60 or 80 years from now. Also, unless you are currently a little kid or a teenager, in all due likelihood, you will not be alive by then to answer these individuals' questions once they begin finding inconsistencies in the blood relationships between you and your relatives in those same records and documents.
I like keeping photograph albums, scrapbooks, and other memoirs of my family members and relatives. If I had known back when I started doing so what I know now, I would have learned how to identify my cousins with the proper genealogical terminology instead of taking the pathway of least resistance. We all owe it to our first cousins once removed not to misidentify them as our second cousins, and we all owe it to our first cousins twice removed not to misidentify them as our third cousins. After we are all dead and gone, we want people to remember us for who we really were rather than for who we were mistaken to be.
Final Thoughts And Conclusion
If you are someone who identifies your first cousin once removed as your second cousin, you are not guilty of any crime. Many Americans have acquired this same practice. It's a very tempting practice, because it's so much easier than identifying a relative of yours as a second cousin thrice removed or a first cousin once removed. However, it is still the wrong practice.
If you are someone who couldn't care less about your roots or your family tree, then perhaps you are comfortable identifying your first cousin's children as your second cousins and their children as your third cousins; and you remain well within your right to do so. However, if your family tree and your roots matter to you as mine do to me, then it would be a wise move on your part to learn the proper genealogical terminology to identify your cousins.
Archives and records can easily get lost in the shuffle. Therefore, it can be extremely stressful for a genealogist or even a descendent of yours to discern who is related to who and how they are so when misinformation is recorded in archives and documents of any kind that they do manage to locate.
If you remember the horror soap-opera series Dark Shadows that initially aired in the 1960s and was reshown from beginning to end on the Syfy Channel from the 1990s to 2003, you may remember the storyline when Victoria Winters was accidentally transported from 1967 back to the year 1795 at the Collins Estate after taking part in a séance. Victoria Winters had run into confusing situations more than once afterwards, because the Collins family history journal she had read had reported the events from 1795 differently from how they had actually occurred. In that particular case, it had been done on purpose, because nobody in the Collins family wanted to know that Barnabas Collins had become a vampire. In real life, such information gets misreported, because the person reporting it doesn't know what he or she is doing or the right way of reporting it.
Learn how to identify your cousins properly and you will make life easy on a genealogist who may be researching your family tree 60 to 80 years from now. Your descendants will appreciate it.
Now, the majority of us Americans identify our grandmother's or grandfather's sibling as our great-aunt or our great-uncle, whereas genealogists refer to your grandmother's or grandfather's sibling as your grandaunt or your granduncle. Should we mirror genealogists in this respect also? Well, that's another article for another time. The important thing here is that you now know how to identify your cousins correctly.
A Poll For Anyone Who May Be Interested In Genealogy
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Jason B Truth