Why are my cousins removed

The following is a page I stole from Ed Thompson at
Thompson-Hayward-Snypes-Moore.net Bringing the Family Together Why are my cousins ‘removed’?  There is a lot of confusion about the term ‘cousin’, especially as it relates to distant cousins. The concept of ‘first cousin’, ‘second cousin’, etc… is hard enough, but what the heck is a ‘first cousin once removed’? Why are they removed? Did they do something wrong? How can I get MY cousin removed?

So I am going to take a stab at explaining the concept, complete with pictures.
Warning, having this knowledge will NOT make you popular with friends and family. I can tell you from personal experience THEY DON”T WANT TO KNOW. If you thought that having this insight would make you the belle of the family reunion, stop reading NOW!

Counting cousins

Still here? OK, we will start off easy: Rose and Ruth are sisters. They both have kids. Those kids are first cousins. Their grand kids are second cousins. Their great grand kids are third cousins. Perhaps a picture…




  • Eddie and Johnny are first cousins because they share the same grandparents.
  • Eddie Jr and Johnny Jr are second cousins because they share the same great grandparents.
  • Susy and Vicki are third cousins becasue they share the same great great grandparents.
Notice that all the arrows stay in their own generation. Another way to think of it is ‘first generation of cousins’, ‘second generation of cousins’, ‘third generation of cousins’ (all relative to the sisters that started this whole thing).
But what happens if we cross generations?

‘Removing’ cousins

What about Johnny and Eddie Jr? Or Eddie and Vicki? They’re related too, aren’t they?
Well, yes they are..
In this picture, since Eddie and Johnny are FIRST cousins, Eddie and Johnny’s kid, Johnny Jr, are FIRST cousins ONCE removed. They are removed by one generation, which is another way of saying they are separated by one generation.
Eddie and Vicki? FIRST cousins, TWICE removed, since they are separated by TWO generations.
If we continue in this manner, since Eddie Jr and Johnny Jr are SECOND cousins, then Eddie Jr and Vicki are SECOND cousins, ONCE removed.

Are we even related?

At what point are we so far apart it doesn’t even matter? Well, that is up to you and your family, but technically, as long as you share a common ancestry, you are still related. 1st cousin 23 time removed? Sure, cause it all goes back to those two sisters.

Cousins by marriage

What about Eddie and Johnny’s spouses – are they related? Is Mrs. Johnny Eddies first cousin by marriage? ‘First cousin-in-law’?
The answer is tricky, and I will cop out by saying it’s a cultural thing – some cultures recognize that kind of ancestry, some don’t. In the US, not so much.
But are Eddie and Mrs. Johnny family? Well, that depends on how one defines family. There are a whole lot of cultural mores and obligations that go with defining someone as family. My definition of family may be broader than yours.
Personally, if I eat Mrs Johnny’s potato salad at Aunt Ruth’s 79th birthday party, I consider her family.


Hopefully you found this helpful. I’ll close by saying that not ALL family relations can be defined.
In the words of The Youngbloods:

Come on people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now





3 Responses to “Why are my cousins ‘removed’?”

  1. Russ Perry says:

    I love this page. Can I steal it? Iframe it? Or at least link to it?

(That link above is where this page once was. The words are what I wrote back in 2013 but the link actually is to this page.)

There’s more on this subject at Wikipedia.com.
If one person’s → Grandparent Great-grandparent Great-great-grandparent Great-great-great-grandparent Great-great-great-great-grandparent
Is the other person’s
Then they are ↘
Grandparent 1st cousins 1st cousins once removed 1st cousins twice removed 1st cousins thrice removed 1st cousins four times removed
Great-grandparent 1st cousins once removed 2nd cousins 2nd cousins once removed 2nd cousins twice removed 2nd cousins thrice removed
Great-great-grandparent 1st cousins twice removed 2nd cousins once removed 3rd cousins 3rd cousins once removed 3rd cousins twice removed
Great-great-great-grandparent 1st cousins thrice removed 2nd cousins twice removed 3rd cousins once removed 4th cousins 4th cousins once removed
Great-great-great-great-grandparent 1st cousins four times removed 2nd cousins thrice removed 3rd cousins twice removed 4th cousins once removed 5th cousins
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