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Cousins - the Complex nature of Shared Ancestry

Throughout this website, I will be wittering on about my relationship with the various persons discussed in the text. This will often take the form of the potentially incomprehensible "8th cousin twice removed" or "3rd cousin once removed".


Believe me, this remains as confusing to me now after over 30 years of dealing with this subject matter, as it did right at the beginning. I, therefore, thought that it would be prudent to add a bit of an explanation on this aspect of genealogy. You will forget it all within seconds of having read it if you are anything like me, but I'll give it a go anyway!


Basically, a cousin is someone who has shared ancestry with you. So if you are a Kingshott, or descend from a Kingshott, then we will be cousins. If it stopped there, that would be brilliant. Unfortunately, it is more complicated than that.  

Here's how it breaks down:

  • First Cousins: Your first cousins are the children of your aunts and uncles (your parents' siblings). You share grandparents with your first cousins.

  • Second Cousins: Your second cousins are the children of your parents' first cousins. In other words, your second cousins are the grandchildren of your great-aunts and great-uncles. You share great-grandparents with your second cousins.

  • Third Cousins: Your third cousins are the children of your parents' second cousins. This pattern continues for further generations. You share great-great-grandparents with your third cousins.

The number (first, second, third, etc.) signifies how many generations back you need to go to find a common ancestor. The degree of cousin (the first bit, for example, 1st cousin) therefore describes one less than the minimum number of generations you have to go back to find a common ancestor. This goes on ad infinitum.


How far a cousin is removed (if at all) describes the difference in generations between yourself and your ancestor. For example, the children of your 1st cousins are your 1st cousins once removed. You are of the same generation as your 1st cousin, so their children will be of the same generation as your children, therefore they are once removed. So, for example: -

  • First Cousins Once Removed: This refers to either the children of your first cousins or the first cousins of your parents. For example, your mother's first cousin is your first cousin once removed, because there's a one-generation difference between you two. Similarly, the child of your first cousin is also your first cousin once removed.

  • First Cousins Twice Removed: This refers to either the grandchildren of your first cousins or the first cousins of your grandparents. There's a two-generation difference in this case.


The same pattern of "removal" can apply to second cousins, third cousins, and so forth

Of course, when we are dealing with families in small, rural villages, there is the potential for consanguineous relationships of either the close or distant variety.


I descend, for example, from a number of different branches of the Kingshott family because there were only a limited number of families around in these villages. This often leads to complex relationships where I may be related to the same person by two or more different routes. The likelihood of this increases as you go back in time. I may, therefore, be both the 1st cousin 4 times removed and a 2nd cousin 3 times removed, to the same person, for example. 

There is an interesting article on how we are all related, which can be found here. It is well worth a read. 

This chart shows, better than any written explanation, exactly what these cousin relationships mean. Click on the chart and it will expand and be easier to read. 

This chart is fairly self-explanatory and should give a little insight into what I am talking about. 


Clear as mud? Then let us move on!

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