Yeats ago when my nephew Christopher was about four years old he heard his mother refer to me as her brother. Christopher gave her an annoyed look and said, “He’s not your brother. He’s my uncle.” My sister laughed and replied, “Well, how do you think he got to be your uncle?” He didn’t have an answer to that. Apparently he thought an uncle was just something you got issued when you were born along with a Mama, Daddy, Grandpa, and Grandma. My sister explained to Christopher that any sisters of hers or his father’s would be his aunts while any brothers would be his uncles. When I told a co-worker about Chris’s reaction she laughed and said it was an ownership type thing.
Understanding immediate family relations is not that hard to figure out. The relationship between a father, mother, step-father, step-mother, aunt, and uncle are pretty obvious. What can get confusing though are cousins. Your first cousins are the people in your family who have the same grandparents as you. These are the children of your aunts and uncles. Your second cousins are the people in your family who have the same great-grandparents as you, but not the same grandparents. Your third cousins’ have the same great-great-grandparents, the fourth the same great-great-great grandparents, and so on. You will sometimes hear the phrase, “first cousin once removed.” If the word “removed” is used to describe a relationship, it means the people are from different generations. You and your first cousin are in the same generation or two generations younger than your grandparents so you would not use the word “removed” to describe your first cousins. Your mother’s first cousin though would be your first cousin once removed because your mother’s cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents and you are two generations younger than your grandparents. It is the one generation difference that equals, “once removed.” When siblings of one family marry siblings of another family then their children would be double first cousins. Another term used to describe double first cousins is “cousins on both sides.” Children of double first cousins are double second cousins to each other
“Twice removed” means there is a two generation difference between yourself and the person you are referring to. For instance you would be two generations younger than your grandmother’s first cousin which would make you first cousins, twice removed. In order for you to have a cousin relationship you both have to share a common ancestor. Some people refer to all cousins other than first cousins as “distant cousins.” There are other phrases used to describe family relationships. A paternal ancestor is through the father while a matrilineal ancestor is through the mother. The word sibling refers to a brother or sister and comes from the old English word, “sibb,” meaning kinship or kinsman. If you hear someone refer to their cognate ancestor they are referring to their mother’s line while agnatic refers to male lineage. A foundling is a baby deserted by its parents while a bastard or illegitimate is a child born to an unmarried woman. To legitimize is to have a bastard or illegitimate child recognized legally by law either through the marriage of the parents or the acknowledgement of the child by the father or the proof of the father’s identity by the mother. The Iredell County Public Library has a book called, “Kinship: It’s All Relative,” by Jackie Smith Arnold that explains how family relations work.
This book has come in handy for me in keeping things straight such as when you have to consider identical twins reproducing with the same person, thus resulting in children who are both legally half-siblings and first cousins.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Keeping tract of your family’s lineage” on March 31, 2010