How are We Related? Eliminate Cousin Confusion this Thanksgiving.


It’s probably happened to you at your Thanksgiving gathering. A friendly face approaches you with a warm embrace, a kiss on the cheek, and says “Nice to see you again cousin.” Perhaps they greet you with, “Hi, I’m your second cousin once removed.” Or your mom whispers in your ear at the dinner table “That’s Bill. Remember Bill? He’s the odd one. Your odd third cousin once removed.”

Dozens of cousins! You know you are related because you’ve been sitting around the same holiday table for years, but you have no idea how. What’s a second cousin or a third cousin twice removed anyways?

This time of year, I frequently get asked “how are we related?” I’m here to help you tackle your Thanksgiving gathering with confidence. Read on and I’ll clear up the confusing cousin terminology and give you a handy chart you can use to calculate everyone’s cousinhood at the table.


You probably know that the children of your aunt and uncle are your cousins. But much past that, and the cousin relationship can get confusing. Learn the cousin lingo and clear up the cousin confusion.

What’s a first cousin?

Your first cousins, or “cousins,” are the children of your parents’ brothers and sisters, AKA your aunts and uncles. Cousins share a set of grandparents.

What’s a second cousin?

Your second cousins are the children of your parents’ cousins. Second cousins share a great-grandparent.

What’s a third cousin?

Your third cousins are the children of your parents’ second cousins. Third cousins share at least one great-great-grandparent.

What does once removed mean?

"Removed" is used when two persons share a set of ancestors but are not the same number of generations in descent from those ancestors.

What’s a kissing cousin?

A 1964 Movie starring Elvis Presley? An overly friendly cousin? Well, yes and more. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a “kissing cousin” is defined as:

1: one that is closely related in kind to something else

2. a person and espeicially arelative whom one knows well enough to kiss more or less formally upon meeting.


Good news! You don’t need math to figure out if Great Aunt Sandy’s kids are your kid’s fourth cousins or third cousins once removed. However, for a true "relationship" to exist, there must be a common ancestor shared by both relatives.

Print off this incredibly handy family relationship chart to determine the degree of cousinhood between two relatives.


  1. Identify the most recent ancestor the two relatives share and how that ancestor is related to both individuals.

  2. In the top row, locate the relationship of the 1st person to the common ancestor.

  3. In the first column, locate the relationship of the 2nd person to the common ancestor.

  4. Follow down and across to where these rows and columns intersect to determine cousin relationship.


Still scratching your head? Here are some examples from recent “how are we related” inquiries I’ve received.

“How is my great-grandson related to my sister’s grandson?”

  1. First determine the most recent ancestor they share in common and how that ancestor is related to each to both individuals. In this case the common ancestors are you parents.

  2. For your great-grandson, the common ancestor is their 2nd Grandparent. Locate that in row one.

  3. For your sister’s grandson, the common ancestor is their great-grandparent. Locate that in column one.

  4. Follow down and across to where these rows and columns intersect. Your great-grandson and your sister’s grandson are second cousins once removed.


“I recently met a distant relative and they are coming to visit. Our grandparents Ruth and Beth were sisters. We don’t know how to explain to our small children just how they are related? We aren’t even sure how to describe how we are related?”

  1. First, identify the most recent ancestor both your children share and how they are related. In this case they share @x Great-Grandparents (Ruth and Beth’s parents).

  2. In row one, located 2nd Great-Grandparent to describe your children relationship to the common ancestor.

  3. In column one, locate 2nd Great-Grandparent to describe your distant relative’s children’s relationship to their shared common ancestor.

  4. Follow down and across to where these rows and columns intersect. Your children are third cousins.


Looking to discover your second or third cousins? Are you searching for answers about your family’s past? I can help. I’m Kimberlie Guerrieri. I’m a Certified Genealogist with more than 15 years of experience helping people discover their family histories and solve some pretty cool mysteries. Contact me for a FREE discovery call to discuss your goals and let’s get started!


Kimberlie Guerrieri