It can be tricky to work out what relationship people in your family tree are to each other.
There are plenty of on-line sites which can help you determine this: just type ‘family tree calculator’ into your browser, and you’ll be spoiled for choice. I find some of these are easier to use than others: my advice here is to just keep trying until you find one you like.
If you have an online family tree, you may well find that a calculator is include in the package. Even some of the free sites include these.
A word of warning: in the UK we refer to our grandfather’s brother as ‘great uncle’ (and grandad’s sister would be a great aunt). BUT in America (and therefore on the American-run sites) the tradition appears to be to refer to grandad’s brother as ‘grand uncle’. It’s worth bearing in mind.
And – once you’ve determined that Little Cecily is in fact your eighth cousin twice removed (or suchlike) – what on earth does that mean?
Well, this is not so hard. The first bit (“eighth cousin”) refers to the number of generations one is from the common ancestor (minus one, as people with the same parents are siblings and not cousins).
The second part (“twice removed”) refers to describes the number of generations your cousin is from you. Once removed equals one generation.
So, Little Cecily and I have a common ancestor eight generations back (ie we share the same the same great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, which my my reckoning takes us back to sometime in the sixteenth century, and well done me for getting back that far); and she is of the same generation as my grandparents.
If this leaves you floundering with odd scraps of paper on your desk and still wondering what it all means, one of the many excellent sites which explain it, together with a handy reference chart, is at www.chastaincentral.com/content/removed.html alhtough please note that this uses the ‘grand uncle’ convention.
The problems come, as poor old Einstein discovers in the cartoon above, when you find inter-cousin marriages. Here there can be two quite different ways of describing Little Cecily.
At this point the words of the old song “I’m my own grandpa” spring readily to mind, and it’s very tempting to think – as I often do – “What the heck – we’re kin.”
I may, however, be scribbling frantically on those bits of paper in the weeks to come. One of the students in the latest class I’m tutoring is quite probably a relative. But – and this is where it gets confusing – we are related via both a marriage to my great-great-great-great grandmother (which would make the ancestor in question my step-great-great-great-great grandfather – a relationship which most family tree relationship packages refuse to recognise), and by the marriage of his grand-daughter (my step-great-great-great aunt) to my great-great-grandmother’s-nephew. Which makes these latter two husband and wife and step-cousins. What the heck – we’re kin!