Genealogy Terminology

The firsts and the seconds and the 4ths and how many times removed… it can make your head spin. A quick look at the terminology of ancestors may be in order before you meet the Davids starting in less than a month. I hope this works as a reference that we can return to if things start to get confusing!


Generationally speaking, my great war ancestors tend to be 3 to 4 generations in the past. The simplest way to look at this is in terms of pedigree, or, from whom I’m directly descended.  For instance, two of my Great Grandfathers fought in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as seen in this first diagram.


In other cases, I am not directly descended from the soldier in question, but rather they are an uncle or husband of an aunt.  Because we add the “great” to our uncles and aunts one generation earlier than our grandfathers (making my Grandmother’s sister my Great Aunt, the number of “greats” before an aunt or uncle’s title can make it seem that they are more distantly related than they are.  In the case of the second  diagram, he is my 3rd Great Uncle, and his sister is my 2nd Great Grandmother.

1st cousin

Cousins are where it gets a bit more complicated.  While any child of an aunt or uncle (no matter how many “greats”) is a first cousin, how far “removed” that cousin is depends on how many generations separate you.  In this example, this cousin is three times removed from me. The same person is my father’s first cousin twice removed and my children’s first cousin four times removed.


Removed cousin

Finally, what makes for a 2nd or 3rd cousin? As I mentioned above, any child of an aunt or uncle is a first cousin. That cousin’s children then become your second cousins, and their children your third cousins. The same rules of how to count the “removes” still apply, but the generational separation will have also been impacted by how many steps of cousins we are discussing.