Shirley Hornbeck's This and That Genealogy Tips on Relationships

Relationships sometimes had different meanings then they do today. Conclusions about the relationship between any two people must rest on a preponderance of all the available evidence. Here are some relationships that you will probably run into sooner or later in your genealogy research:

The use of two surnames, joined by the word "alias" in early American records usually indicates an illegitimate birth and that the person has joined the surname of his reputed father to that of his mother. However, there were other reasons for the adoption of two surnames. Sometimes when children inherited through their mother, they used both the father's and the mother's names. Sometimes the name of the natural father, who had died, was joined to that of a stepfather. In case of adoption, the original name and the name of the adoptive parent were sometimes used together.

The term "brother" could indicate any one of the following relationships by blood or marriage: 1) the husband of one's sister, 2) the brother of one's wife, 3) the husband of one's sister-in-law, 4) a half-brother, or 5) a stepbrother.

Cousins Once Removed:
Cousinships have to do for persons in the same generation: 1st cousins have the same grandparents; 2nd cousins have the same great grandparents; 3rd cousins have the same great great grandparents. Now for the sticky part, the "removed" part, namely the generational differences. For example: My first cousin's children are removed a generation from me, hence are my "first cousins once removed." My first cousin's grandchildren are removed two generations from me, hence are my "first cousins twice removed." Keep in mind, when the word "removed" is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations.

The term "cousin" was once used generally to indicate almost any degree of relationship by blood or marriage outside the immediate family. In early New England the term was sometimes used to refer to a nephew or niece.

First Cousin:
Your first cousins are the people in your family who have two of the same grandparents as you. In other words, they are the children of your aunts and uncles.

Second Cousin:
Your second cousins are the people in your family who share one set of the same great-grandparents with you.

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Cousins:
Third, Fourth, and Fifth Cousins. Your third cousins share one set of great-great-grandparents, fourth cousins share one set of great-great-great-grandparents, and so on.

Great and Grand:
The sister/brother of your GREAT grand parent is your GREAT grand aunt/uncle. The sister/brother of your grand parent is your grand aunt/uncle. Technically, there is no such thing as a GREAT aunt/uncle.

The terms "father-in-law," "mother-in-law," "son-in-law," and "daughter-in-law" have always indicated a relationship by marriage rather than by blood. When you find these terms in early American records, they may have the same meanings we give them today. But they may also have very different meanings. "Father-in-law," and "mother-in-law," may refer to a step-parent and "son-in-law" and "daughter-in-law" may refer to a step-child. The terms "brother-in-law" and "sister-in-law" are more likely to have the same meanings we give them today.

The term nephew derives from the Latin "Nepos" meaning grandson. Occasionally an early will refers to the testators grandchildren, both males and females as "nephews." However, for the most part the term was used as it is today to mean the son of a brother or sister and occasionally, the daughter of a brother or sister.

"Natural" Son:
When the term "natural" son is used the researcher should not jump to the conclusion that it denotes an illegitimate relationship. What it always indicates is a relationship by blood as distinguished from a relationship by marriage or adoption. In seventeenth century English wills, it was more common to refer to an illegitimate child as "my base son" or "my bastard son."

"Now" wife:
When this term is used in a will, it is often assumed that the testator had a former wife. This may be true but is not necessarily so unless he refers to children by a first wife and children by his "present" or "now" wife. When the term is used without reference to children, it more usually means the testator is indicating that the bequest is intended only for his present wife and should not go to any subsequent wife he may have.

Prior to the nineteenth century, do not assume that the use of the terms SR and JR refers to a father and son. The relationship could have been that of an uncle and nephew or of cousins. Before the use of middle names, it was not uncommon to have two or more men in a family with identical names. The older man was known as Senior and the younger as Junior. A still younger person of the name might use "III" following his name. It is important for the researcher to keep in mind that a man known in his younger years as William Smith, Jr. may have been known as William Smith, Sr. after the death of the older man.

First cousins share common grandparents.
Second cousins share great grandparents.
Third cousins share great-great-grandparents.
Fourth cousins share g-g-g-grandparents

The "once-removed", etc. occurs when two individuals differ in the number of generations from the common ancestor. If the great-grandparents of one individual is the great-great-grandparent of the second individual, the two are Second Cousins, Once-Removed.

To calculate the relationship, find the closest common ancestor. Determine the degree of "cousinship" from the above table or a continuation of it. Determine the number of generations that the more distant individual is further removed from the common ancestor. This is the number of "Times Removed".

Example 2: An individual's 4g-grandparent is the second individual's 6g-grandparents. They are Fifth Cousins, (share 4g-gp), Twice-Removed (6g-gp -- 4 g-gp).

Genealogies which number individuals using the Modified Henry System, permit calculating the relationship directly from the individual's numbers. In the Modified Henry System, each individual's number represents his family line in the family being discussed. The number of digits is the number of generations from the first listed ancestor. The value of a digit represents the birth order, (when known), with a, b, c, etc. representing children 10, 11, 12 (for larger families). Letters at the end of the alphabet may be used when birth-order is unknown. A "." is often used to provide a break every 5 generations to aid in counting.

Example: Two individual's # 143a6.84 and 14358.1246. They share the first three generations (to 143). # 143 is the 2g=gp of the older individual and the 4g-gp of the second individual. This makes them Third Cousins, Twice-Removed.

Pick two people in your family and figure out which ancestor they have in common. For example, if you chose yourself and a cousin, you would have a grandparent in common.
  • Look at the top row of the chart and find the first person's relationship to the common ancestor.
  • Look at the far left column of the chart and find the second person's relationship to the common ancestor.
  • Determine where the row and column containing those two relationships meet.

    Be sure to print out my relationship chart - see THIS AND THAT RELATIONSHIP CHART.

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