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When is your great uncle not really your great uncle?

Last time we talked about the three most common ways to determine kinship (consanguinity) between two people. This week we will look at some terms used in this process that seem to give people trouble.

Most people refer to their father's uncle as their "great" uncle. This term is incorrect. The correct designation is granduncle. The proper progression is uncle, granduncle, great-granduncle, second great-granduncle, third great-granduncle and so forth. You also have aunt, grandaunt, great-grandaunt, second great grandaunt etc. It follows the same ancestor pattern as father, grandfather, great-grandfather, second great-grandfather. It also works in the reverse. You have a niece, grandniece and great-grandniece and second great-grandniece. This follows the descendant pattern of son, grandson, great-grandson, second great-grandson and third great-grandson.

A couple of other interesting terms you might come across are Cross cousins, parallel cousins and double cousins. Cross cousins are the children of a brother and a sister. Parallel cousins are the children of two brothers or two sisters. When two siblings in one family marry two siblings in another family their children will be double first cousins.

An in-law relationship forms when an outsider marries into a family. The outsider is an in-law to the family members, except to the one he/she married. The outsider also refers to the family members as in-laws (again, except to the one he/she married). There is no blood relationship between the two people. The only in-law relationships are mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law and daughter-in-law. Although I affectionately refer to my husband's first cousin as my cousin-in-law, the correct designation is "first cousin of the husband."

A half relationship is when two people share either a mother or a father but not both. You have half brothers and half sisters. If your half brother has a child then that child would be your half nephew or half niece. If the half nephew had a child then that child would be your half grandnephew. You can also go the other way and have half uncles, half granduncles, half cousins and so on.

In genealogy we do not use the term "step." My stepdaughter is correctly referred to as "the daughter of the husband." You can also have grandson of the husband as well as something as strange as half second cousin twice removed of the husband.

It gets interesting when you have two people who are related to each other in more than one way. This was (and in some cases still is) prevalent in secluded rural areas where there weren't too many people to chose from to marry. When recording the kinship of two people you should list all of their relationships.

There was a time in history when these designations were very important in deciding who inherited what title (along with money and land) as well as who could marry whom. Even though we are not as concerned about these things now, (at least not in the US), charting consanguinity relationships still has a place in modern genealogy.

Web posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004

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