Who Are You, And How Are You Related To...Kinship Confusion A The Holiday Table!

Who are you?

I consider myself blessed by having a small, close family. I always knew who my cousins were, and it was relatively easy to figure out how the dinner guests were related.

However, at holiday time, you may find yourself an international guest at a festive extended family dinner, and be utterly confused by how all of these cousins and assorted relatives are related. When several generations of families gather to share traditions and make wonderful memories, the terms used to connect these people can be complicated and confusing. How can you figure out all of these relationships using Old English terminology?

1. The "cousin" designation is used if you and the other person share a common ancestor. If you both share a common ancestor by one generation, you are "first cousins."  Therefore, your aunt and uncle's children are your first cousins, because you are all one generation removed from your grandparents.

2. The "Second Cousin" designation is used when there is a minimum of two generations between the common ancestor and the cousin, and you and the cousin are equally separated from the common ancestor by the same number of generations. 

For example, If you have a child, and your cousin has a child, both children are separated from the common ancestor (your grandmother) by two generations, sothe children would be second cousins.

3. However, if there is a difference between how many generations you and your cousin are separated from the common ancestor, you need to use the "removed" designation. You need to count how many generations are needed to close the gap between the person who is closer in generations to the common ancestor. This becomes the "degree of removal." So, if your cousin is two generations closer to the common ancestor than you are, you are second cousins, twice removed. 

You need to remember that age has nothing to do with the degree of removal, it is the distance from the common ancestor!

Different cultures use different terms to describe familial relationships.

Some, like the Hawaiian system, are very simple and don't differentiate between siblings and cousins. Others, like the Chinese system, are very specific and complex. There are more than eight ways to interpret the word cousin, based on gender, age, relationship to the mother or father's side of the family, etc.

Now I understand why my husband's family would just call close family friends "aunt," or "uncle," and why my first cousin's husband (what should I really call him?) refers to everyone at his huge Thanksgiving table, simply as "Cuz."  

It's enough to make your head spin, even before the drinks are served!