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I Didn’t Even Know What A 4th Cousin Was, Let Alone Anyone That Had One

January 16, 2017

President Barack Obama and former President George W Bush are 11th cousins. Mr Obama is 8th cousins with former Vice President Dick Cheney. The president is also related to Texas senator Ted Cruz. They are 14th cousins. . .once removed.

A friend of mine recently announced she was leaving Facebook. Some drama had developed and she felt the best way to end it was to step away from social media. I was disappointed because she’s a relative and before Facebook, I didn’t even know she existed. Now it’s how we keep in touch. She’s my 2nd cousin, once removed.

Everyone has cousins if you go back far enough. But, that whole 1st, 2nd, 3rd deal can be confusing. And if you kick them out of your house, are they now once removed? (No, but we’ll get to that.)

I grew up with my cousins. We had birthday parties together, saw each other at Christmas, and of course we resigned to the “kids table” together at Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I figured out the people I’d been referring to as cousins were actually my 2nd cousins. It’s actually pretty simple.

We all know what a 1st cousin is. Your aunts’ and uncles’ kids. You share the same grandparents with your first cousins. If you share a greatgrandparent with someone, you are second cousins. So, if your grandmother and my grandmother were sisters, we are second cousins. Here’s a picture of me and my cousins.

The man in the chair is my great-grandfather, Tandy Blair. I’m the little kid on the floor between his feet. The girl second from the right with the blond hair is my “cousin” Kris. Actually, she’s my 2nd cousin. Her grandmother and my grandmother were sisters. Tandy was their father.

If you share the same great-grandfather, you are 2nd cousins. If you share the same great-great-grandfather, you are 3rd cousins. At this point it’s easier to switch our perspective. If Kris and I are 2nd cousins, then our kids are 3rd cousins. My friend who is leaving facebook is Kris’s daughter, Nicole. Nicole is 3rd cousin to my kids. Since Kris and I are 2nd cousins, and Nicole is one generation removed from Kris, Nicole and I are 2nd cousins, once removed.

If you have the same. . .you are . . .

parents. . . siblings
grandparents. . .1st cousins
great-grandparents . . .2nd cousins
great-great-grandarents. . .3rd cousins
great-great-great-grandparents. . .4th cousins

Nicole recently had a baby. Kris’s grandchild is two generations removed from Kris. Through the magic that is Facebook, I got to meet my 2nd cousin twice removed. If Nicole is 3rd cousin to my kids, then, Nicole’s child is 4th cousin to my grandkids. In other words, they share the same great-great-great-grandfather, Tandy Blair.

Family is important to me, and extended family is important, but I was struck, again by how much closer social media has pulled us. We look at a story saying Presidents Obama and Bush are 8th cousins and it seems like a long ways apart. And yet, I realized, I actually know people (granted, they are little people at less than 3 years old) who are 4th cousins. Suddenly the world doesn’t seem quite so large.

Note: I’ve simplified the relationship tree slightly. Technically you share the same great-grandparents as your siblings, of course. To determine your “cousin-ness” find the first common progenitor and count down from there.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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