Here's a guide to help you find the right term for all your familial ties.
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When you have a big family, it can be mind-boggling figuring out how you're related to everyone. When there are steps, seconds, greats, and grands, it's no surprise that your head will start to spin, trying to decipher your family tree. (And if you have a blended crew, things can get even more complicated.) Although there are many terms to describe how you're related to each person in your family, we have a full list to help you figure it all out. Thanks to Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for Ancestry, you can understand what each label means. Although we're not hosting big family reunions right now, it will still be great to understand this list the next time your crew gathers. Plus, there's a printable version for you to download below, so everyone can understand what it means to be a first cousin once removed.

Ethnic family laughing on living room sofa
Credit: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Nuclear Family

This is your primary family group: your mother, father, brothers, sisters, your spouse, and your children. The term usually refers to the parents (or parent) plus their dependents, which can also include step-parents, step-siblings, and adopted children. This term was first used in the early 20th century to refer to a financially viable social unit and can be used in contrast with extended family (which includes aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents).

Uncle and Aunt

These are the siblings (brothers and sisters) of your parents. It also includes their spouses. You don't need any blood connection to be a full-fledged aunt or uncle. Your mother's sister's husband is not your "uncle-in-law" just because he isn't related to you by blood. He's only your uncle, fair and square.

Nephew and Niece

Nephew is the son of your sibling, and niece is the daughter of your sibling. As with uncle and aunt, these people are not considered your "niece by marriage" or "nephew-in-law," even though they might be your spouse's sibling's kids and not related to you by blood. They are simply your niece and nephew.

The exception to the terms "aunt/uncle" and "niece/nephew" would be when DNA is being considered. If you are not related by blood to that relative (that is if your familial connection is through a spouse), you will not share DNA and therefore, might be considered in different terms, depending on the situation.

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Cousin

Your cousin (also known as first cousin, full cousin, or cousin-german) is the child of your parent's sibling. You and your first cousins share one set of grandparents. (A "cousin-german," by the way, comes from "cousin Germain," which is French for first cousin.)

Double First Cousins

Although rare in present-day, double first cousins necessitate a seat at the family diagram table, too. When a set of siblings from one family marries a set of siblings from another family, their kids are not only first cousins; they're also double first cousins. These lucky kids have both sets of grandparents in common. Double first cousins were more common in bygone eras when families lived in smaller towns and rural areas over many generations.

Second Cousins

You and the child of your parent's cousin are second cousins. The two of you share at least one set of great-grandparents in common. Think of them as first cousins, because they are in the same generation as you, but with an added generation between yourselves and your linking ancestor. Similarly, your child and your cousin's child are second cousins to each other.

Third Cousins

Following the same equation as second cousins, third cousins are cousins with two added generations between yourselves and your linking ancestors. You and the children of your parent's second cousin are third cousins, and you share at least one set of great-great-grandparents in common.

The same equation can continue for fourth cousins, fifth cousins, and so on.

First Cousin Once Removed

If your first cousin has a child, that child is your first cousin once removed. "Removed" refers to a difference in generation from you and your first cousin. You can also think of it relative to that shared set of ancestors that you share with your first cousin, which would be your grandparents.

"Removed simply means they're not in the same generation," Cowan says. If that cousin once removed has a child, then that child is your first cousin twice removed, because they are two generations removed from you and your first cousin.

This "removed" business is often confused with labeling a relative a "second" or "third" cousin, which is inaccurate. "A cousin of any degree will always be in the same generation as you," Cowan explains. "As soon as you start adding generations, like children or grandchildren of a cousin, that's when we get to once removed, twice removed, and so on." If you're still confused, you can watch this video from Ancestry for a visual explanation.

Grandaunt and Granduncle

If you call your grandpa's sister, your "great-aunt," you are not alone. But technically, this terminology is incorrect, according to experts. "Grand" refers to the generation above your parents (as in "grandparents"), though "great" implies an added generation beyond that. (Your "great-grandparents" are your grandparents' parents.) So really, your grandpa's sister should be called your "grandaunt." But don't worry, we won't fault you if you keep referring to her by the more commonly used "great-aunt," and she probably won't either.

Great-Grandaunts and Great-Granduncles

These are the siblings of your great-grandparents. The parents of your great-grandaunt are your great-great-grandparents.

In-Laws

This is your family by marriage: your spouse's parents, spouses of your siblings, and spouses of your spouse's siblings. In-laws pretty much stop with your parents-in-law and your siblings-in-law. That is, your brother's wife is an in-law, but none of her siblings are. And your husband's sister's husband is your in-law, but none of his brothers are. You are not in-laws with the parents of your sister-in-law's husband. And the two sets of parents of a couple are not in-laws to each other, either. They are considered competitive parents or co-in-laws.

Affinity Relatives

Similar to your in-laws, your affinity relatives are your spouse's blood relatives. This can include your spouse's parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

Birth Mother, Biological Mother, Natural Mother

These are terms for the biological mother of a child who has (usually) been adopted by other parents.

Collateral Relatives

These are any relatives related to you by blood but who is not a direct ancestor. So if your immediate ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, your collateral relatives are your cousins, aunts, uncles, and siblings.

Birth Parent, Biological Parents, Natural Parent

These are all terms for the parent whose DNA you have. These are often used to explain the biology of a child who is adopted, or when one parent is absent.

Adoptive Parent

This refers to a parent or set of parents who have adopted a child. Biologically, the child is not their own. It's possible to be biologically related if the adoptive parent is an aunt, uncle, cousin, or some other blood relative.

Step Relationship

A "step" connection is the result of a marriage that did not result in a blood relation to you. For example, if your father marries a woman who is not your mother, she is your step-mother. Her daughter, who is not related to you by blood, is your step-sister. Within your family tree, these relatives take on the position that any biological relative would, but without a blood relation.

This type of relationship can be applied to any family connection: step-parent, step-sibling, step-uncle, step-grandmother, and so on.

Half Relationship

When you and a sibling share one parent in common but not both, that person is your half-sibling. Similarly, your mother's half-sister is your half-aunt. Your half-sister's daughter is your half-niece. A half-cousin means that their parent is the half-sibling of your parent.

    Comments (43)

    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 10, 2020
    Great article but I will like to point out that First Cousins and Second cousins do not exist as English words. These are words coined by us. The child of your cousin is still your niece and nephew. I hope this helps. Thank you.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 10, 2020
    Great article but I will like to point out that First Cousins and Second cousins do not exist as English words. These are words coined by us. The child of your cousin is still your niece and nephew. I hope this helps. Thank you.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    March 21, 2019
    What would my dad's nephew's kids be to me, considering that the age difference between us isn't much.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    March 1, 2019
    Great article. I would like to know, if my uncle marries a woman with a daughter, is she my first cousin? Even though we are not blood relatives, or is she a step first cousin? And by law, are we relatives as it pertains to work, i.e., nepotism?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    February 21, 2019
    How is this person related to me? My mother's cousin is married to a woman. How is she related to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    January 31, 2019
    She is my half sisters fathers cousins daughter. What does that make her to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    January 14, 2019
    My aunt becomes a widow and remarries and she has children from this second marriage. Are these children my first or second cousins? Thank you
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    January 4, 2019
    How is my granfather's great-great uncle related to my grandmothers sisters grandchildren. I say they are not...only my grandma will hold a title since she married into the family, but my cousin says that all of my grandma's family will be family to my grandfathers great-great-uncle. Can someone explain this to both of us, please and thank you!
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    January 1, 2019
    If my grandfather's cousin has kids and then my grandfather's cousins daughter has children then what would that make me to those children?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    December 18, 2018
    Help! My boyfriend’s great aunt is married to my great uncle. Are we related? In longer terms, my boyfriends grandma’s sister is married to my grandfather’s brother.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    December 1, 2018
    If my cousin has a kid, what would that kid be to me
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    November 22, 2018
    What would my great grandma’s first cousin’s kid be to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    November 15, 2018
    Say you have a friend. He tells you that he has a cousin on his dad’s side that’s YOUR cousin on your mom’s side. (It’s very awkward rn) What does that make me and my friend???
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    November 14, 2018
    I have a son, and my uncle (from my mothers side) just had a son. Who are our children to each other?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    November 13, 2018
    I don’t know if this is the right place for this type of question but I don’t know who else to ask. I’ve know for years but until recently I’ve been confirmed that my parents were cousins and I really want to know if that could in any way affect my future children? And No, my partner wouldn’t be related to me. (Could you reply to this at my email? Vianneylizardi2@gmail.com for easier communication? Please and thank you!)
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    October 23, 2018
    I have a sister who is married to her third husband with kids by each husband. The kids are all married and have kids that are dating offspring from her other marriages. All of the dads are remarried. What will that make the kids own kids if they should have them to their first cousins?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    October 6, 2018
    My grandmother/grandma(my father's mother) has a brother 😂her brother has a daughter then his daughter married a man(and they have a kids)😂So what are they to me(the daughter,the husband/man and their kids)?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    September 19, 2018
    My Uncle (from Mother side) has a child named Rob. Rob has a cousin named Don (from the side of the wife of my uncle). What is my relationship with Don?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    September 14, 2018
    My dads sister is married to my 3rd cousin. What is the relationship between my dads sister and my 3rd cousin?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    September 1, 2018
    So my cousin met this girl and then he got her pregnant they have a kid together but the girl and I have been off and on for years am I wrong to be with her
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 23, 2018
    what would my mother's cousin's daughter's son be to my daughter
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 20, 2018
    This guys step dad is my uncle, what is he?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 18, 2018
    Please help... What would my 2nd cousin 3 times removed's son be to me? (None of the charts I can find go that far...)
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 16, 2018
    My moms cousin is called my “ uncle” is that what he is?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 12, 2018
    So my uncle married a woman who had kids already. One of her daughters seem's interested in but I dont know if that would be messed up to in a relationship or not? Were related by blood. I think its considered second cousin in law maybe?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 8, 2018
    What am I to my moms, sisters, daughter, dad, nephew. So what am I to my cousins dads nephew
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 26, 2018
    What is my grandma’s first cousin’ grandson to me
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 13, 2018
    What's my cousin's child to me
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 6, 2018
    What is my grandad first cousin son to me
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 3, 2018
    What is my mom's first cousins son to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    June 21, 2018
    So what am I to my father’s cousin’s son’s nephew’s former roommate?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    June 11, 2018
    I have kids with my ex-wife who Later got with my cousin and had a child. What are my children to my cousin son?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    June 11, 2018
    Help
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    June 3, 2018
    My dads aunt is going to have a son. what would he be with me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 21, 2018
    I married my uncle by marriage's nephew's first cousin. Not related by blood, but are we cousins at all? Just curious...
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 14, 2018
    Wait so what is my mother's cousin's daughter's half-brother
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 14, 2018
    Who’s my cousin’s cousin to me? Is he my second cousin?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 9, 2018
    My dad has a brother who has a wife and four kids. The wife is my aunt. She has a sister who has kids, so those kids are my cousins cousins. WHat are they actually called and are we related?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 8, 2018
    If my father’s sister marries my mother’s first cousin and they have children, what relation are they to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 8, 2018
    My mother's cousin's Grand niece would be what to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 6, 2018
    My Moms brother which is my uncle dated this girl and had a child before I was even born which she is my cousin. They were never married but they broke up. If my cousins mom sister has a kid what would that kid be to me?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 5, 2018
    My first cousins kids are having a baby what am i to them
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 2, 2018
    My moms uncle is my teachers father what is my teacher to me??