Published in Genealogy Today (used with permission)
Establishing relationships can be confusing, especially when it comes to cousins. People typically have confused ideas about what constitutes a second or third cousin, and when somebody throws in the phrase, “times removed,” the task can just seem too complex to deal with. This is where kinship (or relationship) charts come in. Kinship charts cross-reference relationships stemming from a common ancestor. Thus, one can move horizontally across the chart to find their own relationship (or another person’s) to a common ancestor and then move vertically down the chart to find the other person’s relationship to the same common ancestor; where the two columns come together the relationship is identified.
In a kinship chart, the phrase “times removed,” indicates the number of times (or number of generations) one is removed from the direct cousin relationship. For example, the child of your first cousin is your first cousin once removed. The child of your first cousin, once removed is your first cousin, twice removed, and so on. They are all your first cousins, just separated by a certain number of generations.
So what then is a second cousin? The children of cousins are second cousins to each other, and the children of second cousins are third cousins to each other, and so on. In other words, you have a different relationship (“times removed”) to your cousin’s children than do your children (2nd, 3rd, etc.). Relative to the common ancestor, these children . . . and you, are grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and 2nd great-grandchildren, respectively, as is indicated on the kinship chart.
Because of all this complexity, we tend to think of any cousin relationships beyond second cousins simply as “distant cousins.” Distant cousins are important in genealogy because different parts of the family may have different pieces to the puzzles; coming together, they can fit the pieces together. And when you want to pin down your relationship exactly, the kinship chart comes into play.
One final note, “times removed” refers only to cousin relationships. Your relationship to aunts and uncles is like that of grandparents: great-uncle, 2nd great-uncle, etc., never “times removed.”