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Ortho-Cousin: The children of two brothers or two sisters.

Cross-Cousin: The children of a brother and a sister.

Step Mother/Father/Brother/Sister: There are essentially two kinds of relationships: blood relationships and relationships based on marriage. The Family Tree Relationship Chart is based on blood relationships. Relationships based on marriage are called step relationships. Step relationships follow the same naming pattern and methodology as blood relationships. Thus, there is a step-mother, a step-father, a step-brother and a step-sister. The only difference in naming patterns for step relationships is that they rarely go beyond the immediate family.

Half Sibling: When two children share either the same biological mother or the same biological father (but not both). Half siblings often arise when someone remarries and has children from a previous marriage. If the two parents in the remarriage have a child, the relationship between this child and the children from the previous marriage would be a half sibling. Half siblings refer to each other as half brother or half sister.

Half Cousin: When half brothers or half sisters have children, their offspring refer to each other as half cousins.

Cousin-in-law: The cousin of a spouse. This would be a wife’s cousin or a husband’s cousin.

Kissing Cousin: This is an honorary title. Kissing cousins often come about when two unrelated families are close to each other. The children of the parents in this situation would sometimes be referred to as kissing cousins. The term refers to the fact the two “cousins” (who are not related by blood or marriage) are close enough that they kiss each other when they greet.

Godparent: Historically, this was a person who sponsored a child’s baptism. Sometimes the godparent was a relative and sometimes the godparent was a close friend. Usually, the godparent took a role in the child’s upbringing.


Some Caveats

Here are some things to look out for that can trip people up:

• It is possible for people to be related in more than one way. This can occur for example if there is intermarriage within a family (common with royal families, for an extreme case of a twisted family tree see the article Inbreeding of Spanish Royalty) or if there are multiple marriage points across two unrelated families.

• When looking through old family letters, diaries and other correspondence, beware of how the term “cousin” is used between two people. Often, the word cousin was generously used for anyone in the extended family beyond immediate siblings. For example, a second cousin might be referred to simply as “cousin”. Or an aunt and niece might refer to each other as cousins, especially if the aunt was close in age to the niece. Or it could simply be a kissing cousin.

• People referred to as an “aunt” or “uncle” may not be blood relatives or step relatives. They could in fact be godparents or simply just good friends of the parents.

Further Resources

Ten Effective Strategies for Building a Family Tree

Why Obituaries Contain Hidden Family Trees

Common Genealogy Mistakes

Why Genealogy is Important

Getting Started Researching Your Family History

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