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How the Cousins Thing Works...  

One of the most common questions asked at family reunions is “how are we related?”  The answer is typically something like “3rd Cousins, Twice Removed”, and is often followed by the “huh?” and confused faces.  It’s really not that difficult.  Whether your 1st cousins, 2nd cousins, etc., is determined by how far two people are from a common ancestor. For example, two people who have a common grandparent are 1st cousins; common great-grandparent are 2nd cousins, and so on. The removed part comes in if the two people you are relating have a common ancestor, but are of different generations descended from that ancestor.  For example, two people have a common ancestor - for one it’s their grandfather, and for the other it’s their great-grandfather.  These two would be 1st cousins, once removed - the 1st cousins because the common ancestor is the grandparent, but once removed because for one of the persons, it’s their great-grandparent, i.e. they are one more generation away.  For a nice visual explanation of how the cousins thing works, check out the following two charts.

Wikipedia Canon Relationship Chart

Family Tree Magazine Relationship Chart


The Italian Naming Tradition...

Here’s how it works:  A couple’s first male child is named after the paternal grandfather.  The second male child is named after the maternal grandfather.  And likewise, the first and second daughters are named for their paternal and maternal grandmothers, respectively.  Any further children (male or female) born after these could be named anything the parents wanted (i.e. free choice), but were often named after other (favorite) relatives - aunts, uncles, etc.  Italians would stick to this tradition, even if a child died. For example, the first male child gets named after the paternal grandfather, the second after the maternal grandfather.  If one of these two children died young, and the couple had another male child, that child would be also be named after the particular grandfather, and would result in a given family potentially having given birth to multiple children with the same name.  One major unintended consequence of this tradition is that if several siblings of two parent all have children, then first two male and female children of each sibling would all be named after their (same) grandparents.  This resulted in many, many first cousins having the identical names, no doubt somewhat confusing for these kids, and quite challenging for us genealogists.

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