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Here at the Genealogy and Family History Stack Exchange we see many questions about relationship mapping which is also known as:

  • relationship calculation
  • kinship terminology
  • etc

If you are just trying to understand how to calculate "cousins and removes" then How to determine relationship with a cousin? provides an excellent guide.

However, if you are seeking an English term for a more complicated relationship between two members of an extended family, rather than asking a question like:

site users are encouraged to first review the answers below.


Note: This Q&A arises from On- and off-topic questions: kinship terms / relationship questions and is set to Community Wiki to help make it canonical.

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The determination of relationship terms -- what is X called -- is a task best suited to linguists and anthropologists, who ask informants to describe what is happening in their own culture. Software exists to help in collecting these terms, and matching them against known libraries of kinship terms in other cultures -- one such tool is SIL's SILKin.

It is far more likely that hobbyist family historians and genealogists will be performing the opposite task -- finding a relationship term in a document and having to puzzle out what relationship was meant. In that case, it is important to remember that the meaning of kinship terms -- like the meaning of all words -- changes over time, and also varies depending on geographical location.

Calling someone "uncle" or "aunt" in the southern United States might not indicate a person is a blood relative -- it could be a courtesy title for a trusted family friend, used by a younger person to address an elder. The word "uncle" had a different meaning in colonial America -- for references see the links in my answer to the question Familial Terminology in Colonial America.

If you are a native speaker of English, and you have to ask someone else what the English relationship term for a particular relationship is, the answer may be that there is no special term. As AdrianB38 says in his comment on the question, your father's step-father is your father's step-father. There may not be any specialized term for the relationship, and even if such a term did exist, you might not wish to use it.

Someone who is close to his father's step-father may simply say "my grandfather", but someone else who doesn't want to be inclusive may say "my grandmother's second husband" or "that person my father's mother married" (or some variant which is even less polite). In a blended family, insisting on being ultra-precise about one's relationship to a person in your family (always calling someone your "half-sister" instead of "my sister", or saying "my stepbrother's son" instead of simply saying "my nephew") might be considered dismissive and rude.

For the standard "cousin / removed" terminology which is commonly found in genealogy, there are many charts and relationship calculators available like the one on Steve Morse's One-Step Web pages referred to in the other answer. The principle is to find the common ancestor between you and your relative, then work your way downward to determine how many levels are involved. The "removed" reference means that you and your cousin are on different levels, that is, not of the same number of generations away from the common ancestor.

The answer to the question, "Are we related -- and if so, what is the relationship called?" might differ greatly between the social sphere and the legal one. If a legal matter of inheritance is involved, it is best to consult a lawyer; for the precise term for a complicated relationship, consult a professional genealogist. For one professional's perspective, see the article by Elizabeth Shown Mills linked to below.

Further reading:

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As can be seen from many earlier Q&As here, the Relationship Calculator of Stephen P. Morse, is an easy to use tool for this purpose and has either been applied to, or could be applied to, these questions:

Conversely, the tool and the question depend on two assumptions, viz:

  • That there is a name for the relationship being asked about;
  • That the name of the relationship is useful because it defines a specific relationship and not several others;

It can be argued that (for instance) the step-father of your father is just called "the step-father of your father". So far as I can see, there isn't a name (in English - other languages may differ) for this relationship - it can only be described.

The Stephen P Morse Relationship Calculator gives the same term ["step grandfather"] for "father of my step-father" [entered as "mother's husband's father"] as for "step-father of my father" [entered as "father's mother's husband"]. Arguably this means the term is often ambiguous. To avoid lack of clarity, we should encourage people to describe the relationship, and not use a misleading name.

Another example is that your wife's brother-in-law is just called "your wife's brother-in-law".

A FindMypast blog which may be of interest is Kinship Terminology Explained (or How to Know What to Call Distant Relatives).

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