Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Naming Relationships

Have you ever noticed that there are several ways to write how two people are related?  The easiest and most direct relationship to name is mother or father but as we go further back relationships become more complicated -- sometimes unclear and/or unspecific.  Some ways lack clarity;  other ways may be more clear but are down-right complicated. 

Here are some examples of various ways to say the same relationship:

My grandfather is
> my mother's father
> my father's father
This relationship is easy to clarify by indicating maternal or paternal grandfather.

My maternal great-grandmother (of which I have two) is
> my mother's maternal grandmother
> my mother's paternal grandmother
> my maternal grandmother's mother
> my maternal grandfather's mother

My brother-in-law can be
> my husband's brother
> my sister's husband
> my husband's sister's husband

My paternal great-grandfather is
> my father's paternal grandfather
> my father's maternal grandfather

My grandaunt (which I always wrongly called a great aunt) is
> my mother's aunt (on her mother's or father's side)
> my father's aunt (on his mother's or father's side)
> my grandmother's sister
> my grandfather's sister
> my mother's mother's sister
> my father's mother's sister

By the time one begins talking about great granduncle there's trouble in store for describing that relationship easily.  Not even the simple maternal or paternal adjective helps since a great granduncle is the son of one's great-great-grandparents, of which there are four couples.  Maternal or paternal on the parents' side; then maternal or paternal on the great-grandparents' side?  Clearly, it's fuzzy territory when trying to be clear.

I sometimes find it challenging to concisely state a relationship for a blog post.  I believe I have relatives who read my posts and may go away scratching their heads in a state of uncertainty, wondering exactly how they are related to the ancestor they just read about.

Can you think of other confusing relationships that are difficult to write clearly?  Do you have a system for choosing how you write relationships in your blog posts?


Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I'm not consistent. When I'm thinking about it, I do write "my maternal grandfather" or "my father's paternal grandmother." When it gets too complicated, I'll ignore it and say something generic like "third cousin once removed on my father's side." I have read other blogs in which the blogger is clearly wrong in saying "my maternal great-great grandmother" because as you pointed out, there are several possibilities, but I know the blogger means it's someone in their mother's line. As for great vs grand, I grew up hearing "great aunt," but I try to remember to write "grand aunt" even though it still sounds funny to me.

    1. I guess the more distant the relationship the less inclined we may be to clarify the exact line. I suppose, if cousins find our blogs and have questions, they can always contact us for clarification, right? Grand aunt sounds strange to me too, Wendy, but in thinking about it, it really makes sense because it is the sister of a grandmother -- so "grand" aunt, "grand" mother.

  2. Oh dear I've not considered this yet - what a lot there is to learn! I'm glad you pointed it out though as at least I can give it some consideration before making too many mistakes. Have a grand or should that be great week!

    1. Thanks, Barbara. I don't think it matters about grand or great when we're talking about weeks. And I suppose most people would guess that you're referring about the same person when you talk about your great aunt or your grand aunt.

      This post came about when I was thinking about how I could easily explain a relationship more distant than grandparent and I realized there are several ways to name the same relationship. I suppose it's most important to relatives reading our blogs and less important to others. Take care.

  3. I have had to get used to speaking about these relationships because I have a very close extended family on my father's side. (350 people at the last family reunion!) There were 12 children in my father's family and he was fairly close in age to some of his oldest cousins. Many of the family lived in the same area or visited frequently and it has always been a challenge to try to explain the strict relationship everyone shares. This is a close family and there are some expectations that we know who everyone is! It keeps getting harder and harder to keep track. I think it is very hard to describe the "cousin" relationships, adding the "once removed" or "second or third cousins." We have two family facebook pages that are very active. We mostly just call each other "aunt" and "cousin" and then sneak a look at the pedigree to get the real relationship. Although I had to learn early how to add the "once removed," etc., my own children grew up mostly away from this family and get completely confused. Nate once was considering starting a relationship with a pretty young girl at college, until he visited her home and recognized the name of a great aunt who had written to him on his mission and turned out to be this unknown second cousin's grandmother. A big splash of cold water on that relationship, but at least they both found family! ;o)

    1. That's amazing, Kathleen! It's hard to imagine such a large living family all meeting together at the same time. Coordinating the event must be a huge undertaking. I suppose one could study the tree before the reunion or carry a cheat sheet. What a surprise for Nate (and probably for the girl, too) to learn that he was about to date a second cousin.

  4. Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-17.html

    Have a great weekend!


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