A family tree is an excellent visual tool for exploring your family genealogy. Whether you are retracing your heritage for a school project or wanting to learn more about your family, researching your family tree history can help you uncover a deeper understanding of who you are and where you came from. But what is a family tree? How does a family tree work? What is the terminology of family trees based on? And how does this intricate tapestry of lineage weave together past, present, and future moments to provide a comprehensive understanding of your familial connections?
Despite the seemingly simple concept of the family tree, there are specific genealogy and kinship terms that can be confusing to understand when starting your family tree research. With that in mind, we’re sharing this guide that aims to explain family tree terms, elucidate various family tree relationships, and assist you in discovering how to create a family tree of your own. Continue reading for more on family trees, explained easily and comprehensively.
Affinal v. Consanguine
When attempting to build anything other than your immediate family tree, you will inevitably run into some new terminology. “Affinal” and “consanguinity” are the two most important of these often-unfamiliar genealogy terms. Understanding their definitions is a critical part of having family trees explained, as they will take you down two very different paths.
- An affinal relationship is a kinship term meaning “by marriage.” On any family tree, an affinal relationship is signified by the term “in law.”
- Consanguinity is translated directly as “of the same blood,” or in other words, a blood relation. Your parents, (great) grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and cousins of various degrees are all a part of your consanguine family tree.
When exploring your extended family tree history, it is important to make the distinction between those to whom you are bound by marriage and those to whom you are bound by blood. The rest of this guide will exclusively explore the blood relationships. However, you can just as easily apply many of the kinship terms used for blood relations to your spouse or partner by adding “in law” as a suffix to their title.
Genealogy Terms: The Great, Grand, and the Great-Great Grand
When constructing your family tree, it is essential that you consider the irreplaceable roots without which you would not exist: your parents, their parents, and their parents’ parents. Your grandparents can be the key to correctly placing your uncles, aunts and their children (your first cousins) into your ancestor tree.
Great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents are often harder to trace, connect, and find a record of, as there are many branches of cousins that emanate from them. A great-grandparent is the parent of your grandparent and a great-great-grandparent is the parent of your great-grandparent.
Generations before great-great usually go by numerical terminology. For example: third great-grandparent, fourth great-grandparent, and so on. Using this terminology avoids an extended repetition of “great-great-great-.”
The generation gaps that exist between great-grandparents (and beyond) and ourselves can often lead to a loss of information and family records. As such, tracing these relatives can help you find other ancestors and expand the branches of your family tree. You can then gain a new perspective on your family trees, explained with an emphasis on the historical context and events that shaped their lives.
Cousin Kinship Terms: Degrees and Removed
During family gatherings and your research, you may have heard the phrase “third cousin twice removed” and marveled that anyone could possess such a relation. It’s quite common to have third cousins twice removed, not to mention a whole slurry of other seemingly impossible family tree relationships.
Degrees of Cousins
There are a few degrees of relationships with your various cousins to know when it comes to your family tree:
- First cousins: those who have the same grandparents as you but are not your siblings.
- Second cousins: those who only have the same great-grandparents as you.
- Third cousins: those who only have the same great-great-grandparents as you.
The term “removed” is a signifier of how many generations apart you are from that specific cousin. For example, your second cousin twice removed is the grandchild of your second cousin, as they are removed from you by two generations. If they were the son or daughter of your second cousin, they would be once removed. Understanding this fundamental principle is essential in ensuring a clear comprehension of family trees explained straightforwardly.
Table of Consanguinity
While understanding and tracing all these relationships can be confusing, a table of consanguinity exists to save us all from the headache of counting our family tree relationships out. The table helps to take you step-by-step through your relatives, from your great-grandparents to your great-grandchildren and everyone in between. Establishing how everyone is connected can help you learn more about your ancestors and trace the different families in your family tree.
What’s Next? Build Your Family Tree!
A family tree can go back many generations and expand across many related families. However, tracing every relative and their records to help fill in all the details can be difficult. Memories fade, family records are lost, and stories are forgotten. After collecting as much information from your relatives as you can, use online genealogical resources to help you learn more. These resources can help discover new details about your family tree, explained in a compelling narrative, using external sources that trace back generations.
Local newspapers published countless stories about the people in their communities. Many newspaper articles are the only remaining record of an ancestor. Use GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to research and get to know the people behind the names on your family tree. You can use those records to create a more thorough family tree by name, giving you access to more fact sources and providing more context about the often fascinating history of your side of the family. This can extend your knowledge beyond what a person is named, when they’re born, or the order of succession.