Is There Any Such Thing as a Half-Cousin?

One of my pet peeves is a term that I see online over and over: someone claiming to be a “half first cousin” or a “half second cousin once removed” or something similar. Sorry folks, but there is no such thing as a “half first cousin” according to legal dictionaries. However, the term is used by others. I know that lots of families use that term to refer to various relatives.

NOTE: I will describe references used in the U.S. It is possible that relations are described differently in other countries and especially in languages other than English.

Many people think that a “half first cousin” is someone who shares one grandparent with you but not both of them. For instance, my great-grandfather was married twice. He had several children by his first wife. The wife then died in childbirth, and great-grandfather later remarried and had more children by his second wife. I am descended from great-grandfather and his first wife. I recently met a man who is descended from my great-grandfather and his second wife. Some people would think that this other man and I are half-second cousins. “Half” apparently refers to the fact that we share only half the relationship because of our different great-grandmothers.

In fact, we are second cousins. Period.

In the United States, the standard reference for defining family relationships is Black’s Law Dictionary. It is primarily a legal reference and is used by courts, lawyers, genealogical organizations, and many others.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines first cousins as:

“The children of one’s aunt or uncle.” Note that it says “aunt OR uncle,” not aunt and uncle. All that is required is to share one aunt or one uncle, not both.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines second cousins as:

“Persons who are related to each other by descending from the same great-grandfather or great-grandmother.” Note that it says “the same great-grandfather OR great-grandmother,” it does not say BOTH great-grandparents. Second cousins need to share only one great-grandparent. If they share both great-grandparents, the relationship doesn’t change; they are still second cousins.

Source citation: you can see an image of the appropriate page from Black’s Law Dictionary at http://blacks.worldfreemansociety.org/2/C/c0293.jpg. That image is from an old version of Black’s Law Dictionary but the definition hasn’t changed since then.

Canon law (religious law, usually referring to the Catholic church, but other religions also have rules that may be referred to as Canon law) agrees with Black’s legal definitions.

However, not all the experts agree. Elizabeth Shown Mills has tackled the problem in an article published in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, June 2005 in Navigating the Kinship Maze. She points out that the term “half cousin” does not appear in legal dictionaries but is commonly used by geneticists and others. Elizabeth doesn’t make any claims as to what is correct or incorrect. Instead, she describes the use of the word by different groups, including legal, forensic, genetic, anthropological, and religious perspectives. She also adds in some words found in legal documents but not commonly found in genealogy, including cognatic descent, and cousin german (which has nothing to do with Germany).

All of these sources seem to agree on one thing: the terms great-uncle and grand-uncle are interchangeable. The only difference is local usage.

If anyone is interested in learning more about relationships, I strongly suggest reading Elizabeth Shown Mills’ article, Navigating the Kinship Maze, available in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, June 2005 at http://historicpathways.com/download/navkinmaze.pdf.

85 Comments

Half-cousin is a well-recognized concept in both genetics and anthropology. Half-cousins have a different degree of genetic relationship than do full cousins. Many cultures recognize this by employing different customs for half- and full cousins. To pretend otherwise is scientifically obtuse and culturally myopic.
http://www.genetic-genealogy.co.uk/Toc115570138.html
https://books.google.com/books?id=AkI6AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA61&dq=%22half+cousin%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=r1zAVPqUINaSsQT2rIHoDw&ved=0CDUQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=%22half%20cousin%22&f=false
https://books.google.com/books?id=-MePmpbndaoC&pg=PA48&dq=%22half+cousin%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2VzAVLT8OZbfsASgtoDgDg&ved=0CFEQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=%22half%20cousin%22&f=false

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My Legacy software by Millenia shows “half cousin” status in its relationship calculator.

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As you say Dick, Black’s definition is from “an old version, but the definition hasn’t changed since then”.

I think this is a case of the law not keeping up with reality.

With the increasing use of DNA in genealogy, it is patently absurd to regard the grandchildren of grandpa and his first wife as “first cousin, period” to the grandchildren of grandpa and his second wife.

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Family Tree Maker uses “Half first cousin” and “Half first cousin 1x removed”, etc. Personally, I find these distinctions very helpful in matters of genealogy.

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The distinction makes a big difference in genetic genealogy. Cousins who share both grandparents share twice as much DNA (on the average) as cousins who share only one grandparent.

The context is important — and what constitutes a first cousin for the purpose of inheritance is a legal point that may not apply in other domains. BTW, it makes no sense to talk about aunt AND uncle.in discussing Black’s definition of first cousin. That sounds like incest!

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    the children of your aunt and uncle doesn’t have to be the result of incest, there are double cousins which are the children of your aunt on one side your uncle on the other side of your family

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While in the area of relationships, Dick, does your legal guide have a view on the concept of half brothers and sisters, step brothers and sisters?

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    As I understand it:
    Half siblings are biologically related. Step siblings are not biologically related.

    It can create some tangled pedigree lines. For instance, my ancestor, Desire Doty (daughter of Edward Doty of the Mayflower) married three times and had children by all three men: Wm Sherman, Israel Holmes, and Alexander Standish. One of her daughters by her first marriage married one of the sons of her third husband by his first marriage. The offspring had no biological relation to each other, but they were technically step-siblings.

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    That would be my understanding as well, Bev. I was just wondering what Dick’s legal guru would make of it, in view of his failure to recognise what we would call a half-cousin.
    As for more complicated permutations I guess there is no end to the possibilities. Reminds me of an old comedy song called “I’m my own Grandpa”.

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Perhaps there are differences in American English and British English but the term “half-cousin” is a legitimate word and is recognised by the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary. A half-cousin is defined as “The child of one’s father’s or mother’s cousin”. See: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/83431 The terms half first cousin, half second cousin are commonly used in genealogy and in genetic genealogy and have very precise and useful meanings. Genealogical definitions are defined by genealogists not lawyers. Elizabeth Shown Mills excellent article serves as a very useful benchmark. Thank you for sharing it.

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Assuming “half-cousin” terminology to be correct, consider the children of identical twins. Normally the children would be first cousins of each other. Genetically speaking however are they not the same as step-brothers/sisters? Thus their children would not be second cousins but rather 1 and 1/2 cousins?

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    Genetically, wouldn’t children of identical twins be full siblings as well as first cousins?

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    In an article about identical twin brothers who married identical twin sisters it was stated that since both men had identical DNA and both women also had identical DNA, although all the children of one couple were legally cousins to the children of the other couple, the genetic relationship of all of the children of both couples to each other was that of brothers and sisters. It didn’t matter which set of parents they were born to, because 100% of the pool from which their own DNA was drawn was identical. As Elizabeth Shown Mills points out in the excellent article Dick has mentioned above (many thanks, Dick), it is necessary to be sensitive to the purpose for which our genealogical research is going to be used.

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    I know that CeCe Moore refers to the children of 2 sisters marrying 2 brothers as “double first cousins.”

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That second article is is awesome. It certainly puts the kibosh on a certain someone who is trying to make a buck off claiming he’s related to everyone without bothering to find those connections.

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Debbie, you make an interesting point regarding US English v. English English. The OED definition of a half-cousin in full says “The child of one’s father’s or mother’s cousin; a second cousin. Sometimes applied to the child of one’s own cousin, or to the cousin of one’s father or mother.

So in current genealogical parlance, the OED considers a second cousin and a first cousin once removed to be the same thing! Oh dear.

To be fair, the OED tries to record usage as well as definition, and the word “sometimes” is the giveaway. I think they are saying that common usage (surely among non-genealogists!) considers the two to be the same.

In any case, this is not the same as the half-cousinship under discussion. It seems that both Black and the OED need updating for the 21st century.

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Sorry, Dick, but you are absolutely wrong.
The legal definition of cousin has its roots in inheritance law where one is identifed with a marker as to your rights to an inheritance of assets FROM A SINGLE PERSON who has died.
Genealogy concerns itself with how we are descended FROM AN ANCESTRAL COUPLE.
Black’s Legal Dictionary definition has absolutely NOTHING to do with genealogy’s description of relationships,
Children of half-siblings are HALF-COUSINS. They only share ONE-HALF of an ancestral couple, not a whole couple. They only share HALF the blood that a full cousin does.
I suggest you reconsider your position.

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    This appears to be one of the best and most appropriate comments. – why the legal definition of a cousin can differ from a genealogical one. If the term ‘half-brother’ or half-sister’ is appropriate, and accurate, why not half-cousin’? I don’t usually disagree with Dick, but this time I think “Ris” hit the nail on the head.

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    I also think Ris hit the nail on the head. If I stopped using “half-cousin” and “double-cousin” in my notes I would soon lose track of some very complicated relationships. The legal definitions don’t concern me but the genealogical ones do.
    My grandfather “A” married my grandmother “B” while “A”‘s sister (“D”) married “B”‘s brother (“C”). “B” later died and “A” remarried “E” and had more children. Now you explain how to describe who is related to who without resorting to “double-cousin” and “half-cousin”.
    To complicate things further, there are also identical twins — who fathered identical twins!

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    The article by Elizabeth Shown Mills addresses this. She points out that terminology differs among various legal, scientific and cultural disciplines and has changed over time, so that it is necessary for genealogists to be aware of the differences, especially as they relate to the purposes for which our own research may be used.

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    Dicks isn’t wrong. It’s your interpretation of his words that are wrong. The child of your aunt or uncle is your first cousin. If dicks said aunt “and” uncle it could imply incest or double cousins, however to say the child of your aunt “or” uncle implys a child in and out of wedlock. If your aunt or uncle has a child with someone they werent married to that child would still be your first cousin but that person wouldn’t automatically be your new aunt or uncle. Now If your aunt or uncle married that person then and only then would they become your aunt or uncle. But regardless that child is your first cousin.

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    If they only share a single grandparent, they would be a half first cousin as the aunt or uncle you are mentioning in your comment would be a half sibling to your parent, and therefore only a half aunt or half uncle to yourself. In turn, their child would be your half first cousin. -Genetic Genealogist

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John, I agree that the other OED definitions are confusing. Also they do not cite examples to support their alternative definitions. You can actually provide feedback to the OED and provide examples of alternative explanations or citations which predate their earliest references. The OED entry for half-cousin certainly needs updating and supporting with proper citations. Perhaps the article by Elizabeth Shown Mills could be shared with them.

As a side note many of the definitions and citations in the OED were provided by a convicted murder and prisoner at Broadmoor Hospital. His story is told in the fascinating book by Simon Winchester “The Surgeon of Crowthorne”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Surgeon_of_Crowthorne

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Around here we have a term, “Shirt tail relations”. Quite a while back I met two ladies that were/are what we call “shirt tail relation”. One of their something or other [ fifth cousin twice removed or something stupid ] cousins married one of my something or other cousins. The term can be used for all sorts of odd ball relationships.

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The law may not care, but we certainly do. The law should not be our criterion. (“Aunt or uncle” doesn’t mean a matched set. It means parent’s sister or brother.)

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Where two sisters of one family and two brothers of a different family marry, their children would be called ” double first cousins” ……. Someone please shed light on this. I have this situation in my family tree.

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    My grandfather and two of his brothers each married one of the three daughters of the same woman. Two of the wives had the same father, so the children of those two marriages are double first cousins to one another (i.e. they are first cousins on the paternal side and also first cousins on the maternal side). The children of the third daughter are first cousins on the paternal side and half first cousins on the maternal side to the children of the other two marriages. I also have a case where four siblings on one side married four siblings on the other side. I call these situations cross-marriages; I have no idea what may be the “official” name of such cases. One thing about genealogy: it’s never boring!

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    My great grandfather, his brother(a widower with children) and their cousin( also a widower with children) married 3 sisters. It all gets very confusing sometimes!

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    As do I. See my earlier comments re: half-cousins, double-cousins, and identical twins.

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I have a person in my tree who married and had 5 children. His wife died, and he married again to a woman who had 3 children from a previous marriage. Together, the new couple had 3 more children. So, within this family there are half siblings, step siblings, and whole siblings, therefore, half cousins, step cousins and cousins.
I agree that within your family you wouldn’t call them half cousins, as in “I’d like you to meet my half cousin, Mary”, but I think it’s important to keep these designations in genealogy, otherwise you could assign the children to the wrong marriage, or conduct a DNA test on the wrong descendant.

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    Have a very similar situation in my family….and then two of the step siblings married their step siblings. Now that was fun to figure out!

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Bob Franklin,
If identical twins married identical twins, their children would show up looking like siblings genetically.

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I still think half cousin is appropriate if you only share one grandparent.

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Louisiana uses Civil Code not Black’s Dictionary.

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My sister had two children with her first husband, was widowed, re-married, and had two children with her second husband. None of these children EVER called another a half-brother or half-sister. They are brothers and sisters. BUT from a genealogical standpoint, their DNA would certainly show that two had one father and two had another. We have to use the right terms in the right context.

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Well now, this article got me thinking (not least because I have some, and am, a half-cousin, being Canadian with English roots. Or not, also having American roots). The term mentioned, cousin german…I wonder if that’s related at all to the word “germane” (as in, “this may be germane to the half-cousin discussion”). “Origin of GERMANE
Middle English germain, literally, having the same parents, from Anglo-French
First Known Use: 14th century” (Miriam-Webster online).

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After my great-grandmother died my great-grandfather remarried. He married a widow with children. Her widowed daughter ended up marrying my great-grandfather’s son, my great-uncle. Therefore the step-daughter married her step-brother. They had a daughter. My great-uncle’s step-mother was also his mother-in-law and his wife’s step-father was also her father-in-law.

I’ve also found where two first cousins that had the same first and last names but different middle names married two sisters. What would their children’s relationship be to the others children? Ex. first or second cousins

The closest family relationship I’ve found was for a family that I’m not related to. The fathers of the bride and groom were half-brothers which would make the couple first cousins. The couple had a grandfather in common. They are buried in a cemetery with her parents on one side and his parents on the other side. By the way the last name was Smith and they would have married in the early 1900s. I’m not sure if their relationship would be legal today.

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I ran into this issue when I decided to translate my GedStar Pro Android app for French and German users. Mostly this was a matter of straight translation (with help from a native speaker) from English, but when it came to the relationship calculator, all bets were off. In other societies, the conventions are often quite different and I learned a lot using some rather complex charts before I got it (mostly) working right. Such as, in some places, cousins are just specified as 1st, 2nd, etc. without the concept of “n times removed” that I was calculating. A number of other differences as well, and of course in German some really long words!

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My 3x gr grandfather married two sisters, the second after the death of the first. So their children are first cousins, right? The children stemming from these two marriages are half siblings, sort of – more like 3/4 sibs?

Anyhow the children of these two lines of 3/4 sibs are first cousins by definition, correct? I always considered them 3/4 cousins – forget half!

My great grandfather was one of those kids and he married his first cousin, my gr grandmother, from the other line… My grandfather actually escaped genetic disaster and was a quite bright individual!
(Feeling like an Egyptian dynasty here!) [grin]

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    Actually they would be sisters and brothers.
    Yes they would also be first cousins.
    Then their kids would be second cousins as well as brothers and sisters

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Seeing the above comment of Lois Rekowski reminded me of a similar story. After the death of the wife the husband married his late wife’s half-sister. He is buried in the cemetery between his two wives.

After the death of my great-great-grandmother my great-great-grandfather married his late wife’s widowed sister. They had three daughters.

After the death of his first wife the husband married his wife’s niece. He had children by both wives. Try and figure out those relationships.

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Sorry Dick, but the same Black’s Law Dictionary that you referenced, more completely defines first cousins as: ” First cousins. Cousins-german; the children of one’s uncle or aunt.” If this is the legal source that you have relied on in making your declaration that there is no such thing as “half-cousins”, then I think you are missing two key points: Firstly, the expression “cousins-german” in Black’s Law definition cited is indication that what followed is indeed referring to “full” cousinship. By corollary therefore, it does not rule out the use of “half”. It actually implicitly acknowledges it. Secondly, you incorrectly highlight that the expression used in Black’s Law Dictionary would have been “one’s uncle AND aunt”, if indeed the term half-cousins were to be valid. Well, children of one’s uncle AND aunt would have been born out of an incestuous relationship – products of siblings.

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    Are you inferring that “uncle and aunt” are siblings? My uncle W and my aunt M aren’t related except by marriage.

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    @Michael J Denis

    No, not all. My response was only in the context of what Dick posited earlier in his blog regarding how he read the “OR” used by Black’s Law – “[…] Note that it says “aunt OR uncle,” not aunt and uncle. All that is required is to share one aunt or one uncle, not both.”

    As far as I am aware, relationships such as: uncle, aunt, son, daughter, mother and father, are often qualified by whether it is: by blood, by marriage, by adoption, etc.

    In my view, what you are pointing out is another reason for one not to get too peeved when other people use terminologies such as “half-cousin”, in place of “cousin of the half blood”. The context and the underlying concepts are what matter.

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I think it could be useful to note that just because a term is absent in Black’s Law Dictionary does not mean that it is not valid, cannot be in everyday usage or cannot relevant in the field of genealogy. Equally, it will be just as incorrect to say that it is okay for everyday usage for example, all the terms that are found in the Black’s Law Dictionary.

The article by Elizabeth Shown Mills that you referenced in this particular blog, is interesting and useful in making sense of kinship terminologies. Elizabeth Shown Mills wrote about the seven perspectives pursued within the genealogical field: “forensic, genetic, canonical, legal, anthropological, historical, and everyday usage”. Terms that are okay in one perspective may not be so in another perspective. More poignantly, she cited Kathleen W. Hinckley – a seasoned specialist in legal and forensic genealogy – as describing half-cousins as “offspring[s] of the half-aunt or half-uncle”.

Of course in genealogy, there is such a thing as a Half-Cousin.

Not that one should go about using all of these terminologies in addressing relatives especially. However, understanding the whole range of kinship terminologies could help one understand why for example, two people who are seemingly related in the same way to another person, may actually share significantly different amounts of DNA, with that person.

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These last two comments are lucid and relevant. I think it’s now time for Dick to come back into this discussion

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—> I think it’s now time for Dick to come back into this discussion

OK, I will.

I have read all the comments and agree with most of them. It has been a fascinating education. However, I see nothing in the comments that disagrees with my original premise: the legal community does not use or recognize the term “half cousin” in the many documents genealogists use, such as in wills and other probate records. Legally speaking, there is no such thing as a half-cousin.

However, the term is used frequently for very good reasons in genetics and possibly other disciplines, as described in the quote from Elizabeth Shown Mills. As I wrote when describing Elizabeth’s article, “…she describes the use of the word by different groups, including legal, forensic, genetic, anthropological, and religious perspectives.”

That is why I titled my article, “Is There Any Such Thing as a Half-Cousin?” instead of using a title of “There is NO SUCH THING as…”

Perhaps the best summation was written by Ade Omole in an earlier comment: “Terms that are okay in one perspective may not be so in another perspective.”

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Dick,
The legal profession does not use the term “half cousin” as you correctly say. But it might be helpful to know that they use another, and fancier, term- “cousin of the half blood” for the same concept. That usage also sometimes appears in genealogical scholarship.

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“One of my pet peeves is a term that I see online over and over: someone claiming to be a “half first cousin” or a “half second cousin once removed” or something similar. Sorry folks, but there is no such thing as a “half first cousin” according to legal dictionaries.”

The (dubious) “fact” that there no such thing as a “half first cousin” hangs on the ending phrase: “according to legal dictionaries”. I’m like Humpty Dumpty; when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean. In everyday parlance (which is not legal apochrypha), my definition of “half first cousins” is two people who share either half of a grandparent couple.

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I only got as far in your article as “In the US…” This is what ticks me off about Americans. Sorry to tell you but just because it is a certain way in your country doesn’t make it universally true. And, yes there are more people on this earth that aren’t American that are. Frankly I don’t care what your laws say. I do admit in this situation however, that the general consensus throughout the world is that half cousins are actually first cousins.

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All half first cousins are first cousins. All first cousins are not half first cousins. Why get hung up on what “all Americans” or “all non-Americans” say? There are lots of folks in both camps who are stubborn and narrow minded. Because a non-American has a questionable opinion doesn’t mean they all share it.

To me, the reasonable position is this: the genealogical relationship of a child of my sibling (which sibling shares only one parent with me, i.e., a half-sibling) to my own child is “half first cousin”. Legal and local usage varies, and such a relationship may also be referred to as “half cousin”, “first cousin”, or simply “cousin”!!

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Half-cousins ARE real.

If me and my half-sibling each have children, our offspring will be “half-cousins.” The evidence of this would be present in the percentage of shared DNA – they won’t share as much as full cousins will, as me and my half-sibling only match on our father’s side, and have different mothers.

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So my great grandfather and his first wife had kids and their kids had kids. When my great grandfather had grandchildren, he divorced his first wife and later on had kids with his second wife(my great grandmother) after a couple years. So does that make me half cousins with the great grandchildren of the first wife?

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—> So does that make me half cousins with the great grandchildren of the first wife?

Most dictionaries do not recognize the word “half cousin.” Black’s Law Dictionary is the standard reference for attorneys and judges in the U.S. and is used to determine relationships in inheritances and other legal references. That dictionary also does not recognize the term “half-cousin” meaning that it doesn’t exist. However, some other dictionaries recognize the word, usually listing it as “informal usage” or slang.

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    Genetic Genealogists recognize this term to define a distinct difference in shared DNA of a half-cousin vs a full first cousin, and the difference in shared DNA Centimorgans far outweighs the presence of a term in any dictionary. Using a dictionary to decide the relevance or need to label the distinction of a genetic familial relationship is, in my opinion, pretty silly. Why not ask a geneticist?

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From the above comments, it looks as if we can probably all sympathize with this poor fellow:

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What about the child of your parent’s half-sibling? Would that not be a half-cousin?

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The legal definitions that have been in place forever are all that matter. Most people do not like the truth. A first-cousin is a first-cousin, as long as there is one grandparent in common. These are important kinship rules that have existed for over five-hundred years for a reason. Basically, in olden days, as most of you should know, many people died much younger than today, so in starting a “new” family, it was important to keep the family unit strong by considering one to be a first cousin even if they only shared one grandparent.

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Hi my name is Bernadette . My email adress is …lanahu_00@yahoo.com……
I have 2 half brothers. Same father/ different mother. My question is?? … Is my half brothers mother sister’s son a cousin to me? I’m asking because I met my half brothers cousin. My half brother ‘s mom and his cousins mom are sisters. How am I related to him (cousin)

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    Your paternal half-brother’s mother’s sister’s child is not related to you at all. You are only related to your mutual father’s siblings and their children.

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This article, and it’s believers are wrong. Especially the person that wrote it.

If there wasn’t a thing as half cousins then explain the reasoning behind the cM, when it doesn’t show one as a full range to the other person tested.
[Probably because there is a HALF relationship. Half relationships are created when two solids separate and one half produces another, full to them, but half to the other production(s). When the half is created there is less cM’s present within that half, as to to those that are full. Therefor, creating a HALF.]
Here, use the table on this chart. And notice how they use the word HALF themselves.
http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_statistics

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    —> Capitol Room, on the Mezzanine level of the hotel, as a section of the Grand Ballroom

    I will stand with the definitions in Black’s Law Dictionary, the standard reference used by lawyers, judges, and others in the legal profession. Black’s Law Dictionary states that cousins are:

    “Persons who are related to each other by descending from the same great-grandfather or great-grandmother.”

    Using this definition, half-cousins don’t, in fact, exist. At least according to Black’s, the standard reference used by the legal system in the United States. Other countries may have different definitions.

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    Yes, let’s consider the legal system them authority on genetic science, and ignore the scientists.

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    Yes. If you have to get involved in a contested will, probate court actions, or something similar, the legal definitions will be far more important than the genetics.

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    This forum is for genealogy – not a law forum. Those of us educated in genetic genealogy would appreciate CORRECT information in regard to genealogy being placed on a genealogy related forum. If it’s a legal forum, then it would be in the interest of legality to inform parties involved of the law…but for genealogy, the scientific accuracy matters.

    If there is an obvious INACCURACY in the law, it needs to be addressed for the betterment of the law. Those that cling to what they thought was the truth just for the sake of being right stand in the way of progress.

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    There may be no difference in the law with regard to half cousins, but it is an important concept in genealogy, especially where DNA research is concerned, and that is the issue here. It also is helpful [to me anyway] to use this terminology to sort out the relationships between siblings in a large, mixed family such as the one I described very early in this thread.

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This is like arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. It’s a waste of time, arguing apples and oranges. So according to man’s laws, half-cousins don’t exist. I get that, and accept it. This is a “genealogy newsletter”. According to genealogy, biology and NATURAL law, half-cousins DO exist.

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Dick,
I’ve mentioned this before, but since the topic is ongoing I will repeat- the legal term isn’t half cousins, but the reality is still recognized by the law. It’s just that the law refers to them by the archaic term “cousins of the half blood.” Depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances there are cases where the difference between full cousins [cousins of the full blood] and half cousins [cousins of the half blood] can be legally significant.

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All you’ve proven is that Black’s Law Dictionary is ambiguous and useless

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I have a question, I have three cousins on my mother’s side all with three of them have seperate individual fathers and their mother is my half blood aunt and her brother is my half blood uncle, and so their full blood grandfather is my mother’s and her full blood sister’s are step daughters to their grandfather, and half sisters to the uncle and his sister the mother of my cousins. What does that make them to me?

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    Your comment is a little hard to follow, but I think what you’re saying is that these cousins and your self only have one grandparent in common. If their mother and your mother are half-sisters, then these cousins are your half first cousins.

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It seems odd that you do a genealogy newsletter but suddenly put on your legal hat when it comes to the issue of half cousins. There clearly are half cousins since they share only about half the DNA of full cousins. So there is a difference between half and full cousins. Ergo, they exist.

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    —> It seems odd that you do a genealogy newsletter but suddenly put on your legal hat when it comes to the issue of half cousins.

    That is because the legal definition of cousins and all variations of cousins is defined (in the United States) by Black’s Law Dictionary, the standard reference used by attorneys, courts (and especially probate courts that deal with inheritances), and national, state, and local governments. Black’s Law Dictionary says there is no such thing as a half cousin and the attorneys and courts all seem to agree.

    Definitions might be different in other countries.

    It is interesting to me that people involved in DNA studies often use the term “half-cousin” but I cannot find any definitive and legally recognized reference that agrees with that. If anyone knows of a legally binding reference, please let me know. I’d love to see it.

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    Isn’t this really just a question of semantics? The legal profession certainly does recognize the relationship, it just uses the term “cousin of the half blood”. Just google the term if you don’t believe me. And speaking of semantics, does Black’s really say there’s no such thing as a first cousin… or is it merely the case that it doesn’t use the term?

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    —> is it merely the case that it doesn’t use the term

    Black’s defines the term cousins as “two people who share ONE OR two grandparents.” (I am going from memory here.) Then it doesn’t mention “half cousin” at all. Most people who use the term “half cousins” will tell you that it is two people who share only one grandparent, not two. However, Black’s contradicts that by saying any two people who share one grandparent are (full) cousins in the eyes of the law.

    I recognize that a lot of people don’t care about Black’s or any other dictionary, they simply use the term of “half cousin” without regard to legal definitions. I also know that the definition of cousins are different in other countries and other languages.

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    Black’s deals with legal concepts that have usually developed as a result of litigation. In the case of terms describing various family relationships, it is highly probable they are the end result of litigation related to the meaning of contested wills, in proceedings where one set of relatives sought to take advantage of some provision that could be made to seem ambiguous due to a context that may or may not have been completely understood or obvious at the time the will was drafted, or changes in circumstances that occurred after it was signed, in order to have another set of relatives excluded, so that their own share of the estate would be enlarged.

    When the testator said “children” without naming them, did he or she intend to include children who were not yet born? When he or she said “grandchildren” was that intended to include the children one of his or her sons later adopted? When he or she included a bequest to “my brothers and sisters,” did he or she intend to include half or step siblings in the bequest? And there have undoubtedly been attempts over the years to exclude one or another group of “cousins” as well on simikar grouhds.

    The judges’ responsibility is to interpret the will so as to give effect to the testator’s intention, and their general trend has been to favor the more inclusive definition of terms such as “children,” “grandchildren,” “brothers,” “sisters” and “cousins,” rather than to disinherit people the testator probably thought of as family and truly wanted to benefit. This would explain why there is no legal definition of such commonly used genealogical terms as half-cousins. But just because the law doesn’t need or use them in the context of interpreting the intended meaning of a will, does not mean they have no meaning at all in a different context, or that the relationships they describe do not exist.

    In fact, other cultures have even more complex terms than we have for various familial relationships (example: https://youtu.be/nCFRoILS1jY).
    We may not recognize any difference in legal standing between an older and a younger sibling, or between a maternal cousin and a paternal one but that does not mean that the difference is not a real one.

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    > Black’s defines the term cousins as “two people who share ONE OR two grandparents.” (I am going from memory here.) Then it doesn’t mention “half cousin” at all. Most people who use the term “half cousins” will tell you that it is two people who share only one grandparent, not two. However, Black’s contradicts that by saying any two people who share one grandparent are (full) cousins in the eyes of the law. ….

    Dick- Black’s does not say “[full] cousin” …it just says cousin. You seem to be interpreting cousin and half cousin to be contrasting entities. But I interpret half cousins to be a subset of cousins. If you check Black’s entry on BLOOD you will see they define HALF BLOOD as a relationship where there is ONE common ancestor. Thus, by Black’s definition, some cousins, but not all, can be described as “half blood cousins”. Is it really too egregious to shorten that to “half cousins”?
    But in any case, relying solely on interpreting Black’s seems a rather thin argument in light of the fact that “cousin of the half blood” has been used in formal legal proceedings and legislation. How should we account for that if there is no such thing?

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    —> Black’s does not say “[full] cousin” …it just says cousin.

    Exactly. Blacks’s provides the definitions used by the U.S. courts, attorneys, and others. Black’s defines all family relationships, including cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, and more. Black’s doesn’t even mention “half-cousins” in its definitions meaning the term has no legal use in probate courts, wills, deeds, and other legal documents.

    Obviously, people who are not concerned with legal documents and are simply engaged in conversation with others are free to use the term or not, as they please, without being concerned with any dictionary definitions. However, you shouldn’t use the term when writing your last will and testament or other legal documents. I suspect your attorney won’t use it on any legal documents he or she prepares.

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>>Black’s doesn’t even mention “half-cousins” in its definitions meaning the term has no legal use in probate courts, wills, deeds, and other legal documents. …
But the formal term “cousin of the half blood” is most certainly used in probate courts, and in other courts, and in some states’ marriage laws. For example, some courts have ruled that in intestate cases while a first cousin of the whole blood takes precedence over a second cousin of the whole blood, the latter takes precedence over a first cousin of the half blood. Also, as I mentioned quite a while ago in this thread, in five US States it’s legal to marry a first cousin of the half blood, but not a first cousin of the whole blood.
So, while saying that there is no legal term “half cousin” is correct, saying there is no such THING as a half cousin is misleading, since the implication is given that the law does not recognize the existence of the relationship. It does recognize it… just calls it by a more lawyerly term.

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    @ Ned Smith:
    I tend to agree, especially with your last paragraph and the summary that saying that there is no such THING as half cousin could be misleading. One other way to look at this is to ask why would there be such an “explicit omission” of the term “half cousin” in the legal dictionaries. The answer perhaps is very simple: in computing the degrees of consanguinity between two kinsmen, the main consideration is degree of relationship from the common ancestor.
    Of more relevance is whether the relationship is linear (such as father/son, grandparent/grandchild, and so on) or collateral (such uncle/nephew, and so on).
    A cousin german and a cousin of the half blood will be at the same distance (degree of consanguinity) to their common grandparent. In my view, what would be far-fetched is to use this sound legal construct to restrict other fields/disciplines such the field of genetic genealogy from using terms that serve the purpose of their analysis – to determine the extent of blood share between two people. For example two full first cousins sharing two grandparents in common from their parents, the children of the two common grandparents) as against two half first cousins where their parents are half-siblings. Of course it is possible to be double half first cousins, but that is the type of relationships that genetic genealogy explore in depth.
    The point here is, that the objectives of the two fields: law and genealogy may sometimes overlap, but one should not expect that they will always be permanently the same. In genetic genealogy, there is such a THING as half cousins.

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Ade, I suspect the reason that Black’s does not have an explicit entry for “cousin of the half blood” is simply because no dictionary would have sufficient space to explicitly define every conceivable combination of terms it has already defined. Black’s defines cousin & it defines “of the half blood”. But in any case, an argument based solely on Black’s omission must fail in the face of the easily verifiable fact that the legal profession does use the term “cousin of the half blood” in official documents. So Dick’s conclusion is contradicted. For example, in <State v. Horan :: 1963 :: Wisconsin Supreme Court Decisions …
https://law.justia.com/cases/wisconsin/supreme-court/1963/21-wis-2d-66-6.html
the court discusses the rights of a first cousin of the half blood versus those of a first cousin once removed; or a Missouri case where two of the appellants are officially listed as maternal first cousins of the half blood

or Nevada Marriage requirements as posted on the Clark County Clerk’s webpage
•”Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, and no nearer of kin than second cousins or cousins of half-blood, and not having a husband or wife living”

These are just 3 cases of countless examples easily found online

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Half-first cousins are first cousins.

You may track the half relationship for a variety of reasons – to keep yourself organized, for genetic genealogy, etc. – and that’s absolutely fine. I do the same.

First cousin, though, encompasses half and full relationships. You are first cousins if you share one grandparent. You are first cousins if you share two grandparents. Marking the “half” in your notes certainly helps, but to argue the correct term MUST be half-first cousin just isn’t true. Terms like aunt, uncle, first cousin, nephew, niece are umbrella words under which are a lot of different possible relationships. And think of it this way: do you address your Aunt Susan as Half-Aunt Susan? No, because you probably realize that “aunt” is the term to refer to a sibling of your parent or the wife of your uncle. Would you introduce Timmy as “this is my half-nephew”? That isn’t to say you can’t use “half” in genealogy, but it does mean that these words obviously don’t have to mean full relationships.

DNA has forced us to pay more attention to how half relationships affect genetic relationships, so whenever we talk about DNA, we use half and full regularly. It’s important! That said, “half” doesn’t have to be a qualifier any more than “full” does. “Aunt” means a full sibling of a parent and a half-sibling of a parent (or a spouse of a “full” or “half-” uncle).

I can’t get angry at specificity and clarity, of course, so I’m going to continue to mark half relationships to keep my notes straight, but I do think it needs saying that, regardless of the legal definitions, “half” and “full” aren’t necessary additions to the terms.

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