What Does Distant Cousin Mean?

If you’re new to the world of genealogy, you might be unsure where to begin your search for information about your ancestors.

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Finding out about distant relatives, who they are, and where they have ended up may be incredibly fascinating. It’s also fun to figure out how these folks are related to you: are they your cousins? What distinguishes a person as your cousin?

We all know that your first cousins are the children of your parents’ siblings, but what makes someone a ‘distant’ cousin? How far apart can cousins really be before they are no longer a ‘cousin’?

In this article, we are going to be looking at what makes a distant relative a ‘distant cousin’, and what this really means.

Let’s jump into it.

What Is A Distant Cousin?

So, what actually makes a person a ‘distant’ cousin? 

In simple words, a distant cousin is someone who is related to a person further than a third cousin.

Third cousins once removed and more distant cousins, such as fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins, are examples of distant cousins, whereas a second or third cousin would not be considered to be ‘distant’.

A distant cousin is a relative who has a common ancestor that is further back than great-great grandparents. As a result, third cousins are the last cousins who are not deemed ‘distant’, as they will share the same great-great grandparents as you. 

Cousins with more direct ancestors belong to the extended family, or close cousin connection group: e.g. sharing grandparents, or great grandparents.

The fact that we are less likely to know our more distant cousins personally is presumably why most people regard distant cousins to be more detached than third cousins.

You may not know your second cousins, or even your first cousins, if you come from a large family. As a result, you’ll have a harder time getting to know your distant cousins.

Furthermore, as we go closer to our distant cousins, we are more likely to have a large number of relations. You might not even realize you know some of your distant cousins: a buddy of yours could have a great-great-great-great-grandparent in common with you, and you wouldn’t know unless you searched through your family tree to find out.

Despite this, we are significantly less likely to share DNA with distant cousins than we are with close relatives. So, if you’re scared that you’ll eventually end up marrying a distant relative in the future, it’s not such a huge deal because the distance between you and your relatives is so vast.

The reason distant cousins are linked to one another is because they share a common ancestor: if two persons share a common ancestor, such as a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather, they are theoretically related in a genealogical sense. 

A person may have hundreds and thousands of distant cousins, and will most likely never get around to meeting every single one of them.

Due to the complexity of determining how they are technically connected, the relative in question will always be referred to as a ‘cousin’ regardless of the technical relationship. 

Nobody wants to introduce a family member as their ‘great-great-great-great cousin, twice removed’ because it will simply take too long, and it can get too complicated to properly work out. That is why it is more convenient to just refer to this person as a ‘cousin’.

Furthermore, identifying a distant cousin relationship may stress the relationship’s remoteness. If we emphasise that this individual is, say, our sixth cousin, we may feel as if we are emphasising the relationship’s distance, even though we may feel as if we have a close relationship with this person. 

In these situations, it is not only easier to simply say ‘cousin’, but it allows a relationship to feel closer and less ‘fake’. It just makes more sense, and saves a lot of time and explanations made to others.

It frequently relies on your culture, interests, and personal family rituals whether you regard a distant cousin to be family or not. Secondly, as previously stated, you are unlikely to meet every single one of your distant cousins, therefore you are unlikely to consider a complete stranger to be a member of your family.

The closeness of a family is determined by numerous factors: for example, some families split up when specific family members move away, and their children may never meet once they start their own families, even if the seniors of the family were formerly fairly close and friendly with each other. This is fairly common, despite it seeming quite sad.

The offspring of these families are unlikely to know each other well as they get larger, having their own children and grandchildren, and adding to the family tree. As a result, they will lack the sense of familial closeness that we associate with our own relatives.

Many people, on the other hand, are extremely close to their family relatives, including distantly associated extended family. This is especially true in families who live in small particular regions where everyone appears to know everyone.

Another point to consider is that, thanks to the internet, it is now easier than ever to locate and meet distant relatives in our time, the early 21st century.

Even if a person is not knowledgeable with genealogy or their family tree, they may be able to find relatives using social media. If they happen to have the same uncommon surname, this is much more likely.

Do Distant Cousins Share The Same DNA?

It is entirely possible that you could share DNA with a distant cousin: after all, you share relatives, and are from the same family.

However, the further two people are related, the less likely they are to share DNA.

Consider the following scenario: if you mix yellow and blue paint together, you would produce green paint. If you were then to split the green paint into two, adding more blue paint to one half, you would have a teal paint. If you add yellow to the second part, you’ll get a lime color.

You will then have two colors: teal and lime, both of which are derived from the original green paint.

Each portion of paint would become a separate hue if you kept halving the paint and introducing new colors, but they will all still have a greenish tint for the first couple of combinations. After a while, however, the green tint will completely fade out.

The green paint represents the elders in the family: they were the first to have children, and then their children had their own children, and the family continued to grow and grow.

When the children reproduce with others, new DNA is introduced to the family, which is represented by mixing the different colors of paint. 

While close relatives will share some of the same DNA (still having a slight greenish color), the DNA will eventually diverge entirely.

It’s only approximately a 30% probability that two fourth cousins will have no DNA in common. Researchers conclude that there is a nearly 90% chance that no identifiable biological tie occurs when we travel further out in the family tree to sixth cousins.

So, do distantly related cousins share the same DNA? Possibly. It all depends on how distantly they are related.

When Do Cousins No Longer Count As Being ‘cousins’?

In terms of genealogy, two individuals who share a common ancestor are never technically considered ‘unrelated’ to each other.

This is essentially due to the fact that two people who share common ancestors are permanently connected through their family tree, regardless of whether they feel themselves to be biologically connected or otherwise, and even if their physical DNA is no longer matching.

It’s reasonable to assume that an extremely distant cousin is no more related to us than any other person with a similar ancestral history.

We are likely to be remotely connected to any given individual who has ancestors from the same place as we do, depending on our racial or ethnic group, and thus makes being distantly related to any one person less noticeable.

When you examine how many males in the world are unaware of how many biological children they have created, based on whether or not they have engaged in unprotected sexual activity with several women over the years, it’s evident that many people are distantly connected without realising it. 

In truth, you’ve undoubtedly passed hundreds of strangers on the street who are actually distant cousins of yours. However, this does not mean that they technically count as your ‘family’, and you may never find out for sure what the relations between you really are.

How To Find Your Distant Cousins

There are three primary methods for locating distant relatives: contacting elder relatives to seek greater distant cousins, DNA analysis, and developing or researching your own family tree.

Locating Distant Cousins Through Older Family Members

Speaking with your older relatives to identify other relatives from their generation of your family tree is the quickest and cheapest technique to find distant cousins. 

The elders in your family may remember previous and more remote cousins, and with a little study, you might be able to identify their successors. This will be easier if you live in a small town, and, in turn, may prove to be more difficult if you are from a large area.

You might even be able to learn the names of some of your grandparents’ first and second cousins, as well as some information about their parents’ first and second cousins, who would be your great-grandparents, by simply conversing with them.

The grandchildren of your grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ second cousins may fall into the ‘distant cousin’ group of relatives.

If you are short of cash, or simply don’t feel like spending a lot of money researching your distant relatives, this is the ideal option for you.

Locating Distant Cousins Through DNA Testing

Obtaining a DNA test is probably the most effective method to discover distant family members. 

There are several convenient and simple ways to do this in today’s world: for example, reputable sites like MyHeritage DNA and 23andMe may be simply accessed from your own phone or laptop. To access these services, you will almost always have to pay a premium.

By using these sites, you will receive a huge list of DNA matches, or genetic relatives, most of whom will be distant cousins, along with your ethnicity estimate indicating where your ancestors most likely resided.

Since it is, by far, the quickest approach to identify a large number of distant cousins, a DNA test is one of the greatest recommendations for finding biological family, including far distanced ‘cousins’. You simply browse through the list to locate the persons you want to reach out to, and your job is done!

Locating Distant Cousins Through Family Tree Research (Genealogy)

Finally, creating a family tree online or finding one that has already been built is a terrific approach to find distant cousins. 

The further back in your family tree you go, the more likely it is that other relatives of that predecessor are also studying that individual. You and someone else will be distant cousins if you are both studying an ancestor who is as least as distant as a great-great-great grandparent.

On sites such as Ancestry, you can often find distant cousins on comment boards. Furthermore, if you discover that you are both studying the same individual, you can contact them directly through online chat services to see whether you are, and how you are, distantly connected.

Final Thoughts

So, there we have it: a distant cousin is a remote relative that shares a relative further than a third cousin, sharing a great-great grandparent or more. 

We hope this article has helped you understand more about your distant family, and hopefully you have received all the information you need to discover more about your family. 

Good luck!


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