Relationships with Family : Calculating and Understanding the Different Degrees of Kinship

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You just have to look at a family tree to see how numerous the relationships within a family are. These may even seem exponential when you search far enough back into the past. That’s why we discover common family ties between our family and an important historical figure, or between two celebrities who were born in different countries, such as Hillary Clinton and Céline Dion.

These facts may seem surprising, but if you understand genealogy and the ancestral links between different human beings, they’re quite logical, even normal. Are all humans cousins ? Technically, yes, or at least, almost. Of course, the degrees of kinship are sometimes extremely distant. It’s because of this observation that it becomes both useful and interesting to be able to calculate and better understand family relationships.

But how do you go about this seemingly colossal task ? While it’s rather simple to perform calculations with respect to your immediate family branch, as soon as you extend this, the work gets complicated. However, it’s far from being an insurmountable task.

Calculating a Family Relationship: Which Technique to Use ?

When looking at a family tree, we see several types of links. There are the traditional links – that is, parents, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. Then, when we decide to go further, the issue of degrees of kinship becomes even more relevant.

There are several ways to calculate degrees of kinship. The direct line technique involves calculating the degrees according to the generations that separate two people. The collateral line technique reaches back to the common ancestor and counts one degree per generation. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the latter:

First-degree family links are those between parents and children. Second-degree links include brothers and sisters, and grandchildren and grandparents. At the third degree, there are great-grandparents, uncles and aunts, and nieces and nephews. Finally, at the fourth degree, we find a person’s first cousins. The calculation of the degrees continues in this way, without limits as to the number.

In short, the degree of kinship represents the number of intermediaries between two people, going back to the common ancestor, then returning to them.

The Role of the Family Tree in Calculating Family Relationships

If your family tree hasn’t already been completed, you’ll have to do this in order to calculate and better understand your family ties. Indeed, this is one of the best ways to efficiently present and analyze the family relationships between different people.

Having access to a pictorial diagram helps us better understand the network of links that unite us with our ancestors. This way of presenting family relationships is very concrete and greatly simplifies the calculations.

Various documents found on Genealogy Quebec, used for genealogical research


You want to grow your family tree? With a subscription to Genealogy Quebec, you will have access to more than 100 million historical images and documents with which you will be able to trace your ancestors from Quebec, Acadia, and all of French America.


Why Calculate our Family Relationships ?

There are several reasons why we might want to make these calculations. First, because it’s fascinating to trace the history of the different people who were among our ancestors. When we want to better understand the history of our family or – more broadly – of our country, this research can bring to light some very interesting – even useful – information.

This research can also be done purely for practical matters. For example, this analysis can be used in legal cases, such as estates.

Each person comes from a vast succession of family branches that have been divided and developed over the course of history. Whether you want to find a third or a 23rd-degree link, the tools and techniques currently in use allow us to do research quickly and rather easily. Why not take advantage of them ?