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Family Tree Research

Learn the basic terms and symbols that are used for family trees:

What is a Blood Relative?
What does it mean to be Related by Marriage?
How do I count generations on my family tree?
What are the symbols associated with family tree?

Blood Relatives

Most of the words used on family trees are ones we use every day - father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter. Common to all terms is the fact that they define people in terms of their relationships with one another, and particularly with you the researcher. The following glossary sets these out to help you to describe the relationships between family members that are related through blood (as opposed to marriage).

  • uncle - the brother of your father or mother
  • aunt - the sister of your father or mother
  • sibling - your brother or sister
  • cousin - the son or daughter of your uncle or aunt
  • second cousin - the son or daughter of your parents' first cousin
  • nephew - the son of your brother or sister
  • niece - the daughter of your brother or sister
  • grandfather - the father of your father or mother
  • grandmother - the mother of your father or mother
  • grandson - your child's son
  • granddaughter - your child's daughter
  • great grandfather - the father of one of your grandparents
  • great grandmother - the mother of one of your grandparents
  • great uncle - the uncle of one of your parents
  • great aunt - the aunt of one of your parents

Related by Marriage

There are also terms that describe the people that are related to you when you marry (through your spouse). Although they share no blood-ties, they become part of your family tree. There are also specialist terms to denote the relationships created by subsequent marriages.

  • father-in-law - the father of your spouse
  • mother-in-law - the mother of your spouse
  • step-son - the son of your spouse's former marriage
  • step-daughter - the daughter of your spouse's former marriage
  • step-mother - your father's second (or subsequent) wife
  • step-father - your mother's second (or subsequent) husband
  • half-brother - the male offspring from the remarriage of one of your parents
  • half-sister - the female offspring from the remarriage of one of your parents

Counting Generations

All of your siblings and cousins form one generation; your parents and their siblings form another generation; and your grandparents and their siblings make up a third. The top level of the family tree will be the first generation, followed by their children (second generation) and so on, assigning each successive generation a higher number. To describe someone from a generation prior to your grandparents, simply add 'great' to their title - hence the mother and father of your grandparents are your great grandmother and great grandfather; and the siblings of your grandparents are known as great aunts or great uncles. Each time you move back another generation, simply add another great!

It is important to remember that these terms were not used so accurately in the past, and documents such as wills may describe people as cousins or brothers who were in fact no such thing - they may in fact be half-brothers or related solely through marriage, rather than blood. Even today the phrase 'uncle' or 'aunt' can be used as a term of endearment to describe someone who is not related by blood or marriage and who is in effect more accurately described as a 'close friend'.

Family Tree Symbols

Certain symbols are used to denote relationships between family members on the family tree. Vertical lines show relationships between parents and their offspring; whilst horizontal lines link the siblings from one set of parents. Dotted lines signified presumed or unconfirmed links. The symbol '=' is used to indicate a marriage, and you should also include the following abbreviations when assigning dates to key events in your family members' lives.

  • b - born
  • bapt - baptised
  • = - married
  • (2) - second marriage
  • m - married
  • d - died
  • bur - buried

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