Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A "distant cousin," also known as a collateral cousin, is a family member with whom you share a common ancestor, often many generations back. Close cousins are, by contrast, cousins one is likely to be acquainted with, descendant's of one's own grandparents, for example, the children of your aunts and uncles. The exact relationship between oneself and a distant cousin can often be determined through a relationship chart. As families branch out, it is not uncommon to find some well-known person to whom you are related. This has been well illustrated as various political figures are shown as being related to someone with a diametrically opposite political view. Often known as the Six Degree of Separation Theory, the phenomenon has also been illustrated through the ancestral connections of several U. S. presidents throughout the history of the country.
Distant cousins play an important role in genealogy, and with today's technology, it easier than ever before for distant cousins to find each other. It is common that distant cousins may have one part of the family puzzle another does not -- photos, documents, stories, or that they are from an earlier generation and may have known an ancestor personally, or that some may have stayed rooted in the ancestral home. Connecting with distant cousins and sharing information may also prevent a duplication of effort, if one has already researched and found information another is seeking. For this reason, social networks have become increasingly popular, as well as wiki websites and shared family trees, where individuals can post information and documentation for all to see. As always, we suggest caution in sharing personal information and accepting distant relatives into the fold. One would be well-advised to read up on protecting against genealogy scams.