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What to call the new twig

Reader Joyce Gagnon’s family tree is about to gain a new twig.

And she isn’t entirely sure what to call him — except, of course, the cutest baby in the world.

“I’m the youngest of 5,” she writes, and The Legal Genealogist has taken the liberty of designating her as such on the chart that follows. “The oldest (1) had children before I was born. So, (A) is my niece, she had (B), (B) had (C), and (C) is expecting (D) any day now. Is it correct that he will be my great, great, great nephew?”


And Joyce will be D’s great great great aunt.


Now I can just hear the howls already: “But it’s grand nephew and grand aunt!”


Bottom line: they’re both correct.

Despite a rather persistent effort by genealogists to standardize the reference,1 the simple fact of the matter is that either term — great or grand — is just fine, thankyouverymuch.

The dictionary definition of great-nephew — at least from Merriam-Webster — is “grandnephew,” giving a first reference year for the usage of 1580.2

But that same dictionary — after defining grandnephew as “a grandson of one’s brother or sister” — gives the first reference year for that usage as 1596.3 Which means that great-nephew came first and grandnephew is a Johnny-come-lately.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines great-nephew as “A son of one’s nephew or niece”4 and grandnephew as “Another term for great-nephew.”5

Now there are good reasons why genealogists want to standardize the reference one way or the other — to reduce confusion and clarify relationships.6 But just as some of us say jean-ee-ology and some of us say jen-ee-ology, some of us are going to say great nephew and some of us are going to say grand nephew.

Which makes Joyce a great aunt — or, in this case, a great great great aunt — and her soon-to-be-added twig on the family tree her great great great nephew.

And above all else a blessing to that family.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Of greats and grands,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 26 Feb 2019).


  1. See e.g. Amy Johnson Crow, “Great and Grand Aunts,” Ancestry blog, posted 25 Oct 2013 ( : accessed 26 Feb 2019).
  2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 26 Feb 2019), “great-nephew.”
  3. Ibid., “grandnephew.”
  4. Oxford Dictionaries Online ( : accessed 26 Feb 2019), “great-nephew.”
  5. Ibid., “grandnephew.”
  6. See generally Robert Resta, “And Bob’s Your Uncle: A Guide To Defining Great Aunts, Great-Great Grandparents, First Cousins Once-Removed, and Other Kinfolk,” The DNA Exchange, posted 16 Apr 2013 ( : accessed 26 Feb 2019).
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