What is a Great Aunt or Uncle

Marc McDermott
First Published: | Updated: April 2, 2024

We all have a favorite, but what exactly is a great uncle or aunt? With two generations difference in age, these relatives hold a special place in many people’s hearts. They are not considered a distant family, even though you are not a direct descendent of them. 

A great uncle or aunt is the uncle of your mother or father. Their offspring are your first cousins once removed, but before we get ahead of ourselves, we’re going to answer all the important questions about these significant relations, so you can better understand your family tree.

What is the definition of a great aunt or uncle?

The simple definition of a great uncle or aunt is that they are the siblings of your grandparents. This makes them the uncles and aunts of your parents. 

So, they are the children of your grandparents who you are not descended from. Your grandparents are your descendants as you are part of the same direct bloodline, but their siblings are not. 

Why are great aunts and uncles important?

Great uncles and aunts are special as they can be a haven of knowledge, helping you to find more about your family tree, and provide memories of their siblings (your grandparents) that you may never have heard. 

As they are closer to your more distant ancestors than your parents, they often have fascinating tales of what it was like growing up two generations previous to you. 

What’s the difference between a great uncle and a grand-uncle? 

This is a topic of debate and genealogists are often split on whether the siblings of grandparents should be known as great aunts and uncles or grand aunts and uncles. 

Well, the debate itself might not be as hot as many may think, but it does add to the confusion. 

The word great is used to describe distant ancestors removed by additional generations of great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.

So for some people, it can be easier to label the siblings of our great grandparents as great-grand aunts and uncles. 

Using the word great to describe a great uncle or aunt is easier, as is adding additional greats the further back they go. 

Both terms have been used, even by genealogists. Although saying great uncle and great aunt is a popular way of describing a relative in your family tree, understanding it is key. 

Is there such a thing as a great-great-aunt or great-great-uncle?

Yes, most people have numerous great-great-aunts and great-great-uncles but they can also be described as great granduncles and great grandaunts. Confused? You don’t need to be.

Some refer to these relatives as second great aunts and uncles, but just how are they related to you? 

The simple way to explain it is that a great-grand aunt or uncle is a sibling of your great-grandparents. They are the offspring of your great-great-grandparents, but the ones you are not descended from. 

The descendants of our great-great aunts and uncles are our first cousins twice removed because they are separated to us by two generations. Their grandchildren are your second cousins, but once removed, their great-grandchildren are known as your cousins. 

When this becomes confusing, just take a look at your family tree to put a name to the descendants of a great uncle and aunt, and you’ll find it easier to trace your bloodline. 

What is a half-great uncle or aunt?

Do you know if either of your grandparents has a half-sibling? This sibling will be your half-great uncle or half-great aunt. Your shared ancestor is the shared parent of your grandparent and their sibling. 

To put it into context, your great-grandparents married and had your granddad or grandmother. After that, your grandparents divorced and your great-grandmother had offspring with someone else. This would be a half-sibling of your grandparent, and your great-great-grandparent is the common ancestor shared between you and your half-great uncle or aunt. 

This is a lot to get your head around, so feel free to read it again! 


How are the grandchildren of your siblings related to you?

When your full and half-siblings have grandchildren, you become their great aunt or great uncle. Your parents are the closest common ancestor.

Is a great uncle or great aunt a thing?

Yes, a great uncle is the brother of one of your grandparents and can sometimes be described as a granduncle (more on that later!).

A great aunt is the sister of one of your grandparents, and again, may be described as a grand aunt. 

How are your grandparent’s siblings related?

Siblings of your grandparents are your great aunts and uncles, that’s easy enough to understand. However, you may have multiple great aunts and uncles. 

We share a large percentage of DNA with great aunts and uncles so they are deemed as close relatives. As they are the same generation as our grandparents, many people have a good relationship and plenty of memories with this side of their family.

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  1. Hello I hope this message finds you and your family Happy and healthy.
    So going over my family tree I just found out today (I’m 58) by the way. That my grandma’s brother had children of whom my brother (mark) and myself had children to our relatives.
    It’s very very hard for me to explain, so could I just give you names and relationships and you could explain to me how we are all related.

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