Posted by Amy Johnson Crow on October 25, 2013 in Ancestry.com Site, Family History Month

There are certain relationships that have specific names. The father of one of your parents is your grandfather. The mother of one of your parents is your grandmother. The sister of one of your parents is your aunt. And, you guessed it, the brother of one your parents is your uncle. But what about the brother or sister of one of your grandparents? That’s where things get a bit fuzzy.

Technically, the sister of one of your grandparents is your grand-aunt. “Grand” shows that it is one generation away; “great” is supposed to be added to generations beyond “grand.” But like so many other words in the English language, there’s the dictionary definition and then there’s how it’s commonly used.

In my own family, my grandmother’s brother lived with her in their later years. We always called him Uncle Harold and if someone asked how he was related, we would say he was great-uncle Harold (not grand-uncle Harold). In turn, I’m now referred to as a great-aunt to my niece’s son. (I thought I was a great aunt before he was born, but that’s another story.)

I’ve heard several other families use the “great-aunt” or “great-uncle” relationship when it’s actually a “grand.” What have you used in your family to describe the siblings of your grandparents?

 

Note: We would like to thank community member Nancy Malcolm James for this tasty little conversation starter.

Amy Johnson Crow

Amy Johnson Crow is a Certified Genealogist and an active lecturer and author. Her roots run deep in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. She earned her Masters degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University. Amy loves to help people discover the joys of learning about their ancestors and she thinks that there are few things better than a day in a cemetery. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amy Johnson Crow.

71 Comments

  1. Traci

    I have always used Great-Uncle or Aunt , until recently I looks at the relationship on my family tree, and it says Grand- Uncle /Aunt. Ha Who knew !

  2. I always use grand-nephew and grand-niece when I’m referring to my nieces’ children. This is one of those rare cases when it’s actually more logical and natural to use the correct terms. Great-uncle just doesn’t make sense. You wouldn’t say great-father or great-mother would you?

  3. April Barr

    I use grand uncle or grand aunt. It helps when you are trying to explain relationships to someone who is new to genealogy or trying to find how you are related to each other. it helps keep the generations in order.

  4. In our family, we always said, “great-aunt,” but in the last few years, since growing my understanding of genealogy and its lexicon, I’ve begun using “grand-aunt.” Accuracy in genealogy is so important, so I figure my language better reflect that. 🙂

  5. Laurie

    I’ve probably used both, but thanks for the clarification, Ancestry, I’ll be able to properly explain the relationship now!

  6. Mary Stephenson

    Great-aunt and Great-uncle were the terms we used. But after seeing that grand-aunt was used I’ve begun referring to myself that way. It doesn’t sound as old as great-aunt. And I became a grand-aunt at 30 before I became a mother.

  7. Shirley Gilmore

    I have always referred to my Great Aunts and Great Uncles as just that. There is such a thing as knowing what is right and continuing to do say something differently because it’s familiar and sounds better and over time it might even become the accepted version. But am I their grand niece or great niece? I prefer great niece.

  8. Bonnie Hibbett

    I called myself Grand Aunt though it has been argued I was wrong. I think Great sounds very old and does not add up in the generations. Grandmother = Grand – Aunt, Grand-uncle etc….

  9. Jeff Christel

    In my family, we always used “great” to refer to a grandparent’s sibling(s). I didn’t know this was incorrect until I started using Ancestry and saw “grand” used for my grandparents’ siblings. I still use “great”, though. Old habits die hard.

  10. MaryLynn

    In the US I think it is just common practice. And grand sounds formal and British. Like when I pronounce aunt as aunt and not ant. I get a lot of ribbing about it. Great aunt Maggie just sounds more familiar to us.

  11. innerjuju

    We use ‘grand’. We even looked it up in Webster’s dictionary and Family Tree Maker. So surprises me that Ancestry.com would lean towards great. How do I differentiate between siblings of my grandparents and those of my great-grandparents under your rule?

  12. CLANCY WALKER

    So, am I now a Great-Grand Aunt to my grand (great?) nephew’s children.
    I described myself as a Great-great-aunt until now.

  13. Patti Harrison

    I’ll be a stickler here.
    In my opinion GrandAunt is correct. It’s a generational thing.
    My grandmother’s sister was GrandAunt Tessie to me, beyond their generation – great would be correct.

  14. Frank Sperling

    Who’s there? “It is I” is the correct way to respond…however, the vast majority of us say “It’s me”. To that end, when my grand nephew answers the phone and says “Who’s there?”, do I reply “It is I, your Grand Uncle Joe” or do I say “It’s me, your Great Uncle Joe”. Actually, I respond just simply, “It’s Joe, is your dad there?” We in the U.S. tend to simplify our language by saying what’s simplest and what just sound right.

  15. Andrew Baker

    Growing up, we always used “great-aunt” for my grandmother’s sisters. I’m periodically reminded by FTM or other genealogy resources that it should be grand-aunts and uncles. I want to teach my boys the right relationship names, but as was said, old habits die hard.

  16. Peggy H

    My families have always used “great- aunt/uncle and “Great-great” and so on. I grew up with many of my grandparents’ siblings close by.
    I only discovered “grand” usage when I looked up a relationship/cousin chart a few years ago. I agree with Andrew Baker about old habits. I don’t see this as a generational usage, maybe regional?

  17. Diana Campbell

    Since my mother had 9 aunts and uncles in her family, I had a lot of what I called great aunts and great uncles that enriched my life through their cards and letters. Now I am honoring their lives with our family’s history and sharing it with their children who want it! It wasn’t until I started with Ancestry.com that I saw the term Grand. I am glad you have cleared up the naming convention!

  18. Roberta Brunelle

    “Grand”! It’s the same generation as grandparents! We refer to our nephew’s baby as our “grand niece”.

  19. Cat Noe

    My Mom’s baby sister was only 11 years older than I was so I never called her ‘aunt’, she was more the older sister I didn’t have.

    To her other nieces and nephews she liked to say that she was a ‘great’ aunt and to their children she was a ‘great’ great aunt!

    I didn’t know a lot of my ‘grand aunts and uncles’ but like most everyone else when talking about them, to establish generation, they are referred to as great aunt or uncle but in their presence they were called aunt or uncle.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve dropped the ‘aunt and uncle’ and use their first name or nickname when talking to them.

  20. Kathy Jo Bryant

    We always said great aunt or great uncle. Since getting into genealogy, I thought grand aunt or uncle was correct, and now since I saw this article,that idea is verified. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Melissa Leahy

    Everyone I’ve ever known used great-aunt. One generation back would have been great grand aunt but very few people ever knew great grands so it didn’t come up much !

  22. Jan Wukasch Pelosi

    We always used the terms great aunt and great uncle in my family, but now I know that was incorrect. I hadn’t even heard of grand aunt and grand uncle until I started using Ancestry.com about a year ago. The terms make a lot more sense logically, but habits like these are hard to break. I vow to “try” to use the correct terminology from now on.

  23. Wendy Negley

    We always used “Great” Aunt or Uncle in my family. Actually, my parents called them Aunt or Uncle since they WERE their Aunt or Uncle and my sister and I simply did the same but we knew they were really our Great Aunts. My sister and I were lucky enough to have several of them on both sides and get to know them well. Part of my inspiration for doing genealogy!

  24. I am my Grand Nieces and Nephews Great-Grand Aunt, pronounced “Aunt as in Haunt, Not “Ant”, blame my Mother who grew up in Tidewater Virginia where they still spoke with a British accent till at least the ’40s and where some of those in their late 80s still do! And, of course, I have Aunts, Not Ants!

  25. John Goodwillie

    Great-aunt seems more vernacular than grand-aunt. But wait until you go back several generations. The sister of your great-great-grandmother (2 greats) is your great-great-great-aunt (3 greats): much simpler to call her your great-great-grand-aunt (2 greats, matching your great-great-grandmother).

  26. George Howell

    My family called my grandfather’s sisters our “great aunts”, but the correct term is “grand aunts”.
    We have trouble, too, with cousin labels. My father’s first cousins were called my “second” cousins, and their children were called my “third” cousins, but that’s not right. My father’s first cousins are my first cousins, once removed. Their children are my second cousins
    I did not understand the term “removed” until I got into Ancestry.com and started studying family trees. It was easier to see in a family tree diagram.

  27. Deborah Stock

    I think that the issue is about what the usage is in the general population, versus the genealogical terms. I doubt that there are many non-genie folks who would understand what you meant by a grand-aunt/uncle.
    Like most commenters here, “great” has always been used on both sides of my family to refer to grandparents’ siblings, although in everyday use they were just called aunt and uncle – even my grandparents used “great” to refer to THEIR grandparents’ siblings.
    Incidentally, I’m half British and live in England, and I can tell you that no-one here that I know uses “grand”, so it’s not a British thing.
    Also, the English pronunciation of aunt is “ahhnt”, not “awnt” which is how I hear the American alternative to “ant”!

  28. John Knight Atkins

    My family, with roots back to 1600s Virginia and 1700s South Carolina, have always used “Great-” and not “Grand-” for aunts and uncles.

    When writing to someone about genealogy, I avoid the issue by writing “gguncle,” “ggaunt,” and ggfather. This avoids confusion in correspondence.

    We also say “aunt” = ant, EXCEPT, a friend referred to his Aunt Ann , as Aont Ann, and not Ant Ann.

  29. Elisabeth Tournai

    As with other previous comments, I had not herd of Grand-Aunt and Grand-Uncle until I started using Ancestry.com and their message boards. Growing up my Grandparents’ siblings were called Aunt and Uncle with the relationship described as Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle. I can see how Grand-Aunt and Grand-Uncle would make more sense but I have always assumed it to be an American thing as in my part of the UK nobody would understand the usage of Grand associated with any relationship other than Parents or Children. When speaking to people I still say Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle but I try to be genealogically correct when using genealogical websites and forums. The other problem that tends to arise id Aunt and Uncle are also honourifics for anyone that is older than yourself – as a result I call my parents friends Aunt/Uncle (and their parents as Nanna/Grandpa) and my first cousins one removed call me Aunty, this has had me confused on a number of occasions since I haven’t realised that there was no actual relationship.

  30. Marilyn Sliva

    Our family always used great aunt/uncle too and I just became one in June of this year to my nephew’s baby boy (of course I, too, was already a ‘great’ aunt, lol).

    I never heard the term grand aunt/uncle until I saw this article but it makes sense since they are on the same level as grandparents. Like others, though, I’m sure in everyday conversation they will remain great aunts & uncles in our family.

  31. Linda Carter

    This had just recently become a debate within our family. We had always used great-aunt for the sister of my grandfather. However, leave it to me to try to correct them. It is grand aunt.

  32. Deb H.

    It has always been “great” in my family. If I start using “grand” now ( even if it’s more correct), my non- genealogy family would think I was being uppity!

  33. Diane Dyatt

    I had no actual aunts or uncles (both my parents were only children). Thus all my great (or grand) aunts & uncles were my “aunts & uncles” – and there were a lot of them. I always wondered about the great/grand “difference”. It does make logical sense that they are “grand”, but as many here have stated “great” was always used in my family and just sounds better to me. But thanks for giving us the correct info – now I know!

  34. When speaking to them they were Aunt/Uncle_. When speaking of them they were my great aunt and great uncle. After joining Ancestry, I learned the truth! Interestingly enough, the pair I had the longest & closest relationship with weren’t truly related. The Aunt had divorced my mother’s uncle, & the Uncle was her new husband. They were “great” nonetheless!!

  35. Larry Smith

    I had three grand aunts and two grand uncles still living in my life(all long gone) They were called, Aunt Ann, Aunt Ann Rasmussen, Aunt Helen Uncle Hans, and Uncle Gerhard. In explaining their relationship, they were my mom’s aunts and uncles. I do not remember ever hearing or using either “grand” or “great.” So, I guess my answer is “neither.”

  36. It makes sense that your GRANDmother’s sister is your GRANDaunt, but we always referred to them as “Great Aunt” Edie, etc… Makes sense and I have to admit, I’ve used them interchangeably but not on purpose. As we get focused on many different things over the years, here’s another bit of minutia that is technically important, especially for a professional genealogist! Thanks!!

  37. Jen White

    I never knew any of mine until beginning “climbing my family tree” 10 months ago! So right now, I’m just learning their names and where they are in the scheme of life! What I did know was confused anyway ’cause my grandmother died when daddy was 4 and he and his sister were raised by other family members…so grand/great aunts were more like just an aunt and older ones were more like a grandmother that I never knew. Confusing!

  38. Diana

    Great Aunt is surely correct: a grand aunt is someone who gives you holiday money! It makes a great, great aunt easier to understand: look at the status of 1st & second cousins, x times removed, compared to grandparents: a grandfather is surely a relation rather than a relationship; therefore we say great grandfather!

  39. Pamela Neumann

    My Grandfather was born into his mother’s. Family. And in many trees. He was listed as sibling to his own mother. Her parents also listed as his own. Parents. Because she had not married. That’s what I Call Grand-Aunts. Mixed up trees. thanks for letting me share.l

  40. I have wondered about this for years. I grew up very close to my maternal grandmother and I never called Mom’s aunts/uncles anything but Aunt or Uncle. I was taught they were my great aunts/uncles but because I heard my aunt, Mom, Uncle talk about their Aunt Mary for example, that’s what she was to me too. I had wondered why they wouldn’t be grand’s but I never heard that term growing up in a Polish family in Western PA.

  41. Donna Pollick

    I have always referred to my grandparent’s siblings as great … but thanks for clearing it up…..Grand it will be!!

  42. Lona Boudreaux

    This is very interesting. I never heard of using grand. For my grandparents I would use maternal or paternal great grandparents and then maternal or paternal second, third, fourth, etc. great grandparents. I’ve had difficulty with the aunts and uncles once I got past mine. Sometimes I would refer to them as my mother or father’s aunts and uncles. Beyond that there was never much discussion as my family isn’t interested in genealogy and we don’t live around family.

  43. Carrie McGee

    Great Aunt and Great Uncle was all I knew for 50 years until Ancestry defined those relatives as “grand”. As long as you and the rest of your family know who it refers to, does it really matter?

  44. Micheale Collie

    I’d never heard of Grand Aunt or Uncle until I started reading your blog posts! I’m from southern Virginia and we always used Great in our family.

  45. Jane

    I have always been Great Aunt Jane and have had Great Nieces. I like the Grand usage, however, as it makes clear that I am their Grandmother’s sibling. My nieces like the term Great as they like me and are amused by the double meaning of the word “great.” Still, I think I’ll start using “Grand” and “Great Grand” in my genealogy as it makes sense.

  46. Wilma Moore

    My family always used the term “Great.” As a child, I made up a name on my own. My cousins called my grandmother’s sister “Granny,” which she was to THEM. But, when I followed suit and called her Granny, my mother corrected me and told me she was an aunt. Thus, I put two and two together and referred to her as “Aunt Granny.” The name stuck and I called her that until her passing at 100. LOL

  47. Connie

    In our family grand has only been used for ‘grandparents’-ie. mother and father of my mother and father etc. My mothers aunt would be referred to as my great aunt as would my mother’s grandmother be my great grandmother etc.

  48. Toni

    When I found out the right way to refer to my grandparents siblings, I stopped using Great and started using Grand, but my family still uses Great. I have a grandaunt that refers to my “1st cousin 1x removed” as my second cousin. I’ve tried to politely explain, but it never sticks. Guess not when you been saying it for 80 years.

  49. Nancilynn Dunn

    I love the story of “Sarah Plain and Tall” in which she referred to her aunts as “the Treasures”. I think perhaps using great or grand may be more regional. In the south I only heard great aunt or uncle although when with them we just said aunt or uncle and their given name. For my part I have always tried to be a Treasure to my wonderful nieces, nephews and their children.

  50. Carol Shaw

    Someone mentioned what you might call an aunt. In my family, and without anyone noticing – but me – we called the city aunt “Ahnt” like the British would, the town aunt was “Ant” and the country aunt was Aint ! It was just part of their names.

  51. Kellie Rk

    Never even heard of the “grand” vs. “great” aunt/uncle thing; its always been “great” in our family, on both sides, although they didn’t always live up to the title!!

  52. jeannie tibbetts

    That was a very interestimg article. I’m gonna have to read it again. I’m still kinda confused. I don’t think we had many greats or grands growing up, it’s something I’ll have to think about. The only grands we had were g. pa & g ma. I heard family members mention great aunts & uncles, but don’t really remember anything much they said. In fact, I know very little about my heritage. I’ve been told things but I’m not sure what’s true or what’s just family gossip. This is my 1st time on Ancestry. com. I have a lot to learn.

  53. Jen Dawes

    I have never heard the term “grand-aunt” outside of Ancestry.com and I question its correctness. Seems to me this is an assumption that USA usage (American English) is correct. Check the dictionary: you will see that “great-aunt” predates “grand-aunt” by almost 200 years. Moreover, in the UK and the rest of the world “great-aunt” is more commonly used than “grand-aunt”. Therefore, I would categorize “grand-aunt” as an alternative usage. http://dictionary.reference.com/

  54. Jessica Clifton

    In our family, it was always “great aunt or uncle.” I even knew my great-grandfather’s siblings but rather than deal with technicalities of their relationships to us, we always just called them “Aunt” or “Uncle.”

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