Are Your Uncles and Cousins Ancestors? Who Are Our Ancestors?

Who Are Your Ancestors?

I was fortunate that I grew up in a home where we would sit around the dining room, and my mother would tell us stories about our ancestors. My mother was into genealogy and was always learning new stories about our ancestors. One question that came up was, who are really our ancestors?

Uncles and cousins are considered relatives and not ancestors. An ancestor is a person we are related to who lived before us. An ancestor is someone that you are directly related to as a great grandfather and so on. It is someone who lived before us, usually a long time ago. Because our ancestors lived such a long time ago, there are many things we can learn from them.

Are Your Uncles and Cousins Ancestors? Who Are Our Ancestors?

An uncle or cousin is not considered an ancestor, but it is a relative. Family trees look at the parent-to-child relationship, such as your great grandparents as the people you are directly related to on your family tree. Other relatives on the family tree are considered branches of the tree and not direct descendants.

In some cultures, the definition of an ancestor can be confusing. For example, in Vietnam, they will consider almost anyone they are related to – even a distant uncle or cousin as a relative. They may also consider very distant relatives as ancestors.

But the Oxford dictionary definition helps to clear this up as they define an ancestor as:

“a person, typically one more remote than a grandparent, from whom one is descended.”

Oxford Languages

According to this definition, an ancestor is also knowns as a forefather, fore-elder, and forebearer. The definition is clear – an ancestor is someone you are descended from. So an Uncle or Cousin is not an ancestor but a relative.

Cambridge Dictionary defines an ancestor as:

“A person related to you who lived a long time ago.”

Cambridge Dictionary

This is where it can get confusing as a great uncle or cousin you are related to, but they would not be a direct ancestor but an indirect ancestor.

If we look at these definitions literally, then grandparents, uncle, or cousins are your relatives, but your great-grandparents are your ancestors. For most people, their parents and grandparents are alive during some part of their lifetime, whereas the great-grandparents are not. This is why the definition of an ancestor also states as “a person who lived a long time ago.”

Under inheritance law, an ancestor is someone from who you can inherit an estate. This is slightly different than the Oxford dictionary as a child can inherit an estate from a parent, uncle, or even a sibling or anyone else.

Interestingly, this legal definition is that a child related by blood does not automatically have the right to inheritance property under the rules of intestacy. If that child has been adopted out of the family, this does not give them a legal right of inheritance, whereas a child that has been adopted into the family does.

When looking at ancestors, if you are adopted or have adopted ancestors, it can get a bit confusing. This is why many adopted individuals may have two family trees. One for their adopted family and one for their birth family.

If you are adopted, having two family trees is not a requirement. It is up to the individual, but once you are adopted into a family, your adopted family’s ancestors are your ancestors.

What Things Can We Learn From Our Ancestors?

Now that we understand a bit about our ancestors, there are many important things that we can learn from our ancestors. This is why it is so important that we understand where we are from and who went before us.

When I was in college, I took master-level classes in anthropology. The one thing you learned about Anthropology is that it is all about studying other civilizations’ cultures. Universally in almost all cultures’ ancestors are significant.

Here are some of the important things we can learn from our ancestors:

  • Where We Are From – Or ancestors can help to show us where we are from. This is one reason why DNA genetic testing has been so popular. People want to know their genetic makeup and where they are from.
  • Traits – There will be biological traits that we will have that are passed down between generations. Whether you are short or tall, have blonde hair and blue eyes, or black hair and brown eyes – all of these biological traits have been passed down between generations.
  • Family Is Important – Or ancestors teach us that family is important. I have been blessed to have a family who believes that our ancestors are important. In fact, my father has a cousin who spent most of his life learning about his ancestors and then recording down their stories. The records he has left for us are now invaluable. Even if your ancestors did not leave many records, you could try to piece together what their life was like during the time they lived.
  • Use What You Can – For most of us, our ancestors were farmers or laborers. They did not live in a society with as much waste as we have today. Our ancestors teach us to make due and appreciate what we have,
  • Community matters – Our ancestors also teach us that community matters. Most of them live in a small community where they had to learn to depend on each other, sometimes for their very survival. We live in a digital world that, at times, can feel isolated. We can learn from our ancestors’ importance of building our own community, support, and even a digital one.
  • Leave A Legacy – Our ancestors can also teach us it is important to leave a legacy to those who come after us. We can do this through our lives and write down some of our lives’ experiences to leave for those who go after us.
  • Get Out In Nature – Most of our ancestors were in touch with nature; they lived out in nature. They depended on nature. Especially if they were farmers, nature meant a lot to them. We can learn from our ancestors how important nature is.
  • Skills and Education Matter – When we look at our ancestor’s lives, we realize that skills and education matter. Many of our ancestors did not have the opportunities to get the skills and education we have today. I am constantly amazed by how much you can learn on YouTube without having to go to school. We have opportunities that our ancestors never had.

Things To Discover About Your Ancestors

Getting to know all your ancestors is a really great discovery. As you discover about them, you can start to piece together a picture of their lives. This, in turn, will help you to understand your life.

Here are some things that you can discover about your ancestors

  • Discover where they were born, married, and died – You can learn about your ancestors, from where they were born, where they lived, and where they died. If you don’t have any information about your family, there’s a lot that you could put together through the records, which are now available online. We recommend that you consider using the free tool of FamilySearch or a paid tool as Ancestry. If you do not have any family records, then both of these sites have online records.
  • Learn where they went to Church or worshiped – Many of the records you will find online will be church or religious records. So you will be able to discover things as to where they went to church by where they were christened, or to other records.
  • Occupations – Many of the records list a person’s occupation. According to what occupation they put down, this could give you a lot of insight into their lives. If it says they were a farmer, you assume they lived out on a farm. If it says that they were a blacksmith, they may have more than likely worked in the city. So you can learn a lot about your ancestors according to what was put down by their occupation.
  • Lands and Ownership – Depending on what country your ancestors are from, you may find information on the property they once owned or the land they lived and worked on as a farmer or rancher.
  • Immigration Records – You can also discover a lot through immigration records. You may find the route that your ancestor took as they immigrated to another country or land.

One of the reasons we love ancestry or family history travel so much is that it gives us all the opportunity to understand more about our ancestors and their lives. As you study and learn about your ancestors, you will also understand more about yourself and your own family.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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Who Are Your Ancestors?