Double-first or thrice removed, they're all family to us.

two girls in front of porch
Below the Mason-Dixon, the family circle is tight.
| Credit: Southern Living Editors

Let's face it—the South is Extended-Family Central. If you just slow down a little as you're driving by our house, we'll claim you as a cousin, and if you actually are our cousin, well, you might as well be our sister—or at least our cousin-sister, if there is such a thing. We love a big Southern family.

We have a tendency to affectionately address cousins who are our parents' age as "aunt" and "uncle," even though they're actually our cousins, too. And we're not keen on that whole "thrice removed" business because a cousin's a cousin in a close-knit family. No need to number everybody.

Our favorite cousins are like siblings without the baggage—no rivalry over who's Mama's favorite because we've got different Mamas. A lonely first-grader on the playground can count on his third-grade cousin to give him a push on the swing until he makes some friends and can hold his own at recess. Once we hit high school, our boy cousins will give it to us straight if they think we're dating losers, while girl cousins can be counted on to teach us how to wrangle our hair into an updo for the prom.

As we grow older together, Southern cousins help each other manage Mama'n'em by sharing valuable intel: Turns out, Aunt Gert only said she didn't want to make the ambrosia this Christmas because she thought Aunt Biddy wanted to make it, but Aunt Biddy hates making ambrosia and only agreed to do it because she thought Aunt Gert was tired of peeling those oranges. Well-placed cousins can untangle that holiday hairball with one quick phone call.

In a close family, there is one category of cousin that is held in especially high regard: the "double-first." This phenom happens when siblings from one family marry siblings from another. Now we're all kin!! Doesn't get much better than that, as far as Mama'n'em are concerned.