Can You Legally Marry a Cousin? A Genealogy Researcher Finds Out

In biblical times, everyone married a cousin. In some countries, still, this is the preferred way. For the genealogy researcher in the
U.S.A., it will depend on what state you’re in and what type of cousin you’re looking at.

A genealogy researcher may likely find that somewhere in the family tree, there were and/or are literally kissin’ cousins. American genealogy researchers may go “eeeek.”  Do not worry. This, actually, is a gift for the genealogist.

First, it doesn’t mean they were first cousins.  In the United States, that is really not allowed in a lot of places. And it is considered weird or socially unacceptable. But it does happen now and then since there are states that allow it. In many nations, it is the preferred way to find a marriage partner.  But there, they have preferences in what type of cousin relationships are OK.

So, for the genealogy researcher in the United States, this first cousin business may be taboo. It is the second , third and even more distant relations that seem to be allowed to have relations.

For the genealogy researcher in Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Yemen and in the Palestinian Territories among others places, there is a preference for cousin marriages.  There, however, they have some rules: no double cousins (descendants of married cousins) and a preference for cross cousins (parents who are siblings of opposite sex) over parallel cousins (parents who are siblings of same sex).

See how this all makes it easier for the genealogist? Entire branches, the family history researcher will find, can then descend from the same ancestor.  Sort of fun.  Or as happens whenever this genealogy researcher mentions to her offspring how cute a like-aged distant cousin is and maybe one of them should go out with him/her, the offspring usually say:  Sort of creepy.

For the genealogy researcher, here is a chart from the National Conference of State Legislators of where cousins may and may not marry in America:

Cousin marriage legal

First cousin marriage prohibited



District of Columbia






New JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth Carolina*

Rhode Island

South Carolina













NebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNorth Dakota





South Dakota



West Virginia


Allowed under certain circumstances




  • First cousin marriage is allowed in these states under the following circumstances:
  • Arizona- if both are 65 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.
  • Illinois- if both are 50 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.
  • Indiana- if both are at least 65.
  • Maine- if couple obtains a physician’s certificate of genetic counseling.
  • Utah- if both are 65 or older, or if both are 55 or older and one is unable to reproduce.
  • Wisconsin- if the woman is 55 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.
  • *North Carolina- First cousin marriage is legal. Double cousin marriage is prohibited

So, if you are a genealogy researcher and, as you search your ancestors, you come across cousins from another country who were married, no big deal. Marriage to cousins in other countries is widespread and allowed. Let your genealogist job be easy!

The research on what everyone in America worries about—birth defects—has been shown to be lower than most people thought. The Catholic Church’s push a zillion decades ago to not have such marriages is based on biblical quotations. So, is there a reason not to?

Give your genealogy researcher a break. Do like FDR and his distant cousin Eleanor or Rudy Guiliani and his first wife (who was his second cousin) did. Let the family historian save paper, or computer time. The common ancestors truly can help make it easier to complete the family tree!

RecordClick genealogy researchers will find the all the marriages in your family and maybe even some that were between cousins. Our family history researchers will find it all for you.