I know what a descendant is. A’s children, grandchildren and greatn-grandchildren are all A’s descendants.

But what does direct descendant mean? It is as if some of those people are A’s direct descendants, but others are just his indirect descendants. Is direct redundant and only used as a rhetorical device?

  • I've always thought of descendent as an alternative-reality descendant. Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 19:10
  • 1
    I agree that there is no such thing as an indirect descendant....We have many (relatives) from which we are not descended...
    – user19574
    Commented Mar 31, 2012 at 19:06
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    I am of the opinion that the term "direct descendant" is both redundant and superfluous. To be descended from a person is to be "directly" descended from that person...
    – user19574
    Commented Mar 31, 2012 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


A direct descendent is someone who can trace their lineage by "child" relationships all the way back to the desired ancestor. A non-direct descendent has to go through a "cousin" or a "by marriage" or some other non-child relationship in order to find the desired ancestor.


The phrase direct descendant is usually used in contrast to nearest descendant, particularly with regards to inheritance.

A direct descendant is the child, grandchild, etc.

The nearest descendant may be a descendant of a subject's relative such as his brother, sister, uncle, etc.

See also lineal descendant and collateral descendant.


As OP recognises, "indirect descendant" is meaningless in the biological genealogy context. But in historical genealogy, it can be used to mean descendants whose hereditary lineage back to A includes children born out of wedlock, or "unacknowledged" by the father. There are also cases of people claiming "indirect descent" where the lineage passes across siblings, cousins, etc., but I think this is stretching it for most of us - we'd probably say "Well, you're not really a descendant, then".

Also, in more "metaphorical" contexts (including "inheritance" as it relates to computer programming), there's the possibility that Class X is primarily derived from Class B, but (through multiple inheritance) also happens to include Class C which is directly derived from A.

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