Genealogy | Figuring Out Relationships
So Many Relationships!
Once we realize how interconnected we all are, and how many direct-line ancestors we have, we suddenly start to come forward again, and realize that we probably have quite a few living relatives, many of whom we many have never even met.
Of course, most folks are very aware of near-relations such as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. That’s the easy part.
The Cousin Tangle
Then we get into cousins. First cousins; kissing-cousins; quasi-cousins; removed cousins; the list goes on.
Some of us know many of our cousins; even grew up with them. Others have no idea of who their cousins may be, or at least not all of them.
The extent of that knowledge to most people is that “cousins get confusing.” Yes, you have all those ‘removals,’ and number designations. What are those numbers for, anyway?
There are many charts out there to read and figure out where they all fit in, but personally the easiest type chart I have found is the “Christmas Tree” type chart. It shows the removals in the clearest way, in my opinion. In the chart below, I’ve invented a fictitious family to stand in for everyone’s relatives.
Even with the help of the chart, this can get confusing, so I’ll start out slowly, with first cousins. Most of us know those. They are the children of our aunts and uncles, who themselves, of course, are our parents’ brothers and sisters.
I’ve included generation numbers at the left side, so you can see the progression through the years. The first generation is the common ancestor set of parents/ grandparents/ great-grandparents, or what have you, depending upon the generation you are in as you work your way back.
In the case of our made-up family, that is Charles and Mabel White. They have two children, Kate and Dan. Obviously, they are brother and sister to each other. So far, clear enough.
When Kate and Dan each marry, and have their own families, their children are all first cousins to each other, regardless of how many children they each have. (And they are aunt and uncle to each other’s children; likewise the children are their nieces and nephews.)
That much, I’m pretty sure everyone understands. So let’s move down one more generation, to the third level. Janet and Dorian, (Kate’s children) and Taylor and Ruth (Dan’s children) all grow up and have kids of their own as well. In the interests of keeping it simple, I have put names at random for each generation, without separating which sibling had which child. (I do hope it is clear that the siblings did not engage in incest. ;-))
Sample Cousin Chart
Calculating Years and Generations, Genealogically Speaking
For purposes of simplicity, when figuring out generations and years involved, it is a standard protocol in genealogy to figure each generation as being twenty-five years.
Most people will have married and have children by that age, thereby starting the next generation.
Of course, there are those who begin families sooner or later, but that is a middle-ground number to use for easy calculating how far forward or past a given ancestor or descendant will be.
Look back at the chart, and you will see that Judy and Jane, the children of Janet and Dorian; and Max and Leah, the children of Taylor and Ruth; will all be second cousins to each other.
And so it goes, on down the line. Each next generation goes up one in the degree of cousin number, and it can go on virtually forever.
Much as I hate math, it’s kind of like fractions: the larger the number, the smaller the part, or in this case, the further apart the relationship. By the time you get to eighth cousin, you might as well not be related.
Remember that bit (from my article for beginners), about having approximately 256 direct-line ancestors at two-hundred years back? That’s about where you are with eighth cousins. Starting from ancestors of old, as we do in this chart, we have come forward somewhere around two hundred years by the time we get to eighth cousins. So no, you’re not going to meet your eighth cousin, at least not in this world.
Meeting Distant Cousins
But you very well might meet your fourth or fifth cousin several times removed! It happened to me. A friend of mine and I were at a party, at which I introduced her to my mother. Not only did she stop, ask the spelling of my mom's surname, but pronounced it correctly. Something hardly anyone was ever able to do; it's a three syllable French name.
Mom and I were flabbergasted, and asked how she did that. She explained that it was her own maiden name! You could have knocked us over with the proverbial feather.
Of course, this led to research, and we did discover that we are distant cousins to one another, something on the order of fifth cousins six times removed. It was quite amusing, and a stunning example of the "small world" phenomenon.
Now, About Those Removals...
No, we can’t remove your cousins, but they do get ‘removed’ generationally from each other. Now this is where it can get horribly confusing, so again, I’ll start slowly.
We have already seen that all children beyond the first set of siblings from the common ancestors, on whatever successive generation, are direct cousins to each other, regardless of how far down the years they are; first, second, fifth, eighth, etc.
Now, you might want to take notes; for sure refer back to the chart. I did not mark the chart for removals or aunt/uncle/niece/nephew, for that would just be too many criss-crossing lines.
Let’s being at the simplest level, with the first set of cousins, Janet and Dorian, first cousins of Taylor and Ruth. I’m going to leave out the aunts and uncles thing, as I’m pretty sure everyone knows that.
So: here the lines criss-cross. We start reading the chart on the diagonal. Janet and Dorian will be first cousins once-removed from the children of their own first cousins, Taylor and Ruth. Therefore, Janet and Dorian are first cousins once-removed from Max and Leah. Likewise, Taylor and Ruth are first cousins once-removed from Judy and Jane, the children of their own first cousins, Janet and Dorian.
This happens at every generation. That makes Judy and Jane second cousins once-removed from Shari, Nadine and Joy; Max and Leah then are second cousins once-removed from Trixie and Katy.
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A Bit More Complicated
Ah..but now, let’s throw in the complicated part. Janet and Dorian (our first cousin pair) are now first cousins twice-removed from Shari, Nadine and Joy; likewise Taylor and Ruth are first cousins twice-removed from Trixie and Katy.
You get ‘removals’ like that at every generation. Now, lets jump down a few steps. Shari, Nadine and Joy are third cousins three-times-removed from Sally; Trixie and Katy are third cousins three-times-removed from Brenda and Brandon.
At any level of cousinship, moving down one generation gives you the first removal, and each successive generational jump gives you another removal.
For example, fifth cousins Tonia, Lucy and Bob, are going to be fifth cousins once-removed from Brenda and Brandon, while Robert, Sharon, Judy and Sally, are going to be fifth cousins once-removed from Sally J.
When you get that far back in time, it is not uncommon to find names getting duplicated, (whether by chance or design), so be careful which line you are tracing.
We all have them. They may be only very close family friends, whom we call ‘cousin’ out of affection, or they may be marginally part of the family by way of in-laws, but not truly related to us. It’s more a matter of social convenience to refer to them as cousins.
Quasi is an adjective, meaning, having a likeness to something; or resembling. The pronunciation is “KWAY-zee” (rhymes with ‘crazy’). That’s fitting, as this is a crazy definition of cousin, and in our family we often did just say ‘crazy cousins.’
Here’s an example. When I was a young child, we visited my mother’s family in Massachusetts several times. There was another girl about my age who was often at my grand-aunt’s house when we visited. I’ll call her “Casey,” here, as she is still living, so a pseudonym is appropriate.
I could not understand why we were not related, because, I sobbed, “Casey is related to Auntie Eunie, and so am I, so Casey and I must be related, too!”
I was so sad that my dear aunt invented a crazy, made-up non-existent relationship such as her being my second great-grand step cousin three times removed. I was satisfied.
However, there was no relationship even between Casey and my aunt, for she was the granddaughter of auntie’s husband by a prior marriage. And my uncle (auntie’s husband) was only uncle-by-marriage to me, so again, no blood ties. But, it was so much easier to just call her “Cousin Casey.”
You do have to be careful of such situations as these when people start throwing the word ‘cousin’ around.
Here’s an interesting one, and a term that is variously defined. Some people take it simply to mean very close cousins, to whom you would offer a kiss and hug on greeting. You probably grew up together and have a lot of fond, shared memories.
Another definition considers that a kissing cousin is one of far enough ‘removal’ that it would be legal to marry them. First cousins are not allowed to marry. Second cousins may, and so can third cousins, on down the line.
I’m sure ‘removals’ would be allowed to marry as well, but that might get weird; like marrying someone the age of your grandchild (or grandfather, in the reverse viewpoint), even if they were of legal age.
Greats and Grands
This is fun. You have grand parents, great grand parents, great-great grandparents, and even going back to more ‘greats’ than you can keep count of to rattle off. So we often shorten it, after the great-great grandparent to simply saying, ‘my 3-times-great grand father,’ or ‘my 6-times- great grandmother.’
Aunts and uncles come into play, but they don’t get to be ‘great’ right away. As with grand parents and great-grandparents, that takes another generation back.
Since we know from our chart that we are aunt and uncle to our siblings’ children, likewise, they become aunts and uncles in their own time. I’ll keep it to a single name on each generation from the chart, for clarity.
Let’s look back at our fake family, and see that Janet will be aunt to Max. She will in turn be Grand-Aunt to Shari; and Great-Grand Aunt to Blanche. It keeps going like that, until you are saying ‘my 4-times great-grand aunt.’
The ‘grand’ comes in at the first generational step after “just plain" aunt or uncle; grandma or grandpa,” and after that, the ‘greats’ start getting added on top.
© 2015 DzyMsLizzy
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