Genealogy; Sitting at the Foot of my Family Tree

Basic Terminology

  • Half Sibling: Biological child shares of one of the parents with silbing, but having the second parent different than the biological sibling. For example, they have the same mother but different fathers.
  • Step-Sibling: Child tied to a sibling by marriage, no biological traits are shared.
  • Cousin: Descendants in the same generation whose parents are siblings.
  • Second Cousins / Third Cousins / Fourth Cousins etc: Numerical value counts generations that seperate blood relation of cousinship. For example, Third cousins would be descendants in the same generation whose great-grandparents were siblings. Generation one = siblings. Generation two = cousins. Generation three = second cousins etc.
  • Second Cousins Once Removed: The phrase "once removed" indicates the relations are from different generations. Twice Removed, Three times removed (although getting quite remote at this point) denotes the generations from that seperate the blood relation.

Why even try?

Genealogy can be a daunting undertaking when you first start out. How far will you venture back? Will you track every sibling, second cousin and step-child there is? Will you be tested on the accurate definition of "second-cousin-once-removed?"

The real question to be considered is why? What is the purpose of digging up dusty bits of information just because they share your surname? Once you define your reasoning, it helps you to chart your course.

Some need to find a nugget of ethnicity in their background for school scholarships. Others have always wondered about family tales long recited orally from one generation to the next, but are they cemented in fact? Some have spiritual ties to the ancestors. Whatever your reason, and however deep you decide to swim, family records and stories can be motivating, captivating, sobering and inspiring.

Did you know?

In all the United States and some cultures around the world, it is permissable to marry your second cousin (that is, your grandparents were siblings).

When you begin researching, get a feel for the culture you are diving into. What is the family structure like? How do they marry and name their descendants? This will help you understand and properly follow the trails that lead to your specific ancestors and their stories.

There are a few more fancy words to learn to help understand surname legacy. Basic words like "Maternal" meaning mother and "Paternal" meaning father, will help you sort which side of the family you are referring to. Some cultures have a "patronyms;" that is a father's name with an added suffix that describes whether the child is a son or daughter. For example, in Scandinavian culture, this is common practice to have a surname of "Anderson" which meant "Ander's son" or "Andersdatter" meaning "Ander's daughter."

This can make following a trail a bit challenging at times. I found in my own search that there were three different generations that named their son's after the father and the surname would change with gender. "Ole Oleson" was carried on for three generations so I had to track birthdates to keep track of which "Ole" I was referring to. When the surname changed with each generation based on the father's name, it can be confusing to realize you are talking about cousins when the surnames change each time. For example, Ole Oleson (Ole Sr.'s son, Ole) would have a son named Anders. That child would be called "Anders Oleson." He would have a son named Sven. That child would be called Sven Anderson.

Historical Links in my family

In my own family, the story that was handed down for generations was that we were related to Benjamin Franklin. Like in the childhood game of telephone, with only oral passing of this family lineage, the details of exactly how we were related got lost.

One story had us as part of an illigitimate line, very hush-hush and a bit discouraging. I was happy to learn that this part of the tradition was pure fiction and I was able to trace exactly how I became Benjamin Franklin's 9th Cousin. I was following an ancestor of ours with a surname Barnard dating back to 1400 England. As I traced the generations forward, I came across a marriage of Mary Barnard (1667-1737) with a man named John Folger, son of a Peter Folger. As I dug into John Folger's siblings, I found that his sister Abiah Folger married a man named Josiah Franklin.

How does this tie in with my family tree? Josiah Franklin and Abiah Folger would have a son named Benjamin who would grow to be one of the Funding Fathers of America. John Folger (my ancestor) and Abiah Folger Franklin (Benjamin's mother) were siblings. That makes their children cousins. My tree and Benjamin Franklin's trees would continue to grow side by side with each passing generation adding the distinctive numberical value to the cousinship.

Each Generation is noted by a bullet point:

  • Peter Folger (Patriarch)
  • John Folger & Abiah Folger (siblings)
  • my family & Benjamin Franklin's family (cousins)
  • second cousins
  • third cousins
  • fourth cousins etc.

Reading on further, Peter Foger, the grandparent in common between Benjamin Franklin and myself was historically documented as "the white chief's old-young man" by the Nantucket Indians meaning he was wise for his age. He ground his own eyeglasses (perhaps giving his ideas to his grandson, Benjamin Franklin the launchpad for his famous bifocal invention.) Peter met his wife Mary Morrill in Nantucket, Massachusetts. In 1849, three of the Folger descendants traveled to the West Coast to mine for old. At this time in history, roasted coffee was considered a luxury of the city dwellers.

According to the Folger's Coffee website, in 1850 in San Fransisco, William Bovee hired James Folger as a carpenter to built a mill. He agreed to bring coffee to the gold miners to try and round up more customers for this relatively new product. In 1872, James bought out the other partners of Bovee's coffee company, and "Folger's Coffee" was born.

Benjamin Franklin has ties to the Folgers Coffee company, and to me! Stories like this spurned me on. What else would I discover?

I have links to William the Conqueror and have found written journals about the Germans who came to America working for the English crown and here left here to fend for themselves after the Revolutionary War. I learned about my Quaker ancestors who at one point felt that gravestones were a bit vain, and proceeded to tear down those that existed and not erect new ones for those deceased for a few generations.


We are fortunate to live in the digital age where many of the documents to trace your family roots is online instead of having to go to specific locations and libraries. Here are a few to get you started. Some are free while others may have a membership fee. Usually there is a fee to get a copy of a historical document or record such as a marriage licence or census record. The Mormon Church have many historical libraries within their church campuses that are open to the public with great resources.


Have fun. Allow history to come alive as you learn about the roots on your family tree. They are the foundation from which the leaves of the new generation bud and are watered by the experiences and challenges of the lives and times they lived. Whether you realize it our not, we all are writing our ouwn history. Generations from now, genealogists like yourselves might be fascinated with the introduction of Europe's Euro currency, electing our first African American President or living through the terrorist attack of 9/11.

You have a story to tell. What seems like ordinary today in the light of tomorrow will shine on in history as remarkable.

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