#8: Uncles Are Grand, Cousins Get Removed…Not My Fault

8.1  Relatively few basic words comprise the kinship system in the English language:


If you have a relative that isn’t one of these, you describe that relative by modifying one of these…making it a compound word or a phrase. You’ll notice that the first 10 of these words are in blue…they span 2 generations…the other 4 are in red…they are the same generation.  I did it this way because in English, the way you modify these basic words is different, depending on whether it’s your generation or not.

8.2  For your generation…brothers, sisters, and siblings are just that…and cousins are modified with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc….depending on how far back you need to go to find the 2 siblings from which you and your cousin are descended.

8.3  Not your generation….grand goes up or down 1 generation…sometimes a one word compound like grandfather, granddaughter…sometimes a 2 word phrase like grand aunt, grand nephew. Great grand goes up or down 2 generations, then additional greats are added for each additional generation. And here we come to an area of disagreement…

8.4  …which is, what to call your father’s uncle. Commonly, the term is “great uncle”…similarly, your grandfather’s uncle is your “great great uncle,” and on up the tree. There are 2 problems with this. First, as you start to pile on the greats, you see a disconnect…for example, your great great grandfather’s brother is your great great great uncle…that’s 2 people of the same generation, one with 2 greats, one with 3 greats. Wouldn’t it be easier all the way around if the greats in each generation were in sync? Um…yeah. Thus genealogists prefer the term “grand uncle,” in direct correspondence with grandfather. This way, between the 2 brothers of a generation in your direct line, the greats will always match.

8.5  The best argument for doing it this way… apart from the clarity and consistency of it…is this: You have a grand father, but no great father. So why should you have a great uncle?

8.6  The second problem is something that I suspected, and a quick google count confirmed it: if there is somebody you call your “great uncle,” he most likely calls you his “grand nephew”…next, your “great great uncle” has you as his “great grand nephew”…again, the greats are out of whack. And heck, I even found one case where a chart said “grand uncle” and “great uncle” were 2 different things, 2 different generations from you…talk about Murphy’s Law in action!  So using greats and grands the same way with uncle/nephew as you do with father/son is the answer, pure and simple…altho there exist legal decisions that say a great uncle is the same thing as a grand uncle, where wills are concerned, etc. But I say, why complicate your life?

chart 1

8.7  Looking back at Chart 1, this was meant as a general reference chart…3-in-1 actually, showing how each of your relatives is related to you, to your father, and to your grandfather. Chart 19  below simplifies this…it shows each relative’s relation to you…altho in the triangular left-hand corners, it does give that person’s relation to your direct ancestor of that generation. But one thing I wanted to do was to make your direct line of ancestors moving up from you vertical, instead of diagonal, and that’s accomplished by making the box representing each preceding direct ancestor larger than the one beneath it…with the pleasant result that everyone below a “long box” is a direct descendant of the person in that long box.

chart 19

8.8  There are several ways to abbreviate multiple greats for the sake of convenience…a great great great grandfather can be a 3 great grandfather…a 3rd great grandfather…or a 3G grandfather. I prefer the 3G approach, but you’ll encounter all these ways, so expect them.

8.9   Now we’ve accounted for many of your relatives…all of those in your generation…all of those in your direct line, both up and down…and all of the siblings of your direct ancestors, along with the descendants of your siblings. What’s left are the relatives belonging to the same generation as those in your direct line, apart from their siblings…all of those are cousins of some degree…the same as all the relatives in your generation, apart from your siblings, are some sort of cousin to you. Thus we find your father’s 1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, etc. And your grandfather’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousin…and your great grandfather’s, and on up.

8.10  Could we call these cousins grand cousins, great grand cousins, and so on? Bad move, since again the generations would be out of sync…”grand” for your cousin would mean of your father’s generation…but “grand” for your uncle would mean of your grandfather’s generation. Well, that’s the technical analysis of it…who knows why language evolves the way it does? In English, we use the word removed…meaning the number of generations removed from you…once removed for your father’s generation, twice removed for your grandfather’s generation, 3 times removed for your great grandfather’s generation, and like that.

8.11  Yes, your uncle could be thought of as your brother once removed…and your grand uncle as your brother twice removed…we simply don’t do it that way…it is what it is.

8.12  But here’s what trips people up…if someone is your 1st cousin once removed, you are their 1st cousin once removed…but now, “1st cousin once removed” seems to mean 2 different things: from you to him, your father’s 1st cousin…but from him to you, his 1st cousin’s son. Or looked at strictly from your point of view, your 1C 1R could be somebody of an older generation, your father’s 1st cousin…or somebody of a younger generation, your 1st cousin’s son.

8.13  And indeed, as this terminology was developing, some people felt that it should only go one way…your father’s 1st cousins was your 1C 1R, but you weren’t his! Trouble is, what were you to him? Opinions differed, and it was a fine mess to say the least. Thus, the terms ascending and descending came to be tacked on, indicating whether this 1C 1R was back generations from you…or down generations from you. Again, we have the system we have…there are others, like in Spanish where 1C 1R ascending is 2nd uncle…1C 1R descending is 2nd nephew…and since language is always evolving, who know what we’ll say in 50 or 100 years? And this 2nd uncle/nephew system is occasionally seen in English, but it hasn’t taken hold in general. Watch this space.

chart 20

8.14  So now that we know what they’re called…how closely are we related? Chart 20 is your Coefficient of Relationship Cheat Sheet…and these CR’s are applied in Chart 21…enjoy, dear friends… 😉 😉

chart 21

wicked ballsy

Dear Stolf: Your post about the Bee Super Sisters, who had a CR of 3/4 as compared to ½ for full siblings was interesting. But with people, isn’t there a thing called “Three-Quarter Siblings” …is that the same thing? …from Stumpy, Lake Hoochimakoochi River, Georgia. 

chart 22

Dear Stumpy: You’re right, there is…and such a relationship is shown in Chart 22. But while Abner and Zeke here would be called “three-quarter siblings,” that term is misleading, since their CR is not 3/4 but rather 3/8. Consider: half-siblings share one parent, and each has another parent they don’t share…here, Abner and Zeke have the same mother but different fathers. Usually, half-siblings are related only thru just the common parent they share…but here, their 2 different fathers are related to each other…they are in fact brothers. This is one example of Enhanced Half-Siblings…Abner and Zeke are related by 1/4 (as half-siblings) thru their mothers, and 1/8 (as 1st cousins) thru their fathers.

Total CR 1/4 + 1/8 = 3/8. But you’ll notice that 3/8 is half-way between 1/2 and 1/4…which is to say, half way between 4/8 and 2/8. Abner and Zeke are the equivalent of half way between full brothers and half-brothers…hence the term “three-quarter brothers.” And I was careful to say “the equivalent of” because in point of fact Abner and Zeke are both half-brothers and 1st cousins, and that’s all they are. Now one person having children with each of a pair of siblings was more common in olden days than today…hence the special name. But Abner and Zeke do not have a CR of 3/4…for that we would need people having children with people they are related to, not often seen, despite the customary jokes, even along the Lake Hoochimacoochi River.

In other words, think animal husbandry…and here’s a quiz…sketch out a Parental Tree where Abner and Zeke have a CR of 5/8…hint: call them Atlas and Zeus…answer next time.


Copyright © 2011 Mark John, All Rights Reserved



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