#12: To the Editor:

12.1  Dear Stolf: I learned a new word…”Avuncular,” meaning like an uncle, presumably a benevolent one. Is there a similar word pertaining to aunts? …from Hazel in Hilo, Hawaii

12.2  Hey, hey Hazel: There’s an old Spanish proverb, He to whom God gives no sons, the devil gives nephews. Always seemed to have a slightly sinister ring to it, but I tend to hope for the best. At any rate, the answer to your question is yes. The word you want….altho used even less frequently than Avuncular…is Materteral…without an “n”…not Materternal. These derive from the Latin words for your mother’s brother and sister, Avunculus and Matertera respectively. Here are their basic kinship terms (not my chart…I wouldn’t’ve made it so dark)…and you will recognize the origins of the English words paternal, maternal, fraternity, sorority, and filial…

12.3  Dear Stolf: What do the Dutch call what we call a “Dutch Uncle”? …from Cookie in Costa Rica.

12.4  Dear Cookie:  Ah, one of my favorites…I call it the IMBY game…In My Back Yard, the opposite of NIMBY or Not, etc. Inspired by the comedian who quipped: I was in England and asked for an English muffin…they never heard of ’em!  If only he’d asked for a crumpet, that would have sorted him right out. French fries in France are pommes frites…or fried apples…the potato is the “earth-apple” or pomme de terre. And French toast is pain perdu, literally “lost bread,” but meant in the sense of “leftover.” In Canada, Canadian bacon is back bacon. The Danes call a Danish pastry Wienerbrød…or Viennese bread…that’s supposed to be where it originated, and  most European languages follow suit.

12.5  And Americans are not immune. In French, German, Italian, Danish, Polish, and many other European tongues, an American Uncle has various shades of meaning…from unknown benefactor or “rich uncle”…in the sense of a deus ex machina who dies and leaves you an unexpected fortune…to “sugar daddy”…to simply an older man who befriends and mentors those his junior. It is believed derived from the fact that many European families had a member, usually a man, who emigrated to America, and got filthy rich in no time…well, that’s what they told their neighbors, anyway.

12.6   But it’s in the 3rd sense, that of a mentor, that Oncle d’Amérique resembles the English term “Dutch Uncle”…which is someone who advises you with necessary frankness, the opposite of a “real” uncle who would tend to indulge you, avuncularly, if you will. As with so much of language, the origin of Dutch Uncle is unknown. It seems likely the use of “Dutch” dates back to when the English and Dutch were not the best of friends, the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 1600s…and this animosity extended to the rival colonies in the New World. Some of the coinages have become so ingrained that we don’t think of them as pejorative…”Dutch treat” and “Double Dutch” for example. Others still do have a negative conotation, like “Dutch courage” for booze-induced bravado, and being “in dutch” for “in trouble.”

12.7  To answer your question, I can find no equivalent term used in the Netherlands. But there may well be. Readers, help us out? But in researching your question, I experienced a nice touch of serendipity…

12.8  …and that was in finding the phrase “Welsh Uncle”…and the corresponding “Welsh Aunt.” This refers to your parent’s 1st cousin…yes, the dreaded 1st cousin once removed. Earliest citations date back to the 1700s…several British magazine articles from the late 1800s stated the term was very rare, but opined that it would be a useful one if generally adopted. Again, its origins are shrouded in mystery…there’s the temptation to think it means “not a real uncle” in the same way Welsh Rarebit, originally Welsh Rabbit, poked fun at cheese on toast as the best the Welsh could do for meat…altho it should be noted that the Welsh traditionally love baked cheese dishes, so presumably wouldn’t have minded.

12.9  Dear Stolf: I once heard Don Rickles refer to somebody as “Perry Como’s kid by another marriage.” I laughed, like I do at everything Rickles says, but wasn’t quite sure why. Any thoughts?   from Charles Paul Oliver Sharkey, lost at sea….

12.10  Dear, um, C.P.O: Yeah, same here. The thing about Rickles is, his rapid-fire style of insults doesn’t leave you any time to ponder whether he’s actually making any sense. But like you, I love him and just laugh at everything…door knob!!  He probably said that about someone who was very much unlike Perry Como’s genial persona, the contrast making it funny…that’s my educated guess. Next week, mental gymnastics to exercise the old noodle…see yez…


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved



#11: Say “2nd Uncle!”

11.1  The other day, I called up my brother and his wife answered. I said: “It’s your brother-in-law.” She replied: “Yeah…y’know, they oughta change that law.” In fact, I believe she’s circulating a petition. Actually, I did call, but she didn’t say that…that’s just how my mind works. Still, it’s interesting the ways in which kinship is described in different languages.

11.2   In French for example, in-laws are “good”…literally. It’s beau-frère and belle-soeur for brother-in-law and sister-in-law…”good brother” and “good sister.” If only, right? 😉 😉  Across generations, they say beau-père and belle-mèrebeau-fils and belle-fille. Has a kind of friendly, non-confrontational twang to it, I think. In German, the male line of direct ancestors runs as follows, bearing in mind that ß is the German ligature for “ss”…Vater, Großvater, Ur-Großvater, Ur-Ur-Großvater, Ur-Ur-Ur-Großvater, etc. (Er, er, er, the experts tell us: In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more graphemes are joined as a single glyph…for those of you who glyph a damn.) Yeah, and in Dutch, Vater is Vader…interesting…

11.3   I mention this because in studying the Spanish kinship chart we looked at last week, you might have noticed some perculiarities, over and above their very sensible “2nd uncle/2nd nephew” solution to the “cousins removed” kerfuffle.

11.4   See, I’d been on the track of the term “2nd uncle,” in English that is, for some time…and it took some time for the penny to drop, and for it to occur to me that it might very well have been borrowed from a foreign tongue. I’d find things like this…

Or this…

Then this…

Which is great, except I was fishing for something a little closer to home than Cyprus, no offense. On the other hand, that was written in English, so there you go…

11.5  But yes, Spanish also has a different way of dealing with greats and grands, which I’ll explore at some point. For now, I’ve redone Chart 19 as Chart 34, using the “2nd Uncle” terminology, and extending it downward into “nephew” territory.

chart 34

11.6   Again, the primary difference is the elimination of cousins removed…which so many people view as confusing and illogical…I’m sure they would judge this as an improvement. And with the fluidity of language in general, who can say what we’ll say in the future.  But here,  the only individuals who are called your cousins are those of your generation…everybody “ascending” is a kind of uncle…”descending,” a kind of nephew.

11.7  As a byproduct, this  simplifies the fundamental identification of those all-important numbered cousins. Instead of your 2nd cousin being the son of your first cousin once removed ascending…your 2nd cousin is now the son of your 2nd uncleyou wanted logic, you got logic.

11.8  That being said, there is a still a bit of confusion…yes, your 2nd cousin is now the son of a 2nd something, and not of son of a 1st something, and that’s good. But in Spanish, your father’s 1st cousin is your 2nd uncle…his 2nd cousin is your 3rd uncle…his 3rd cousin is your 4th uncle, etc. Those numbers don’t match…but then they didn’t match when your 2nd something was the son of your 1st something, somehow removed…so I suppose that’s a trade-off.

11.9  Likewise, the son of your 1st cousin is now your 2nd nephew, not your 1st nephew…too bad your 1st cousin can’t be your 2nd brother, so that he would match his son, your 2nd nephew…altho it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that somewhere, in some language, they do just that!

11.10  True, in English you do know whose generation you’re talking about…once removed ascending means your father’s…twice removed descending means your grandson’s. In Spanish, their equivalent of great and grand do that…but they do so in English too, when referring to your direct ancestors and direct descendants…so there’s that.

11.11  There is one drawback to this Spanish terminology…and that is:  the “removed” does prove to be a compact way of identifying collateral relatives many generations away from you. For example, 2nd cousin 6X removed succinctly identifies the 2nd cousin of your great great great great grandfather.  Doing it the Spanish way in English, you’ve got 2nd great great great great grand uncle, retaining that easy-to-lose-count-of repetition of “greats”…and in fact spreading it from the lineals to the collaterals. Not so bad if you say 4G, but not ideal either. That’s why I like the German Ur-Ur-Ur-Ur- formulation…at least it’s more fun to say…


11.12  Now a follow-up to last week’s demonstration of how John Adams and Samuel Adams were 2nd cousins. Being an Anglo-Saxon “founding family,” the genealogy of the Adams of Boston is about as complete as it is possible to be. It’s interesting to learn, for example, that John Adams was descended from the legendary John Alden and Priscilla Mullins…their daughter Ruth Alden Bass was the mother of John Adams’ paternal grandmother Hannah Bass. But just when I thought I could lay it all to rest, I chanced upon the claim that John Adams and his wife Abigail Smith were themselves 3rd cousins!

11.13  Well, OK…off the the races! To be 3rd cousins, they would have to have great grandparents who were siblings. On the web, narrative biographies of Abigail Smith Adams didn’t go back 3 generations. I was beginning to think I might be better off with a good old fashioned “book from the library”…but I was still game for the internet, so I formulated this plan of attack: I listed the names of John Adams’ 8 great grandparents…these consisted of 1 Adams, and 7 other surnames, which is of course how families get boiled down. I then began rooting around in Abigail’s genealogical attic, looking for similar names.

chart 35

11.14  And I hit paydirt pretty quick with Boylston. The proof was in a book about Massachusetts families written in 1855, and available on another invaluable web resource, Google Books…so I was able to put together this tree. And it is here we discover why one of John Adams’ brothers, Peter Boylston Adams, was the first of old Henry Adams’ some-400 descendants to have a middle name…and where John’s son and future president John Quincy got his, too. I suppose it would be gilding the lily to throw in that Abigail’s “cousin” Dorothy Quincy was married to John Hancock, so I won’t.

11.15   But I will mischievously point out that John and Abigail being 3rd cousins means John Quincy Adams and his 5 siblings were all double 4th cousins to each other, besides being siblings. Their CR was thus 129/256, versus 128/256 or 1/2 for normal sibs…if you prefer decimals, that’s .5078 versus .5000.


wicked ballsy

chrat 36

I’m not saying that back in the day every comic strip was funny…but at least I understood them all. Today, much of the time, they go right over my head. Perhaps because I’m out of touch, but more likely because the humor is so infernally strained. And it is in that spirit that I offer this modest bit of genealogical spoofery. I realize that precisely what the yellow dot is supposed to represent is open to various interpretations…and you know what? That’s fine with me…adios, muchach’…


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#10: No Removeds For You!

10.1  Whether you know what a 2nd cousin is…or a 1st cousin once removed…the fact remains that we speakers of English are all “Eskimos.” That’s because in 1871 anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan published his ground-breaking book Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family. It was the first comprehensive survey of the way societies organize and classify kinship. He grouped systems into 6 basic types, and arbitrarily named each type after one example of a culture that used it…thus we are on the Eskimo Plan.

10.2  Of course, nothing having to do with the human race could ever be that simple, and there are many sub-categories and exceptions to the types he laid out. One of the primary responsibilities of eggheads (academics) is to argue amongst themselves, and over the past 140 years, anthropologists and sociologists haven’t been slack. Thus you may read where Morgan’s work is today considered out-dated, obsolete…that’s because for every 10,000 eggheads there are probably 9,987 distinct systems of classification. That having been said, these basic 6 categories remain a useful introduction to the subject. You may peruse it at your leisure if you’re so inclined, it’s on the web.

10.3  The most obvious way in which these 6 kinship systems differ is in the way they use descriptive and morganclassificatory kinship terms. Fancy words, but basically descriptive means each different type of relative is given a specific name…classificatory means different relatives are grouped together and called the same thing. For example, mother, father, sister, brother are descriptive terms…parent and sibling are classificatory. And one of the classic dividing lines is how you refer to your parents’ siblings.

10.4  In English, your father’s brother and your mother’s brother are both called your uncle…a sister of either parent is your aunt.  But in ancient Rome, your father’s brother was your patruus and your mother’s brother your avunculus. For the sisters…your father’s was your amita, your mother’s was your matertera. Anyhow, that gives you a taste of  it…and as you can see with English, there may be alternative terms within one system that are descriptive and classificatory…like husband/wife versus spouse.  Additionally, we have no one single word for a parent’s sibling, regardless of gender…”aunts and uncles” is the best we can do.

10.5  Now looking at the Spanish language, you will find that as with all Romance Languages…those derived from Latin…all nouns have gender. But if a chair is “feminine,” all chairs are feminine…whereas if the thing being described itself has a gender, there will be 2 words. So where we have cousin…in Spanish they have primo for a boy cousin, prima if it’s a girl. To this extent, English is classificatory, Spanish is descriptive. But there are other ways that Spanish differs from English, and one very important way is in how they deal with removed relations…that is, the cousins of one’s father, grandfather, etc.

10.6  In days gone by…and it wasn’t really that many generations ago…people lived with their extended families…they didn’t move around like we do today, and thus came into daily contact with, and had reason to identify with specific terms, many “distant” relatives. 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, cousins removed, these were individuals they knew and could easily classify. We’ve gotten away from that today…people don’t understand who is what…and what’s more, some people don’t think there’s any need to. To each his own…perhaps you never learned what the kinds of “cousins” refer to…or if you did, you’ve forgotten…use it or lose it, as they say.

10.7  And when we don’t understand something, we make up our own rules. This is seen today in the confusion between 2nd cousins and cousins removed. Some people use the terms correctly, others don’t, and this leads to miscommunication. If someone mentions their 2nd cousin, they might mean the son of their father’s 1st  cousin, or they might mean the son of their  1st cousin. Try asking such a person what their father’s 1st cousins son is to them, and you’ll get either no answer, or a delightfully mixed up one. And in fact, there is a perfectly acceptable solution…just spell it out! Say “my father’s cousin’s son” if that’s who you mean. That’s never wrong, and always completely understood, with no ambiguity or confusion.

10.8  Eventually of course, such completely descriptive terminology will get cumbersome as relationships get more distant and complex…numbered cousins and cousins removed provide a shorthand way to pinpoint specific relatives. But again, many people refuse to even get into it…too complicated, they say…and even when they do, they find it confusing…not logical. Why, for example, are some people of a specific generation a type of “uncle,” others a type of “cousin”? Isn’t uncle a generation older than cousin? Shouldn’t your father’s 1st cousin be some sort of uncle to you, just as your father’s brother is? And guess what? In Spanish he is!

chart 30

10.9  This is an excellent chart, so I present it just as I found it. Chart 30 is entirely in Spanish, but the meanings are obvious given the placement of individuals…and for the sake of simplicity, the masculine terms are given.  Ego is you…and your brother is your hermano (all terms on this chart, except spouse,  are plural.) Primo means cousin…and as you follow horizontally along your generation, you’ll see 1st cousin = primo carnal…2nd cousin = primo segundo…3rd cousin = primo tercero…etc. But the important thing to notice is this: you have no other cousins!

10.10  Which is to say, you have no cousins removed, neither ascending nor descending. One blogger summed it up well when he pointed out: If my brother has a son, I have nephew. If my cousin has a son, I have another cousin. What sense does that make?  Well, in Spanish they have it so it  does make sense.

10.11  But we do come up against a difficulty in translating from one language to another. The Spanish word carnal…which also has the same meaning as in the English phrase “carnal knowledge”…in the context of kinship has no simple English equivalent. The phrase hermano carnal (not on this chart) means “natural brother”…which is to say, not thru marriage, not your brother-in-law…your biological brother. In fact, in recent years simply saying carnal has become a slang term for any close male friend, similar to the English “bro.”  Thus tio carnal might seem to mean “natural uncle”…in the sense of your father’s brother, not someone married to your father’s sister…but look what happens when we translate the cousins…

chart 31

10.12  Sure enough, cousins removed HAVE been removed…replaced by “2nd uncle,” “3rd uncle,” etc. Those are your 1C 1R ascending…for descending it’s “2nd nephew,” “3rd nephew,” etc.  And we seem to have a “1st cousin” and a “1st uncle,” but certainly not a “1st brother”…since there are no 2nd or 3rd brothers. Still, the word carnal is the same…hermano carnal, primo carnal, tio carnal. Thus you don’t know what they literally mean in Spanish, as compared to English…except that 2nd, 3rd, etc. follows carnal as if carnal meant 1st. The upshot is, you are referring to the relative you want to be, even if you may not know exactly how you’re doing it. And when it comes to bridging languages, that’s good enough…because it works! We’ll examine this in more detail next week. Time to check the mail…

10.13  Dear Stolf: My father and his brother married identical twin sisters. Thus my cousin and I are 1st cousins on both side of the family…double 1st cousins. Could you go over again how closely that makes us genetically related?  Would it be 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4?…from Bill in Buffalo.

10.14  Dear Bill: This is why I said that identical twins knock CR into a cocked hat. Let’s start with a simpler case and build on that. When identical twin sisters each have a child with husbands who are unrelated to each other, those kids are genealogically 1st cousins…first, last, and always…with what would ordinarily be a CR of 1/8. But because their mothers are genetically the same person, the cousins are related to each other in the same way half-siblings are…1/4. It is no different than if one woman had a child with each of 2 different men.

31a  9 + 18

10.15  Now in your case, you and your cousin are double 1st cousins as you said…your fathers are siblings and your mothers are siblings…as we outlined in Chart 9. But since your mothers are identical twins, genetically it is as if they were the same person…one person, one mother…and your family tree would then resemble Chart 18…a type of what’s called Enhanced Half-Siblings.


10.16  So in Chart 32, we have your family, Bill in Buffalo. Your mothers are sisters, but I have drawn their circles touching each other, symbolizing that identical twins are genetically a single person. So you and your cousin are indeed related 2 ways…genealogically, you are 1st cousins on both sides, double 1st cousins. But genetically, you are 1st cousins on your fathers’ side, and the equivalent of half-siblings on your mothers’ side….for a total CR of 3/8…the same as so-called “Three-Quarter Sbilings.” And if I do say so myself, that’s pretty cool…

10.17  Dear Stolf: I believe a while back you said that Teddy Roosevelt and FDR were 5th cousins. Have any other Presidents been related, apart from the Big 3? …from Veronica in Toronto.

10.18  Dear Veronica: Yeah, I think I said that about the Roosevelts…and if I didn’t, I was sure thinking it, by George. Now by the Big 3 I assume you mean the 2 father/son combos: John Adams/John Quincy Adams and Bush 41/Bush 43…and the grandfather/grandson pair: William Henry Harrison/Benjamin Harrison. Beyond that, well, funny you should ask…

10.19  In recent years there has been a fad in the Media, egged on by genealogists with too much time on their hands, for what’s called “horizontal genealogy.” Thus you see where Nixon and Carter were 6th cousins, Hoover and Bush 41 were 10th cousins, Ford and Obama are 10th cousins once removed, etc. All well and good, as long as you bear in mind that there’s little chance of any significant shared genetics beyond 4th cousins or so. I like it because, and only because, it reminds people that numbered cousins are of your generation, “horizontally,” descended from the siblings of grandparents…and not  the descendants of your 1st cousin, “vertically.”

10.20  As far as significant Presidential relationships…there has yet to be brothers or even 1st cousins. Closest is James Madison and Zachary Taylor, who were 2nd cousins, a fact not commonly known. There are examples of 3rd cousins removed 3, 4 and 5 times…a couple of 4th and 5th cousins removed once, but that’s pretty much it. Unless you go for the fact that George Washington’s half-aunt married James Madison’s half-grand uncle. BTW, that’s according to Uncle Wiki, where they also claim Woodrow Wilson’s 2nd wife was the great great grand niece of Thomas Jefferson…but you know what they say, trust but verify…and I haven’t yet…will some day, I have no doubt.

10.21  There is one other that I like…you may have heard our second President John Adams and founding father Samuel Adams referred to as “cousins”…while back in the day, they were sometimes called “The Adams Brothers.” Turns out they had grandfathers who were brothers, making them 2nd cousins. Till next time, keep watching the charts…

wicked ballsy

chart 33

Someone once wrote of Henry Adams, “His descendants have probably filled more high public offices in the United States and rendered greater public service than the descendants of any other man who ever landed on the coast of America.” As you can see, John Adams’ grandfather Joseph and Samuel Adams’ grandfather John were brothers, the sons of Henry’s son Joseph. Just for kicks, I’ve included in Chart 33  some other male collaterals who were also named John, Samuel, and Joseph.

But that’s just scratching the surface…down 4 generations, Henry had at least 380 descendants and I’m sure I missed some. I found 29 Johns, 22 Samuels, and 15 Josephs…about half of those were in John and Samuel’s generation…and approximately half of those had the surname Adams. That’s some work for whoever wrote out the place-cards for the family gatherings, nez pah?. And BTW…it was not uncommon for 2 siblings to be given the same name, since infant mortality was so high…names were “reused”…which is why “Samuel 1722″…our Sam, the beer Sam…shows 2 brothers named John.


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#9: Twin Me!

9.1  Last week’s challenge was to map out  2 individuals who have a Coefficient of Relationship of 5/8. For the solution, use the fact that when 2 individuals are related to each other in more than one way, their total CR is the sum of the CR’s for each relationship. To get 5/8, one obvious way would be to add ½ or 4/8 to 1/8, giving 5/8. Relationships with these CR’s that spring to mind are father/son (½) and great grandfather/great grandson (1/8). And remember, I suggested that Abner and Zeke be replaced by Atlas and Zeus, who could be horses, swine, or in this case I’m thinking they’re cattle…


9.2  As we can see in Chart 23, Atlas has an offspring with his son’s daughter, his granddaughter. That offspring, Zeus, is thus both Atlas’ son and great grandson. 4/8 + 1/8 = 5/8. In this context BTW, fathers are called sires and mothers are dams. Such a procedure is used in animal husbandry to “concentrate” the favorable genetic traits of a sire.

9.3  And to round out the Eighths, Chart 24 gives examples of the 2 highest such CR’s. On the left, Zeus is both son and grandson of Atlas…2/4 + 1/4 = 3/4 or 6/8. And on the right, Zeus is son, grandson, and great grandson of Atlas…4/8 + 2/8 + 1/8 = 7/8…they call this “line breeding.”  Funny thing, the cattle don’t seem to mind…


9.4  But today’s topic is twins, or I should say identical twins, the result of a single sperm fertilizing a single egg, then that egg splitting in 2, resulting in 2 individuals that have an identical genetic make-up. They have a CR of 1. To the left is a style of headwear called a “cocked hat,” and that’s what identical twins knock the CR’s of their descendants into.

9.5  Well, it isn’t actually that bad…the key point is this: In figuring how closely their descendants are related to one another, identical twins are considered to be the same person. Now obviously, when Identical twin sisters have children, those children are and always will be genealogically 1st cousins. In their families, they are nothing but 1st cousins. But instead of a CR of 1/8, theirs is 1/4, or the equivalent of half siblings. In Chart 25, I have represented the twins as 2 circles touching. You can see the similar “W” pattern in their Parental Tree, the same as that of normal half-siblings.


9.6  The CR between the descendants of identical twins is double what it would be for normal siblings, while the CR between parent and child is remains at ½. But the CR between one twin and her niece, her twin sister’s daughter, is also ½. Strange but true…if you are the child of an identical twin, you are as closely related to your parent as you are to your uncle or aunt, your parent’s twin.

9.7  It’s important to see that the CR between identical twins and their ancestors remains unchanged, as does the CR between the twins (and their descendants) and their collateral relations (and their descendants)…collaterals being other siblings and all numbered cousins. And that makes sense…to the brother of the twin sisters, his nieces may be as closely related to each other as half-siblings, but to their uncle, they are simply nieces, the same as if they really were half-siblings or even full siblings. (Your half-niece is the daughter of your half-brother…but If your full brother has daughters by 2 different women, they are both your full nieces, altho they are half-sisters to one another.)


9.8  Likewise, in Chart 26, when identical twins marry identical twins, the resulting 1st cousins are as closely related as full siblings..with the familiar the “X” pattern above. And I have read several accounts of this happening,with a double wedding naturally, and indeed it was said that the 1st cousins tended to resemble each other physically as much as full siblings would. Which brings us to…The Patty Duke Show.

9.9  And there’s Patty, losing control…apparently there’s a hot dog nearby…or is that Cathy? Or one of each? The premise, as you recall, was that Patty and Cathy were “identical cousins.” And in one episode in the 2nd season, the idea was pushed even further, as “cousin” Betsy from Atlanta came to visit…she was identical too, except for her accent! She’s the daughter of Gaylord Lane (played by George Gaynes, 20 years later of “Punky Brewster” fame) whom Martin calls “a fairly distant cousin.”

9.10  Now in the never broadcast pilot episode, Cathy and her father, come from England to live with the Lanes in Brooklyn Heights. He’s Martin Lane’s brother, and they were played by different actors….implying that unless this was a momentous coincidence,  it was the mothers who were the indenticals…hence the look-a-like cousins.

9.11  However, during the first season, it was established that their fathers were identical twins. In fact, on an episode that aired on Christmas Day (yup, no re-runs back then on holidays!) Cathy’s father Kenneth Lane is played by William Schallert, who also played Martin, Patty’s father. Now the series ran for 3 seasons, 104 episodes, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t played out that the mothers were identicals…

9.12 …but had they been, that would certainly increase the chances of a pair of 1st cousins looking very much alike, as full siblings sometimes do. In that case, Patty and Cathy would have been one thing genealogically…1st cousins…but something else genetically…full-siblings. As it is, with identical fathers, they are genetically half-sisters. But other than that, there is no such thing as “Identical cousins.” Altho…with modern fertility techniques, who knows?  Is it possible for a fertilized egg to split in 2 outside the womb, then the 2 embryos be implanted in 2 sisters? The resulting children would technically be 1st cousins, the daughters (“birth daughters”?) of sisters…but by their genetic make-up they would be Identical twin sisters. Well, I’m just sayin’…

9.13  Most twins are not identical twins. Fraternal twins are as related to each other as normal siblings, with a CR of ½. It turns out that about 2% of the word’s population are twins of either kind…with identical twins making up just 8% of all twin births. Now there is some degree to which fraternal twins may resemble each other slightly more closely than normal siblings…due to the fact that as they were together in the womb, they were subject to the same nutritional and other developmental factors…such as the mother’s overall health or lack thereof. But research on this is just beginning…and at any rate, these factors wouldn’t effect the twins’ genetic makeup, which again would be that of normal siblings.

9.14  There is even some preliminary indications that there might, very rarely, be something called semi-identical twins…also called half indentical or polar body twins…and they would indeed have a CR of 3/4…the same as those Super Sister bees back in #5. The biological mechanism is similar, but not identical. Recall that with some species of bees,  a male develops from an unfertilized egg. He has just one set of genetic material, so that his sperm cells are all genetically identical to him and to each other. Thus the daughters of a male bee share all their father’s genes and half their mother’s, for a CR of 1/4 + ½ = 3/4. (And in fact when we say you share half your genes with your sibling, this is due to your sharing 1/4 of your father’s and 1/4 of your mother’s genes with that sibling…full siblings are essentially double half-siblings!) Only female bees can be Super Sisters..there are no other types of bee Super Siblings, due to the unique genetic make-up of the males.


9.15  Human semi-identical twins are different, as seen in Chart 27. The exact mechanism for the production of semi-identicals is not well understood…and some researchers doubt that it is even possible at all. But basically, it would involve 2 different sperm cells fertilizing one single egg…something that due to chemical inhibitors shouldn’t normally happen, but never say never, right?. Either literally, as show in the Chart 27…or an egg fertilized by a single sperm cell begins developing, and one of the normally discarded products of this development, called a polar body, is fertilized by a different sperm cell. This happens early enough in the development of the embryo that the polar body is apparently fully capable of developing into a fetus…in some case, with abnormalities like hermaphroditic features…altho in other cases, the semi-identical twins, both males or both females, would be perfectly normal. For now, the jury is out…and even if it were possible, it would be extremely rare.

9.16  And you’d need extensive DNA testing to reveal semi-identicals…and in fact, whether twins are truly Identical or merely fraternal has up until now always been a matter of “eyeballing” them. One clue people have traditionally used is whether there is one placenta (indenticals) or 2 placentas (fraternals) but there are exceptions to this rule, so it is not foolproof.

9.17 Next week, we’ll “remove the Removeds”…and I’ll answer some readers’ questions. Till then…We’re gonna need more Tinker Toys!


Wicked Ballsy

chart 28

I was flattered to find out that some people didn’t realize these are all my original charts…well, the concepts behind them aren’t always original, but I do draw them myself, trying to find the best way to illustrate those concepts. Here’s a case in point…octuple half 2nd-cousins...yup, Abner and Zeke are half 2nd-cousins in 8 different ways…for an ultimate CR of 1/8, or the equivalent of full 1st cousins. The chart is based on one from this excellent website…which does get a bit dense at times, but check it out if you’re game… Quantitative Genealogy from the UK .


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved