#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, 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 now 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


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