#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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s