#16: Royal Action!

16.1  In honor of the Royal Wedding, let’s take a peak at the motherlode of genealogical shenanigans, the Royal Houses of Europe. Large families and indiscriminate cross-border inbreeding yield a kaleidoscopic blizzard of kinship komplexities. International? Descendants of Queen Victoria, for example, today populate the Royal Families of Greece, Germany, Norway, Romania, Yugoslavia (as was), Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Spain…in fact, Prince Philip, as Victoria’s the oldest living great great grandchild, is in the line of succession in 16 countries, including Great Britain…at last check I believe he’s #522…Uncle Wiki has a list that goes up to #2398. But then, somebody new may have been born between yesterday and today, shoving Philip down a position…that’s how it works, you see.

16.2  You want inbreeding? Probably the worst case is that of Charles II of Spain. For normal folk, going back 5 generations yields 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 2G grandparents, and 32 3G grandparents…taken together that’s 62 different individuals. In Charles’ case, it was only 32! Going back 2 more generations, 254 slots were filled by just 82 people! It’s said that his degree of in-breeding was almost double that of a brother-sister union, as impossible as that might sound at first blush. And of course, it took its toll: he had severe physical and emotional defects, and was sterile to boot, leading to the War of Spanish Succession. The technical term is “Pedigree Collapse,” and we’ll get into that one of these times.

16.3  One thing you’ll encounter with alarming frequency…among royals and rabble alike…is uncles marrying their nieces. Right off the bat, such an uncle finds that his brother is now his father-in-law, and his nephew has become his brother-in-law. For the niece, her dear old Granny now does double duty as her mother-in-law…etc., etc. Not for nothing, but Charles II’s father and 2 of his great grandfathers married their  nieces, and genealogically speaking, we’re off to the races.

16.4  Today we’ll look at Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, and 5 of the ways in which they are blood relatives to each other. Undoubtably there are more, but these will give you the flavor of it. Chart 49 shows the most straightforward relationship, that of 3rd Cousins. And if you collected stamps as a kid, you know all these people already! That green stamp off to the side is Edward VIII, son of George V and older brother of George VI,  the one who abdicated. And that happened so quick, only 3 stamps and no coins bear his image…altho see today’s Wicked Ballsy section.

chart 49

16.5  So here we have Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert*…they are great great grandparents to both Elizabeth and Philip. As you can see, their offspring, siblings Edward VII and Alice are the Royal Pair’s great grandparents…grandparents George V and Victoria are 1st cousins…and parents George VI and Alice are 2nd cousins, making Elizabeth and Philip 3rd cousins. In this and the subsequent charts, actual Sovereigns are in red, all others in black…a black with a Roman numeral was the King or Queen of someplace, just not Britain.

*And no, he wasn’t the pipe tobacco, Prince Albert in a can…that was his son, also Prince Albert, better known to the world as Edward VII.

16.6  While 3rd cousins is the most obvious relationship…just straight up the direct lines to Victoria…the closest relationship between Elizabeth and Philip is 2nd Cousins Once Removed, as shown in Chart 50. Members of the Greek and Danish Royal Houses are indicated by the appropriate flags, all others are British. And as I have done in the past, Philip is highlighted to show where he appears twice. This relationship derives from King Christian IX of Sweden, and you can see that Elizabeth’s father George VI is 2nd cousin to Philip’s mother Alice on one side, and also 2nd cousin to Philip himself on the other side, making Elizabeth and Philip 2nd cousins once removed.

chart 50

16.7  This is a good time to review exactly why 2C 1R is closer than 3C. Recall that a 2C 1R is your father’s 2nd cousin. His son is then your 3rd cousin. In creating that son, a whole new blood-line is brought into the family, namely that of the 3rd cousin’s mother. Thus, whatever the degree of relationship between you and your 2C 1R, your relationship to his son is half that. And it works the other way, too…your relationship to your 2C 1R’s father, who is your 1C 2R (i.e. your grandfather’s 1st cousin) is double that of your relationship to your 2C 1R.

16.8  But here’s where it really gets interesting, because Victoria and Albert, great great grandparents to both Elizabeth and Philip, were 1st cousins to each other! As we see in Chart 51, Brits merged with Germans. Thus, their offspring were both siblings and double 2nd cousins to each other…their grandchildren both 1st and double 3rd cousins…great grandchildren both 2nd and double 4th cousins…and great great grandchildren, like Elizabeth and Philip, both 3rd and double 5th cousins to each other. And any other ways that Victoria and Albert were related, over and above 1st cousins, will trickle down the Family Tree to Elizabeth and Philip as well.

chart 51

16.9  A couple of things about Chart 51…the first is George III…ever heard of him? Right, he was King during the American Revolution. But you’ll also notice that Victoria’s father Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was not a King…and the way they got from George to Victoria is a story in itself. George III was succeeded by his eldest son George IV. When George IV died without an heir, son No. 2 son Frederick was already dead, and he too had no heir. Thus the Crown descended to William IV, the No. 3 son…mind you, George III had 9 sons and 6 daughters. When William IV died…you guessed it, heirless…No. 4 son Edward was also dead, but his only child, 18-year-old Victoria, wasn’t…so there you go.

16.10  Getting back to Elizabeth and Philip, they are also 4th cousins once removed. In Chart 52, on the left is the familiar direct line from Philip to Victoria, then thru Edward to George III. Elizabeth’s direct line parallels this line, and thus she and Philip are 3rd cousins as we’ve noted. But Elizabeth is also descended from George III by another route, thru George’s son Adolphus. As a result, Elizabeth is the 4th cousin of Philip’s mother Alice, and Philip’s 4C 1R. Are we having fun yet?!

chart 52

16.11  But of course there are 2 sides to every family. Chart 52  traced it back thru Mary Adelaide’s mother Mary of Teck, Elizabeth’s paternal grandmother. If we instead wend our way thru Francis of Teck, Mary of Teck’s father, we come to Ludwig von Württemberg, an esteemed Herzog or Duke, and Philip’s 3G Grandfather, making he and Elizabeth 4th cousins, free and clear, Chart 53.

chart 53

16.12  So how closely are Elizabeth and Philip related? I get of Coefficient of Relationship of 30/2048,  which is just a shade more distant than half-2nd cousins, 32/2048. Relationships beyond 5th cousins won’t add much, so that’s pretty much where it stands. Time to rummage around in the mailbag.


16.13  Dear Stolf: I’ve heard the postpositive adjectives Consort, Regnant, and Regent applied to the Royals….could you explain what they mean?…from Narcissus in Singapore…

16.14   Not only will I, but I’ll go you one better, and we’ll start with Regnant. This term exists due to the bias in favor of male heirs. It is applied almost exclusively to Queens…it simply means she is Queen by her own hereditary right. True, there were a couple of Kings Regnant way back, when it was found expedient to please all parties concerned with well-chosen technicalities, if you catch my drift. But the general thinking is that the only way you can be King is thru hereditary descent, thus the adjective isn’t necessary. It is necessary for Queens, who can be such thru hereditary or thru marriage…and in the latter case…

16.15   …they are termed a Queen Consort…i.e. partner…altho in practice she will be referred to simply as the Queen. Now the husband of a Queen Regnant is a Prince, altho after 17 years of marriage, Victoria bestowed upon Albert the title of Prince Consort. There is no such thing as a King Consort, owing to the theory that “you cannot make a King.” In fact, Victoria wanted the title “King Consort” for Albert, but was persuaded otherwise, the implication being that a King Consort would be a King who is subordinate to a Queen, which would be considered a Royal no-no, altho that goes right over the heads of us Yanks, nez pah?

16.16  Philip could have been a Prince Consort, but it was felt that the term was so identified with Albert that they’d as soon leave it just with him. But the funny thing is, as hidebound by tradition as this stuff may appear, there’s always room for something new. And that’s “Princess Consort,” a new term devised to apply to Prince Charles’ wife Camilla, if and when he should become King. Again, a neat bit of nitpicking that satisfies the Brits’ sensitivities, given the past histories of all concerned.

16.17  Finally we come to the interesting term Regent. This is a person who is what we might  call an “acting Sovereign,” reigning in one of 3 circumstances: the Sovereign is out of the country for an extended period of time…or is incapacitated either physically or mentally….or is a minor. For England, I have only seen the term used as Prince Regent…for example, for the 9 years prior to George III’s death, his son George IV ruled as Prince Regent, owing to the elder George’s mental illness. A Princess Regent would then simply be the wife of a Prince Regent, altho I have seen Princess Regent used in a literal sense in other countries, when the heir to the throne was a female.

16.18  I said I’d go you one better, and here it is: Royal. As used in the UK, the title Princess Royal is one that is specifically conferred upon, and not automatically inherited by, the Sovereign’s oldest daughter, and it is a title for life. Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Anne was declared such in 1987, at age 37. Elizabeth herself was never a Princess Royal, as the title was held by her grand aunt Mary, the only daughter of George V, from 1932 until her death in 1965, and there can only be one at a time. Prince Royal…as an equivalent of Crown Prince…is used in other countries, but neither term is kosher in Great Britain. The fact that there was once a ship HMS Prince Royal was probably meant in the colloquial sense of “Royal Prince,” not as an official style and title, as they say. Next time, haven’t decided yet…be surprised.

wicked  ballsy…

You philatelists and numismatists don’t have any of these, as they were only in the planning stage when You-Know-Who did you-know-what…but cool to see nonetheless, sez me…


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#15: More Kinship in Action!

15.1  I want to sketch out another interesting Family Tree, but before I do that, a few words on relationships that often don’t appear in your typical genealogy, because they’re neither by blood or marriage. Like foster parents,  foster children, foster siblings…when a person is raised by someone who is not their biological parent. I almost said “who is not related to them” but of course a grandparent could be a foster parent. And if there is no true kinship tie, does foster extend to cousins, uncles, grandparents? There are probably as many different ways of looking at it as their are families.

15.2   The foster relationship can be codified as a legal adoption…or the guardian/ward relationship…the big difference being that in general you can legally marry your ward, but not your adopted child. In the Middle Ages, there was something called a “charge”…this was a child who became the legal responsibility of a nobleman, an obvious honor for and benefit to the parents. Interestingly enough, the charge was sometimes, while treated as the nobleman’s child, also considered a hostage, to ensure the loyalty of the parents. And you may have heard The Cow called the “Foster Mother of the Human Race”…recalling the Spanish for foster mother…Madre de Leche…Milk Mother.

15.3  There are also religious institutions, such as Godparents…sometimes actual relatives, other times not. And in some churches, marriage between Godparents and Godchildren is not allowed even if they are unrelated. Adding a social aspect to the purely religious one, I seem to recall a novel by Mario Puzo…

15.4  Then there are “honorary” or “titular” relations…from the word “title”…typically a close friend of the family who is known as a cousin or uncle. Not all families do this…in some, only real uncles are called “Uncle.” But 2 good examples come from The Andy Griffith Show When Aunt Bee misplaces her Aunt Martha’s ring, she explains that Martha is just an old dear friend of her mother’s, not anybody’s actual aunt. This episode is also interesting in that Jack Dodson makes his 1st appearance on the show, not as county clerk Howard Sprague, but as the Taylor’s insurance man Ed Jenkins. I call this the “Barney Miller Effect,” since many of the actors who went on to become regular or semi-regular characters on that show made their first appearance in a completely different role…before he was Sgt. Dietrich for example, Steve Landesberg played a priest!

15.5  Also on Andy,  there’s an episode where Cousin Gloria breaks up with her fiancee then comes to visit the Taylors and presumably clear her head…and she’s not an actual relative either. Of course Aunt Bee herself is an instructive case, for a number of reasons, not the least of which being she isn’t really Andy’s Aunt…not his father’s brother…but Andy’s 1st cousin once removed, his father’s 1st cousin (but that’s a tale for another day!) But she is what you might call a “Practical Aunt”…an Aunt in practice. This can also happen when a nephew is old enough to be included in the parents’ generation, and is thus called an Uncle by his much younger cousins. Or an uncle is young enough to be considered a cousin. In fact, I’m hearing more frequently from Baby Boomers who are investigating their family history, and have discovered so-and-so isn’t really the relation they always thought they were!

15.6  But in the case of Mayberry, both Opie and Andy call her “Aunt Bee,” and indeed she calls both of them…father and son…her nephews. In this sense she is sort of a “Family Aunt” and we had one of those in my family.  Ciotka Gesek (pronounced “chutka”…the Polish word for aunt) was actually my maternal grandmother’s maternal aunt.  Her first name was Antonina or Annie…but the whole family called her simply Ciotka. Not for nothing, there was also an Uncle Voi…pronounced “voo-ee,” an Americanization of the Polish word for Uncle…Wuj…yes, Uncle Uncle!

15.7  But getting back to Aunt Bee, since everyone in town called her that, she was sort of a “Community Aunt,” besides being a “Family Aunt.” These are all nuances to keep in mind when researching your family…you can’t necessarily take everything you find at face value, with respect to who’s what to whom. But lets get to the case of Louba…

15.8  And that would be Anna Louba Rubens née Klionsky, an accomplished English lady of Russian origins who died in 2004 at the age of 105. In her mid-90s (yes!!) she began a modeling career, and appeared on the cover of the British version of Vogue magazine at age 100. And she is also the linchpin that connects one Matthew Klionsky in 2 separate ways to the late playwright Arthur Miller. “MK” as we’ll call him wrote about it here  ,  after Miller’s death February 10, 2005.

chart 45

15.9  As you can see in Chart 45, Zalman Mordecai Klionsky had 3 sons, of whom Shiman was MK’s great grandfather. Shiman was Louba’s uncle, making MK’s grandfather Louba’s 1st cousin…and MK and Louba 1st cousins twice removed. In this chart the squares left blank are individuals MK doesn’t specifically mention, but which can be inferred. Thus MK is 3rd cousin to Louba’s grandson Paul Goodman, as well as Barnet Klionsky Jr.’s granddaughter Cathy Klion. So where’s Mr. Marilyn Monroe? He’s coming, hang on…

46 re.jpg

15.10  In Chart 46 as in Chart 45, the blood relatives of MK are enclosed in green boxes, to distinguish them from relatives by marriage, without whom…as the old saying goes…we ain’t got no story. Louba’s husband Joseph Rubens was a 1st cousin of Michael Balcon, whose grandson actor Daniel Day-Lewis married Arthur Miller’s daughter Rebecca. Not the closest of relations I’ll grant you, but this is MK’s story, not mine. And it gets better, because…

47 re.jpg

15.11  MK’s 3rd cousin Cathy Klion married Tom Potz, who’s grandfather Isaac was the doctor who delivered Arthur Miller. As you can see in Chart 47, I improvised the symbolism somewhat, and very glad to do it. Now MK describes his 2 relationships to Arthur Miller in 2 different ways…and I believe if you check them against Chart 47, he’s right on the nose, as far as that goes. But I must tell you, working on this Family Tree, I was as happy as a clam at high tide, altho it felt a little like science fiction.

“So, Arthur Miller was delivered by the grandfather of one third cousin’s husband, and his daughter married another third cousin’s third cousin. This can also be re-stated as follows: Louba had a first cousin whose granddaughter married a man whose grandfather was the doctor who delivered Arthur Miller. And, Louba’s cousin-by marriage (through her husband) had a grandson who married Arthur Miller’s daughter.”

15.12  Notice that when MK writes “married another third cousin’s third cousin”…the first he’s referring to is Paul Goodman, who is his 3rd cousin on the Klionsky side. (“Another” means besides Cathy Klion, also MK’s 3rd cousin.) The second is Daniel Day-Lewis, who is Paul Goodman’s 3rd cousin on the Rubens side (Louba’s husband)…but MK and Day-Lewis are not 3rd Cousins, nor to his credit does MK suggest they are. Now I’m ready to poke around in the mailbag…


15.13  Dear Stolf: How is my great grandfather’s niece related to my niece?…from Ace in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ…

15.14   Dear Ace: How about a nice game of Who’s Zoomin Who? I’m up for it, and I’ll do this completely in my head (no charts), to demonstrate the typical steps you might take…and I say “typical” because there’s no right or wrong way to figure it, only a right or wrong answer at the end.

15.15   {Step 1}  Your great grandfather’s niece is the daughter of your great grandfather’s brother…and as such is your grandfather’s 1st cousin. And we’re practically done already!

15.16  Because your grandfather’s 1C is…{Step 2} your father’s 1C 1R…and {Step 3} your 1C 2R…and {Step 4} your niece’s 1C 3R. That last step deserves some elaboration, because it demonstrates the very important principle of interchangeability. As far as the folks going up your direct line are concerned, your daughter and your niece are interchangeable. What’s true of one is true of the other…both are grandchildren to your father, great grandchildren to your grandfather, and 2G grandchildren to your great grandfather. Thus, the relationship of 3 times removed that would apply between your daughter and your 1C 2R extends interchangeably to your niece as well. And it goes without saying that that’s because to those direct ancestors, you and your brother (your niece’s father) are also interchangeable.

15.17  As an exercise, you might try it again, but substitute “my great grand niece” for “my niece”… and good luck, my friend.

15.18  Dear Stolf:  I am teaching my high school English Class about euphemisms…how and why they evolve over time, like the progression: Colored, Negro, Black, African-American, People of Color. I gave them this assignment: Imagine a future where people are routinely cloned, but the word “clone” itself is considered offensive. Come up with possible words or phrases they might use for (1) the clone itself…(2) the person he was cloned from…and (3) what clones of the same person would call each other. What do think?…from Sparky in Anchorage…


clones15.19  You guys come up with some interesting questions, boy, and I think I couldn’t do better if I were making them up myself.  I considered many possibilities, some rather fanciful like sage and mage…gen, progen and cogen…dire (sire + dam), but here’s my final submission, and I expect at least an A- on this: The “donor” is the sire…the clone is the scion…and to each other the clones are horts (from cohorts.)  And since this is in the future, they’ll pronounce the second one SKY-on, not the currently correct SY-on. Next week, in honor of that Royal Wedding that’s generating so much commemorative merchandise, I’ll take Kinship in Action to the next level..Royal Action!plus letters, too, OK?

15.20  BTW…you’ll notice I used the word “cohort” in the sense of a single companion…one individual…bucking the current trend of using it in it’s original meaning, that of a group…I’ll be 60 years old in June, and I’ll do what I want, gabeesh?

wicked ballsy 

Last week in 14.8, I mentioned that an ancient Hindu riddle used the idea behind “I’m My Own Grandpa”…that of a man’s wife’s daughter from a previous marriage marrying his father. As in the song, the riddle supposed each of these 2 unions resulted in a son, and asks how these 2 boys would be related to each other. No, I didn’t neglect to give you the answer…just thought I’d let it rattle around in your coconut for a week, and see if anything happened.

chart 48

Did it? Well, the traditional answer is that the 2 lads are both each other’s uncles, and each other’s nephews. That’s an an acceptable answer, altho if you make it HALF, you’re dead on. In Chart 48, I’ve marked up Chart 42b from last week with the patented Stolfistrator…and the sons in questions are the obligatory Abner and Zeke. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that I am the song’s narrator, indicated by ME.

I’ve marked the red circle that is my wife’s daughter with a green star, call her Star. As you can see, Star is Abner’s half-sibling, since they have the same mother but different fathers. The son of Abner’s sibling would be his nephew…half-sibling, half-nephew…so this way, Abner is the half-uncle, Zeke the half-nephew.

But with the Stolfistrator I’ve re-drawn Zeke and his mother Star up closer to his father, who is also my father. Now you can see that Zeke and I are also half-brothers…same father, different mothers. To Zeke, my son Abner is the son of his half-brother…this way, Zeke is the half-uncle and Abner is the half-nephew. Done and done.


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#14: Kinship in Action!

14.1  Duane Alwin is a professor of Sociology at Penn State…so he should know better. But he doesn’t, and likes to say that he is is own cousin. In his words: “I get a kick out of telling people that I am a cousin to myself. When I use my genealogy software to print out the descendants of [an ancestor], I appear twice, and in different generations…once as a descendent of my grandfather and once in my grandmother’s line. What better proof that I am my own cousin.”

14.2  Now a bit of clarification…obviously, everyone is descended directly from their grandfather and grandmother…big deal. What he’s saying is, on his Family Tree, he exists in 2 different places, in 2 separate lines of descent. Of course this can’t happen without some degree of in-breeding…and remember, 2nd cousin marriages are almost universally accepted, and 1st cousin marriages, today and thru-out history, are extremely common, and not unheard of even in Western Society. So is that what’s behind this? Sort of…

14.3  What happened in Duane’s family was this: his mother’s parents were 1st cousins once removed…that is, his grandfather married his 1st cousin’s daughter. This is difficult to show on a standard Family Tree diagram, thus we turn to the “Tinker-toys”…what I call a Parental Tree, since who marries who, or who procreates with who, is not indicated…simply whom each individual’s parents are. Duane’s case, omitting parents not relevant to the issue at hand, is shown in Chart 41a.

chart 41

14.4  As you can see, W and X are brothers, and their sons Y and Z are 1st cousins. Y’s daughter “Gram” and Z are the parents of “Mom.” As Duane explains, “Because they are both daughters of first cousins, my mother is a second cousin to her own mother.” This is tricky to see in Chart 41a, so in Chart 41b I’ve moved Mom up even with Gram…now you can see that since Mom’s father Z and Gram’s father Y are indeed 1st cousins, Mom and Gram are 2nd cousins.

14.5  But where does that leave Duane? Check Chart 41c. Here I have duplicated Mom and D (for Duane), placing her directly beneath her mother, the duplicates both highlighted by light green. And by all rights, that duplicate Mom should be connected to her father Z with a long black line, but I’ve left it out for simplicity’s sake. But now we can see the truth of what Duane says: “This makes me a third cousins to my mother, as she and I are both children of second cousins.” What makes it confusing is that one of those “second cousins” he mentions is Mom herself, but it is what it is…this is what’s meant by being in 2 places at once in the Family Tree. “To myself I am a third cousin once removed.” And if you compare the position of the 2 D’s, he’s right, as far as that goes.

14.6  I know of no culture or kinship system…and I’ll bet Duane doesn’t either…where you can correctly call yourself your own relative, no matter what the Family Tree says. Heck, by this reasoning, isn’t everyone a sibling to themselves, by virtue of having the “same parents”? Still, this provides an excellent exercise in sorting out such relationships, and it may call to mind a little song, which you might want to pause and listen to here:  I’m My Own Grandpa

14.7  In the 1930s, Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe had a group called the Jesters, who specialized in novelty songs and recitations. They got the idea from reading this anecdote by Mark Twain:

14.8  But the concept of being your own Grandparent goes back much further…it was one of the puzzles (“What would the 2 sons be to each other?”) in the Baital Pachisi collection of stories, written in India in the 11th century. Twain, who was born in 1835, may have gotten the idea from a bit of filler that was popular in newspapers, the earliest example  being from 1822…

14.9 The resulting song was first recorded by the comedy duo of Lonzo and Oscar in 1947…then by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra in 1948…and many times since, including Homer and Jethro, Ray Stevens, Grandpa Jones, Phil Harris’ “He’s His Own Grandpa,” and Jo Stafford’s “I’m My Own Grandmaw.” Lyrics vary slightly from version to version, but here’s the basic setup…

14.10  Lines 2, 3 and 4 of the first stanza pretty much say it all…your father marries your wife’s daughter from a previous marriage…and the rest is just a review of some of the resulting oddball relationships, leading up to the titular punch-line. I leave it to you as an exercise to check if the claims the narrator makes are correct, but at this stage of the game I have no reason to think they aren’t. Charts 42a and 42b diagram the basic situation in both traditional Family Tree and Parental Tree formats. On Chart 42a I have labeled all the relevant individuals, the song’s narrator being “ME”…the 2 shaded individuals are parents not mentioned in the song…and on 42b you can pretty much see who corresponds with who.

chart 42

14.11  To clarify exactly what’s going on, I’ve again used the duplication method…in this case, taking the narrator’s Father, along with the rest of the Tree…and placing it right next to his wife…the duplicates shaded in yellow…Chart 43.

chart 43

14.12 Thus in Chart 44, we see that ME is part of both his generation, and also part of his Grandparent’s generation, as indicated by the green boxes. But the question remains…Is he really his own Grandpa?

chart 44

14.13  While I hate to be a spoilsport, the answer I come up with is: No, at best he is his Step-Grandmother’s 2nd Husband, and that’s about it. From Charts 43 and 44, his father’s new wife is obviously his step-mother…but would his step-mother’s mother be his step-grandmother? How did they work it on The Brady Bunch? And even if that were the case, the shaded blue individual, not the narrator himself, is the narrator’s real step-grandfather, being his step-mother’s actual father. Still, cool tune, no denying that. (BTW, thanks for not suggesting time-travel and all the sci-fi implications of that….have mercy!)

14.14  And depending on what you read, such a thing may have happened not so long ago. Bill Wyman, bass-player of the Rolling Stones, married Mandy Smith on June 2, 1989…she was 18, he was 52. The marriage ended early in 1991, altho by some accounts the divorce wasn’t finalized until 1993, by which time his son Stephen had become engaged to her mother Patsy, aged 30 and 46 respectively. When precisely the 2nd couple married is the tricky part…and not for nothing, but while the song tells of one big happy, if somewhat confused, family, the word is that Bill wasn’t happy about it at all, and neither Stephen nor Patsy were invited to his next wedding.


14.15  Dear Stolf: Back when you were discussing “Grand Uncle” versus “Great Uncle” in #8.4, you mentioned seeing a chart where both those terms were used, referring to different relatives! Well, check where I’m from, and do what needs to be done…from Annabelle in Hannibal, MO…P.S. Pretty tricky the way you number paragraphs for future reference.

14.16  Dear Annabelle: Yeah, tricky can be good. And hey, thanks for calling my bluff. You know, it reminds me of a Ford commercial Lee Iococca did many moons ago, where he said “I’m from Missouri…prove it!” Of course now that I think about it, maybe that famous phrase is copyrighted or something, so I won’t even say it…I’ll just do what I’m told.

14.17  Consulting my files, I found the chart in question was printed out 5 years ago, so there was the distinct possibility they’d fixed the boo-boo…or perhaps the site didn’t even exist any more. But luck was with us this day, and it’s still there, still as incomprehensible as ever…and this is just a portion of it…

14.18  What this chart does is perhaps not immediately obvious. You’re dealing with 3 individuals, the one in the top row, the one in the far left column, and their Common Ancestor. Depending on how they are related to that CA, where the row and column intersects is their relationship to each other. To take a simple example, the grandson (row) of the CA is to the son (column) of the CA…a nephew. Now I have marked the problem areas in red.

14.19  As you can see, they start off on the right foot, with grand nephew instead of great nephew. But then the next one down inexplicably is great nephew…and all the ones circled in red are incorrect. Now I know the feeling…you’ve just put together a brutally complex chart, and you don’t for the energy to double-check it…but YOU HAVE TO!

14.20   And in all fairness, it’s possible composer Peggy J. Rogers and/or contributor Charles A. Oliver don’t really think that great nephew/uncle and grand nephew/uncle are 2 different things. The simple oversight could be with “great nephew”…it should read “great grand nephew,” and there should then be a “grand” before “nephew” all the way down the column. That they make the same oversight in the corresponding row does not bode well for my theory that it only was just an oversight, but I’m feeling charitable today, so there ya go. Next week, more Kinship in Action, and letters too…

Wicked Ballsy


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#13: Who’s Zoomin’ Who?


13.1  Mental gymnastics…I call it “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”…OK, we’ll pause and listen to Queen Aretha… 😉 😉

13.2  Here’s how it works…pick 2 types of kinship relationships…call them X and Y. Your task is to figure out, in your head, how your X is related to your Y.  Here’s an obvious example: How is your 1st cousin once removed ascending related to your 1st cousin once removed descending? Naturally, we’re assuming they are related, on the same side of the family.  

13.3  And unless you’re really nimble at this, let’s restate it as follows: How is your father’s 1st cousin (Abner) related to your 1st cousin’s son (Zeke)?

13.4   Let’s tear it apart…Zeke’s father is your 1st cousin…and as such, he is your father’s nephew and the son of your father’s brother. Thus Zeke’s grandfather is your father’s brother. Now Abner is your father’s 1st cousin…so to Abner, your father and your father’s brother are both his 1st cousins. Thus Zeke is descended from Abner’s 1st cousin…so Abner and Zeke are “some sort” of 1st cousins. And Zeke is down 2 generations from your father, his brother, and his 1st cousin’s generation…making Zeke and Abner 1st cousins twice removed.  (Sorry,  no charts this time…we’re doing this in our heads!)

13.5  There are 2 important points here: First, the principle of interchangeablity. Now to you, your father and your uncle are not interchangeable…one is your father, the other is, well, not your father. But to cousin Abner, your father and your uncle are both his 1st cousins…and as such are interchangeable…what’s true of one is true of the other…and what’s true of one’s descendants is true of the other’s descendants. Thus, had we asked How is your father’s 1st cousin related to your brother’s son?…or…How is your father’s 1st cousin related to your son?…the answer would have been the same…1st cousin twice removed. 

13.6   The second thing to notice is that we figured this problem without resorting to anyone of an older generation than your father’s…there was no “common ancestors” or anything like that…because when considering cousins, both of your generation and those removed, common ancestors muddy the waters…it can be done, but it’s simpler without them.

13.7  It reminds me again of the Roosevelt Presidents. Franklin and Eleanor were 5C 1R…Franklin was Teddy’s 5th cousin, and Eleanor was Teddy’s niece, since her father Elliott was Teddy’s brother. So when Franklin married Eleanor, he married one 5th cousin’s daughter (Elliott’s) and another 5th cousin’s niece (Teddy’s). From the brothers’ point of view, Franklin was simply their 5th cousin…then he became the son-in-law of one of them.

13.8  But by playing the Who’s Zoomin’ Who game, you will start thinking about cousin-to-cousin relationships in a way perhaps you hadn’t before. Because another way to play, instead of asking How is my X related to my Y, is to ask How is my X’s Y related to me. This type of question pops up a lot, I’ve noticed…How am I related to my 1st cousin’s 2nd cousin?…my 2nd cousin’s 3rd cousin?…my 3rd cousin’s 1st cousin?

13.9  And to answer such questions, we can use Chart 37 as a starting point.

chart 37

13.10  Have you ever heard the word fractal? For the past several decades it’s been a hot topic in mathematics and computer science. It simply means small patterns repeating over and over on an ever-increasing scale. And that in a nutshell is your family tree. As an example, Chart 37  looks complicated but it took no time at all to create. First, the 3-person arrangement of you, your sib, and your father. This was cut and pasted to form the descendants of your grandfather. Then everything under your grandfather was cut and pasted to give you the blue squares…and everything under your great grandfather was cut and pasted to give you the pink squares…see how it repeats itself? 

13.11  So let’s apply the principle of interchangeability. From your point of view, you and your sibling are not interchangeable…you are you, he is your sibling. But from your 1st cousin’s point of view, you and your sibling are interchangeable…both are his 1st cousins. And it works the other way too…your 1st cousin and his sibling are both simply 1st cousins to you…and to your siblings as well. Now this is something we instinctively understand  about how siblings and 1st cousins work…the revelation is, it works just the same moving horizontally out to 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, and beyond.

chart 38

13.12  So looking at Chart 38...yourself, your brother, and your 1st cousin are 3 “different things” to you, kinship-wise…but from your 2nd cousin’s point of view, they are the same thing, namely 2nd cousins.

chart 39

13.13  And likewise, from the point of view of your 3rd cousin…you, your siblings, your 1st cousins, and your 2nd cousins are all bunched together as interchangeable 3rd cousins.

chart 40

13.14  So answering such questions as How is my 3rd cousin’s 1st cousin related to me? is a snap. As you can see in Chart 40, your 3rd cousin S and his 1st cousin   are both 3rd cousins to you…as is S‘s brother T, his other 1st cousin V,  and his 2nd cousins W thru Z. They are all 3rd cousins to you…and to your brother…and your 1st cousins…and your 2nd cousins.

13.15   In fact, there’s an easy formula to follow. With such a question as How is my Xth cousin’s Yth cousin related to me?, the answer is simply whichever number is greater, X or Y…and in this context, we can consider a sibling as a cousin of 0 degree…the mysterious 0th cousin. And this isn’t as crazy as it sounds, because it’s exactly how computers count things…the 1st thing to a computer is thing #0…the 2nd thing is thing #1…the 3rd is #2, etc. A computer “translates” it by adding 1 before reporting back to us!

13.16  But we left something out…what if neither X nor Y is greater…what if they’re equal, as in How is my 3rd cousin’s 3rd cousin related to me?…here 3 = 3. Looking at Chart 40, who are your 3rd cousin’s 3rd cousins? They are: you, your sibling, your 1st cousins, and your 2nd cousins…all of you are, interchangeably,  3rd cousins to your 3rd cousin…and that’s the answer: it could be any of those!

13.17  BEARING IN MIND…we are assuming your Xth cousin’s Yth cousin is related to you..they may not be, being on the “other side” of that family. May seem obvious to you, but trust me, it isn’t obvious to everybody! At any rate…happy Zoomin’!


 13.18  Dear Stolf: I came across the term “cousin german,” with a small “g”. Apparently everybody has them, no matter where your people come hail from. Can you explain?…from Dobie in Upper Utopia.  

13.19  Dear Dobie: Jawohl, mein herr. Used in this context, the word “german” has several slightly different meanings. It comes from the Latin word germanus, meaning “of the same parents”…which itself is derived from germen, meaning seed or sprout. Thus it is related to such English words as “germ” and “germinate,” as well as “germane,” meaning pertinent. And it’s here that brothers…as well as cousins…come into the picture.

13.20  “Brother german” or “brother-german” is an old-fashioned term meaning “full brother”…of the same parents…as opposed to a half-, step-, or foster brother…or a brother-in-law. It was also used in the broader sense of “my own brother,” contrasted with the brothers of others, or people in general being thought of as “my brothers.” Brother-german is one of several terms used most often in highly formal settings, such as wills and other legal instruments. When you have 2  individuals with the same mother, they are uterine siblings…with the same father, agnate or consanguine siblings…with the same 2 parents, siblings-german.

13.21  The word “german” is used in a slightly different way in the phrase “cousin german” or “cousin-german.” Obviously, it cannot literally mean “of the same parents”…so it instead means “full”…not half-, step-, foster, or -in-law. And it is telling that the Spanish words for brother and sister are from this linguistic root: hermano and hermana. What’s more, the Spanish term for 1st cousin is primo hermano, literally “brother cousin.” But confusingly enough, “full cousin” would be primo carnal, just as “full brother” would be hermano carnal.

13.22   While I’m thinking of it, ever heard of a  “milk brother” or “milk sister”? That’s Spanish for foster siblings, raised by your parents but of no blood relation to you…hermano/hermana de leche. And to bring it full circle, the general location of what is today Germany was in the days of the Roman Empire called by them Germania. It was next door to what is today France, what the Romans called Galia, and its inhabitants Gauls. And Germania is taken from the Galic word for “neighbors”…interesting how languages twist and turn and feed into each other, nez pah?

 wicked ballsy

Yeah…I know…you lepidopterists were going Hey! Hey! and I hear you…and here it is…a boring little moth…


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved