#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





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