#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



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