#35: 5ifth Cousins

35.1  For starters, is that really how you spell “fifth”…with a “5”? Sure…you better stop, the love you save may be your own….darling, take it slow, or someday you’ll be all alone…

35.2  But down to business. The first genealogical research I ever mounted was many years ago…pre-computer days, of course…when I was finding disagreement about the familial relationship of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to his wife Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Ever since I was a kid, I thought it was pretty cool, same last name…you don’t have to change your monograms, your driver’s license, your return address stickers with the smiley faces. But related how? Opinions centered around, but were not limited to, some variation on 5th cousins.

35.3  So I dug around, and the definitive answer, backed by a family tree xeroxed from a book, was 5th Cousins Once Removed…specifically, she was the daughter of his 5th cousin Elliott, younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway for those of you just coming out of a coma: that made FDR 5th cousin to Teddy and Elliott…and TR was Eleanor’s uncle. Actually, Elliott died when Eleanor was 10, so Uncle Ted became something of a father figure, and indeed gave her away at her wedding.

35.4  Every few years or so, I’d revisit the thing, and usually came up with a couple “new” tidbits of information. In 1994, Peter Collins and David Horowitz wrote The Roosevelts: An American Saga…and I saved a particularly relevant excerpt from a review in the New Yorker magazine…

35.5  Now as much as 5th cousins…not to mention 10th cousins…are authentic, irrevocable relatives of yours, this view is basically correct: the kinship is slight, from both a social and genetic standpoint. As you can see in Chart 122, you and your 5th cousin (the 2 lone figures at the bottom) each have 64 4G grandparents, of which you share just one pair. In each succeeding generation, you also share just 2 relatives…3G grandparents that are siblings, 2G grandparents that are 1st cousins, great grandparents that are 2nd cousins, grandparents that are 3rd cousins, and parents that are 4th cousins…and hence, you are 5th. Of a total of 252 direct ancestors, you are both related to just 12. Which is why family reunions this large tend to sort themselves rather quickly into different camps, so you’ll want to rent several tents.

35.6  That’s the social end of it. Chart 123 looks at this another way, and assumes that everyone in your family has 3 children, no more, no less. You will have 12 1st cousins, 3 each from your father’s 2 siblings, same from your mother’s. Following the 3-child rule, your father will also have 12 1st cousins, each of which has 3 children, giving you 36 2nd cousins there…ditto on the distaff side…for a total of 72…and on down the line. 5th cousins? Over 15 thousand, and good luck remembering the names. Mind you, the further back you go, the more common are bigger families…10 or 12 kids, all marrying and producing offspring was not unheard of. (Altho there certainly were childless couples too, witness the Washingtons…)

35.7  Genetically, the thread is equally thin. 5th cousins are likely to share 1/2048th of their genes, compared to half for full siblings. 5th cousins are 256 times as “distant” as 1st cousins, 64 times as far as 2nd cousins. Thus, “not related,” while incorrect strictly speaking, is a practical assessment. I remember growing up, my grandfather lived in the town next to ours, and there were lots of people with his last name, some his siblings and 1st cousins, but most were “not related to us.” Come to find out, all these years later, that one clan of brothers were his 5th cousins, and I’m sure all the others were related to him as well. How you feel about family is a personal thing, obviously. Do not be surprised if, as you get older, you find those feelings are changing.

35.8  So what are we saying, FDR and ER were as good as unrelated? For all intents and purposes, public and private, you might say…but while the Long Island (Oyster Bay) and Duchess County (Hyde Park) branches of the family were at times political rivals, that wasn’t the end of the connubial intermingling. Notice from that quote above…before marrying his second wife, FDR’s father James proposed unsuccessfully to a sister of Teddy, i.e. his own 5th cousin. TR had 2 sisters, and I assumed it was the younger one Corrine, the vivacious, society girl.

35.9  Instead, it was the older one, Anna, nicknamed by the family Bamie (for Bambina) and Bye (because she was always going somewhere.) Altho hobbled with curvature of the spine, she was the wise one, well-connected beyond the merely social circles of her younger sister, and it is said that TR made nary a political or even personal decision without consulting her. BTW, Elliott was also FDR’s godfather, as Teddy was Eleanor’s, besides being her uncle.

35.10  Now according to historians, FDR appears to have had little to do with his half-brother James from his father’s 1st marriage…James Jr. served much time overseas as a diplomat…and there was an age difference too, which we’ll get to in a moment. But overshadowed by the Presidents Roosevelt being 5th cousins is the fact that FDR’s father James’ 1st wife was also his — here again, accounts differ.

35.11  But I took the time to suss it out, and she was his mother’s 1st cousin, daughter of his mother Mary Aspinwall’s maternal uncle G. G. Howland, as shown on Chart 125…and thus James’ 1st Cousin Once Removed. And if your wife is your 1C 1R, your son is your 2nd cousin, since both you and he are the sons of 1st cousins. Does that mean that James Jr. was not only FDR’s half-brother, but also his 2nd Cousin Once Removed? A-fir-ma-tive. Chart 126 spells it out, for which the Parental Tree format is admirably suited…

35.12  Thus we have at least 2 cross-generational unions, James Roosevelt Sr. & Rebecca Howland, and FDR & ER…in each case, the partners are of the same general age, altho of adjacent generations in their respective lines. You might think that this “generational drift” would come about gradually, small age differences adding up over many generations, and that can happen. In both cases here, however, it was in one sudden jump…Rebecca Howland’s father G. G. was 49 when she was born.

35.13  And likewise, James Sr. was 54 when Franklin was born…you may have noticed from Chart 124 that James Sr.’s 2nd wife Sara Delano was the same age as his 1st son James Jr. But till next time, Eleanor Start Packing…

Wicked Ballsy

And along these lines, Stolf’s Blog for 11/18/2010 touched on a strange coincidence…I’ve reproduced the relevant part here…


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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