36.1 The Cousiners? You mean like birthers and truthers? Yeah, people who are wrong about who their Second Cousin is…mostly, they think their 1st cousin’s child is their 2nd cousin. Altho I did just today find a posting on the web from someone who thought her grandchildren were 2nd cousins to her 1st cousins. You wonder what she thinks her children are to her 1st cousins? 1½ cousins? (BTW, I’m not saying birthers and truthers are right or wrong, just picking up on the word formation, OK?)
36.2 But that’s the point, and it’s also the answer to the question: Who cares? It’s like Mark Twain said about telling the truth…it’s easier to remember. Because there are 100 wrong ways and only one right way. That’s how we can communicate successfully with one another…we must all know exactly what we’re talking about. And it turns out, cousiners are wrong simply because they don’t know what they’re talking about, and let me explain what I mean…
36.3 When someone mentions their 2nd cousin, you can often tell who that is from the context…My 2nd cousin wet his pants on the bus coming home from school. OK, very likely, but not absolutely certainly, they’re talking about their 1st cousin’s kid…who must have had a hard day at football practice, ha ha. The age of the speaker can also be a clue. If you really need to know, you can prod a little…I don’t correct people when what they really mean is 1st cousin once removed, because it doesn’t do any good…and it’s seen as rude. But those times when the conversation then drifted along to relatives in general, I’ve never been able to resist the temptation to ask them who they think a “cousin removed” is. And without an exception, none had a clue…only a few could even venture a guess.
36.4 And indeed, as common as this mistake is, cousiners will find virtually no formal support. You can say anything on the internet, of course…it was once pointed out that “reading it on the internet” is pretty much the same as “hearing it on the telephone.” About the best they can do is a dictionary that acknowledges that both usages for “2nd cousin” exist: child of your 1st cousin…and…2 people whose parents are 1st cousins. I suppose you can’t fault a dictionary for wanting to report how words are used in real life, rightly or wrongly. I might mention that I still have the dictionary from the 1960s I used in high school…and their definitions on this are exactly right, with no incorrect alternatives to muddy the waters…which I think is the more useful approach.
36.5 But I am unable to find a website with the even the least bit of proffered authority that gives the wrong definition…let alone a chart or further elaboration, carrying it to its logical extreme, as a complete system of kinship. In fact, I’ve often wondered if such a thing were possible…and I decided to try and see.
36.6 My point is, would it be a consistent system…one able to unambiguously pinpoint each person on your family tree? Turns out it indeed would be, altho I think the one we have now is better…but surprisingly, not by as much as you might think. There is an internal logic to this cousiner system…mathematically, if you will. But there are a few key features that make it seem less rational than our current system…which of course baffles many people as it is.
36.7 The basis of the cousiner system of reckoning kinship would be exactly the opposite of our current system, which is seen in Chart 127. Here, “numbered” cousins (not removed) go across the tree horizontally…they are of your generation. Removed cousins are of other generations, both forward and backward in time, or vertically up and down the tree.
36.9 Chart 128 shows the cousiner way. Here we see that numbered cousins are the ones that go up or down…while the removed cousins are of the same generation…well, sort of…all cousins of your generation are 1st cousins, just removed a number of times depending on which of your direct ancestors (thru that ancestor’s sibling) they are descended from. It may look strange if you’re used to the right way, but believe it or not, it all hangs together, and the rules for extending it further, horizontally or vertically, are straightforward…as indeed they are with the correct system, altho completely different.
36.10 But notice the difference in what I call the Cousin Line…shown for your 5th cousin in Chart 129, for both the correct system and the cousiner. The Cousin Line tells how each person is related to you. In the correct system on the far left, you can see that the descending generations…those younger than you…are all called “5th cousin,” since they are descended from your 5th cousin…the removed tells how far descended…3 times means your 5th cousins’ great grandson…2 times means your 5th cousins’s grandson…once means your 5th cousin’s son.
36.11 Then comes your 5th cousin, your generation. After that…the ascending generations, his father, grandfather, etc…for which you follow, in this case, a rule of 5…4+1, 3+2, 2+3, 1+4, then uncle in 5 words (great great great grand uncle) and finally grandfather in 5 words (great great great great grandfather.) Complicated? Sure, but notice that the “5” in 5th cousin is the key to it all…top to bottom, it keeps the Cousin Line in order.
36.12 Compare that cousiner Cousin Line on the right…part of it works with a “5,” altho your 5th cousin is now near the top, no longer even with you in your generation. But once you get below your generation, the 5 no longer works…instead, you retain the “4” from your “1C4” and count up numbered cousins, each 4 times removed…mind you, after you just counted down cousins removed, 5 to 1. Not as logical or easy to remember to my way of thinking…altho again, it wouldn’t be impossible to get used to.
36.13 But here’s the kicker, and it applies to every level: In the correct Cousin Line, why is that person older than you called your “1st cousin 4 times removed”? Because he is your 2G grandfather’s 1st cousin, and your 2G grandfather is 4 generations up from you. the “4” and the “1” correspond exactly. We lose this easy association with the cousiner system. In that Cousin Line, that person is called your 5th cousin…and that translates into your 4G grandfather’s 1st cousin how exactly? Well, 4+1=5, I suppose…but I think you see where this is going. You need to do a little mental juggling.
36.14 Still, the cousiner system isn’t the complete mess that I supposed it would be. Just to compare, Chart 130 colors everyone who is your 1st cousin blue (regardless of how many times removed, or even not removed at all)…2nd cousin green…3rd cousin yellow…4th cousin orange…and 5th cousin red. 2 different patterns emerge…the RIGHT one makes more sense to me, that’s all…and happens to be the one we use.
36.15 And interestingly enough…and you can verify this on Charts 127 and 128…the same exact relatives in both systems are identified by 2C1R, 3C2R, 4C3R, and presumably etc. Sort of like Fahrenheit and Celsius being “equal” at -40.
36.16 But the bottom line is this: cousiners have nothing like Chart 128 in mind…their mistake is in not knowing the basics of our kinship system from the outset. And that’s because it’s not something a lot of people care about or deal intimately with anymore, and I understand that…doesn’t excuse, it, but I’m just sayin’…
36.17 One final thought…what if you did get it into your head to try to re-educate a cousiner? Like I said, people generally consider it rude…no one (me included) likes to be wrong about something so “obvious.” If you must, I’d suggest you summon up as much cheerfulness as you can, and say something along the lines of: “I’m tellin’ ya…that’s just the way it works. Look it up if you don’t believe me. And if I’m wrong, I’ll give you $20…no, $50!” Money usually gets people’s attention, I’ve found.
36.18 But if you must, one approach that might work can be taken from last week’s discussion of the Roosevelts and how Teddy and FDR were 5th cousins, thus FDR and his wife Eleanor were 5th cousins once removed, she being Teddy’s niece. Suppose a pair of 5th cousins were to marry. You could sketch out…on a cocktail napkin or whatever, I dunno…something like Chart 131, showing 2 “candidates” for what that means. Correct at left, cousiner at right. Now granted what I call “generational shifting” can occur, resulting in members of different generations nevertheless being approximately the same age…but consider what would have to happen for the cousiner to be correct…assuming a generation is 20 years, the bride would be around 100 years younger than the groom. For this to work out, you’d need a hell of a lot of “shifting,” am I right? Not impossible, but still…Next week….haven’t decided yet…maybe we’ll strap on the ole mailbag, haven’t done that in a while…TTYT…
This was in a recent Dear Abby column. Now if you’re an old geezer like me, it seemed as tho this sort of situation never happened back in the day, or if it did, it wasn’t talked about freely and causally in the newspaper. Times have changed. Here Dear Flabby Jr. does her best to give sensible and upbeat advice, and I guess she succeeds, as far as that goes. But doesn’t his whole deal seem just a little sad…given that family really is important? But maybe that’s just me…
Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved