#57: Yet Still More Mail…

Dear Stolf: Which of my cousins are my “distant cousins”?  …from Chumlee, in Pawnsville

57.1  There are no hard and fast rules…it’s different for every family, and from culture to culture. My experience is that here in Western society, few people these days have much contact with their 2nd cousins, and even fewer with their 3rd cousins…to the extent that many people don’t know WHAT those are, let alone specifically WHO they are.

57.2  Much of the problem today is that people are so mobile, and unlikely to live geographically near collateral relations. Families in the past grouped together, living in the same town, if not on the same street, or even in the same house. But let’s say your father grew up very connected to his 1st cousins…perhaps your father was an only child, and 1st cousins his age stood in as surrogate siblings. Or your grandfather and his siblings were very close, and hence so were their offspring, which again would be your father and his 1st cousins. And when they started having families of their own, those offspring might interact, and that would be you and your 2nd cousins. Repeat this scenario with a grandfather who was especially close to his 1st cousins, and you get your father and his 2nd cousins, then you and your 3rd cousins. It seems that as a practical matter, simply because of the spread of ages typicality involved, that’s the limit of it.

57.3  And while it’s very interesting and rewarding to discover how you are related to various people in your ancestry…especially if you always wondered if you were related at all to those with the same last name as you, or as your parents, etc. …the actual genetic overlap gets very slight very quickly…In Chart 193, red represents the genes you share, yellow is those you don’t…

57.4  But as I said, every family’s situation is different. In my family for example, my mother was an only child…but she was also a good deal older than her cousins, since her parents were each the first born in their family. Because of the nearness in age, she was closest to one of her mother’s 1st cousins, her 1C 1R. She also had a close relationship with one of her 2nd cousins, as Godmother/Godchild. In fact, I have very strong childhood memories of my grandmother’s 1st cousins and their families, more so than even my grandmother’s siblings…but no relationship as an adult with the children or grandchildren of my grandmother’s siblings (my 1C 1R and  2nd cousins, respectively)…nor with the children or grandchildren of my grandmother’s 1st cousins (my 2C 1R and 3rd cousins respectively.)

57.5  This is a good time to repeat my constant mantra: “cousins removed” aren’t your distant cousins, simply because they aren’t your cousins at all, but the cousins of somebody else in your direct line! For example, 2nd cousin once removed… is your parent’s 2nd cousin. 1st cousin twice removed…is your grandparent’s 1st cousin. 3rd cousin 3 times removed…is your great grandparent’s 3rd cousin…etc. Of course, that’s ascending…you are theirs descending!

Dear Stolf: I heard that the census records from 1940 are being released this year…what’s the story on that? Are they out yet?  …from Vaughn, in New South Half Moon Bay Heights

57.6  Dear Vaughn: April 2nd is the “Big Day,” no foolin’! While the census numbers are released as soon as possible, the actual enumeration…that is, the people’s names, ages, addresses, etc…are “sequestered” for a period of 72 years. That’s the law…one might hope that a public spike in genealogical interest might inspire the Feds to relax that restriction and put it all out, but so far I’ve heard nothing along those lines. Trouble is, how many of those who could really use this information will still be alive in 2022, 2032, 2042, etc.?

57.7  In researching the Decennial Census, I came across 2 common misconceptions. The first is that the 72-year rule is not a law but just an arbitrary procedure instituted in 1952 by then Census Bureau Director  Roy V. Peel. This is not true…it really is the law, as stated in U.S. Code Title 42 Section 2108(b).

57.8  As you can see, the confusion no doubt stems from the fact that the law does not specifically mention 72 years, but refers instead to correspondence between the Census Director and the Federal Archivist, in which it was recommended that the period be extended from the previous 70 to 72 years. Archivist Wayne C. Grover agreed with the recommendations…which were mainly concerned with the ultimate deposition of the physical records. The only clue to why they concurred on the waiting period is seen below, from Grover’s response.

57.9  Thus, the National Archives and Records Administration is in physical possession of the census lists. Over the past several decades, they have been released in analog form as rolls of microfilm…and today of course in digital form on CD’s, reducing the volume of media considerably. But the second misconception is that the National Archives website has the data available on-line…they simply do not…altho I can’t help but wonder if it’s something they’re thinking about!

57.10  As of right now…and this could certainly change sometime in the future…there are 2 main sources for specific census information on-line. The first is the Mormon site Familysearch.org. Their data is free and available to anyone. How complete it is I cannot tell you…they are still in the process of digitizing their mountains of information, which goes far beyond just the Decennial Census…but I have found it extraordinarily useful. And after all, those behind it…and I say this with no disrespect intended…are literally on a “Mission from God.” The impetus of their genealogical research is the doctrine of Proxy Baptism…essentially saving the souls of ancestors who died before the LDS came into being.

57.11  The other on-line source is Ancestry.com. Some of their data is free…full access requires payment. But the good news is, a Library Edition is available at many public libraries…granting free access to much more than you can get “at home.” I have found this to also be an excellent resource, especially access to images of the actual census documents as filled out by the enumerators…and again, they have much more beyond just the census.

57.12   And if I might offer you a tip, as you’re researching this data, be especially careful of first or given names. Well, of last or surnames as well…because you are facing a double gantlet. The first is that the census workers wrote down what they were told: if they heard it wrong, or if what they were told was wrong, for whatever reason, it’s now all we have. The second problem is that today’s researchers must decipher what was written…and it was almost always in cursive or longhand…and that may not be easy.

57.13  A funny example of that was one of my maternal grandfather’s uncles. One source gave his name as “Laid Berube.” Now I had come across some unusual French Canadian given names, so I figured…OK…maybe this is short of Abelard or Abelaird or something along those lines. Well, further checking at other sites solved the mystery: this was actually “David Berube”…and having seen the actual scrawl of the census worker, I could see the difficulty! But much of genealogical research is like that…gleaning as much information as possible from as many sources as you can find will give you a better picture of what’s what. But it really is “detective work” in many cases, sorting out the apparent inconsistencies.

57.14  But the point about first names…once you’ve got the family name nailed down…is that they can be very fluid over time…the same person may be called by several different names. And that’s true even today…now and then you discover that someone you’ve known your whole life as Bob is actual Thomas…and Robert is his middle name.

57.15  As an example, I put together this chart of my mother’s father Henry Berube and his siblings. Now family lore over the years was that his name really wasn’t Henry…as you can see, there is a tantalizing but ultimately inconclusive clue as to the origin of Henry from the 1920 census. That was also the year his brother “Uncle Rainy” was a girl…with an extra “e” tacked onto “Rene.” How Adrian/Girard morphed into “Uncle Pete” is anybody’s guess…and please don’t act shocked when I tell you that the parents of this brood were Joseph and Adrienne… 😉 😉  In addition, “Henry” Berube was nowhere to be found in 1930, since they put him down using the French spelling, Henri.

57.16  The other side of this…coincidentally the other side of my mother’s family…is the anglicizing of immigrants’ first names. Her mother came over from Poland as a child, first name Czesława…pronounced chess-WAH-vahthat little line turning the “l” into a “w” sound, and the actual “w” pronounced as a “v.” She was Chessie or Jessie for a while, then Stella as a teenager, finally Sophie as a married woman…altho some records give her as Stella well into retirement age. Likewise her siblings: Bolesław/Boley = William or Bill, and Felixa = Phyllis. So when you see the childrens’ names in the census record and think: this isn’t the right family, maybe it really is! Good luck, and we’ll catch you next time…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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