#65: Uncle Wiki’s Cousins

Dear Stolf: I was reading thru the Wikipedia article on “Cousins”…some of it seemed to make sense, altho much of it was confusing. Would you care to critique it?  …from Lolly, in LaLa-Land

Dear Lolly: Soitenly! And you’re right, some of the basic information is sound, altho there are some strange twists and turns, and anyway, anyone who relies solely on Uncle Wiki for his knowledge of the world is, I believe the technical term is, a “doofus.” In what follows, everything in italics is taken verbatim from the site you cited, with my comments in red. Several of the charts have been changed to a straight text format, to make commenting on them easier. And the whole deal starts with this disclaimer:

65.1  This article has multiple issues. “Issues”? Well, at least it doesn’t have any “problems”!  Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.

It needs additional citations for verification.  Hoo boy!…see comments below. Tagged since March 2011. 

It needs attention from an expert on the subject. WikiProject Genealogy or the Genealogy Portal may be able to help recruit one. Tagged since November 2008. It’s interesting that in 4 years, nobody has stepped up, at least not to the satisfaction of this tagger.

It may contain original research. Tagged since March 2010

65.2  Wikipedia is supposed to be a “people’s encyclopedia,” that anyone can contribute to. If you have ever tried however, it will quickly occur to you that Uncle Wiki more resembles a full-blown cult…and I’m hardly the first to have said that…replete with various levels of “door-keepers” and “key-masters.” And perhaps the most bizarre rule the acolyte will encounter is the threshold for inclusion: verifiability, not truth. Something that is true, but not verifiable, as defined by their labyrinthine algorithm of “citations,” cannot be included. Just try it, and see how fast your “correction” gets “de-corrected.” And as the above disclaimer suggests, what constitutes sufficient verification is a source of constant argument and controversy among Wikipedians themselves…well, man is the “rule-making” animal, nez pah?

65.3  But equally problematic is Uncle Wiki’s refusal to include what it calls “original research.” As an example, I have in the past several postings of G4BB pointed out that “sharing 2 grandparents, but not a parent” is not a reliable definition for “1st cousins,” which is to say “full 1st cousins,” since double half-first cousins also fit this definition. A simple diagram demonstrates this fact…it is what philosophers and other academics call “true upon inspection” or “palpably obvious.” But short of finding it explicitly stated in a published source…a book, newspaper, scholarly journal, etc. …it is not Wikifiable, hence not “true.” Is it any wonder Wikipedia is free…who in their right mind would pay for such a mess? But on to the meat of the article…

65.4  In kinship terminology, a cousin is a relative with whom a person shares one or more common ancestors. This is completely wrong. It says that all blood relatives are called cousins. And sure enough, the very next sentence has to “take it back.” The term is rarely never!!! used when referring to a relative in an immediate family in which there is a more specific term (e.g., mother, father, sister, brother, etc.). Not only that, but beyond the “immediate” (do they mean “nuclear”?) family…uncles, aunts, nephews, and nieces are never “cousins” either.  The term “blood relative” can be used synonymously and establishes the existence of a genetic link. No, a blood relative is not the same thing as a cousin, pure and simple. This introductory definition is complete nonsense…it is categorically not the way speakers of English use these terms.  Wow, go figure!

65.5  Now it’s true that our system of kinship can be translated into a mathematical system using only the term “cousin,” modified by degrees such as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc…levels of “removed”…and the terms “ascending” and “descending.” Such a system is completely logical and labels each relationship unambiguously. Thus siblings are called “0th cousins”…that’s “zero-th.” An uncle is a “0th cousin once removed ascending,” and a grand nephew is a “0th cousin twice removed descending.” Further, you yourself are your own -1th cousin…which is to say, (-1)th…thus your father is your “-1th cousin once removed ascending”…your grandson is your “-1th cousin twice removed descending,” and like that. And as strange as this system seems, it is the self same kinship system as we employ…we substitute more practical and individualized terms for the mathematical ones. Such an “everybody-is-a-cousin” system would thus appear to be a mere academic exercise, a mathematical curiosity at best…but in truth, it does underpin the straightforward formulas we can use to relate various levels of relatives to one another. But I doubt that’s what the writer of the goofy definition of cousin above had in mind…he hardly seems smart enough…and at any rate, it is completely out of place as a standard definition of “cousin.”

65.6  Systems of “degrees” and “removals” no, “removeds” are used in the English-speaking world to describe the relationship between two cousins and the ancestor they have in common. Various governmental entities better to say: civil law, church law, and conventional genealogical terminology have established systems for legal use yes, and everyday use as well that can handle kinships with common ancestors existing any number of generations in the past, though common usage often eliminates the degrees and removals and refers to people with common ancestry as simply “cousins” or “distant cousin.”  This is true as far as it goes, but awkwardly stated, especially the part about “common usage.” Again, grand uncles and great grand uncles are never thought of as cousins…as the siblings of someone in our direct line of descent, they are given special terms, and that’s that. Precise cousin designations are indeed abbreviated in common parlance, but that doesn’t change what they are as formal kinship relationships. And there certainly are situations where you wish to be precise about who’s related to who, and our kinship system allows you to do that.

65.7  By extension, the term “cousin” can also be used when referring to the genetic relationships between humans and any other form of life, as per the theory of evolution of all life on Earth descending from one common ancestor. However, the term in this sense is most commonly restricted to the fields of study surrounding ecological genetics. This part is nutty…yes, and taken further, the horse is cousin to the donkey…and the Sun is cousin to the Moon…so what?…that’s poetry, not kinship.

65.9  Basic definitions: The ordinals this word refers to numbers when used as rank, or to arrange things in a specific order…as opposed to numbers used as quantities or amounts…its use here ought to be explained  in the terms “first cousins”, “second cousins”, “third cousins”, describe the “degree” of the cousin relationship. The degree of two cousins’ relationship is determined by the number of generations to their closest common ancestor. The concept of half-cousins is being ignored, and for simplicity’s sake, so be it…but genealogically, this is not a trivial consideration…for example, half-1st cousins are descended from 7 grandparents, and hence 7 families, not 6 as with full 1st cousins, since the fathers of these cousins are half-siblings, not full siblings.  When the cousins are not the same generation, they are described as “removed”. In this case, the smaller number of generations to the common ancestor is used to determine the degree, and the difference in generations determines the number of times removed. Note that the ages of the cousins are irrelevant to the definition of the cousin relationship. OK, technically correct, but again clumsy and hard to understand…you can appreciate why that opening disclaimer remains in place…

65.10  Chart:  Term…Definition…Example

First cousin…The children of two siblings…Bill and Sally are first cousins because their fathers were brothers. 

Second cousin…The children of two first cousins…Bob and Sarah are second cousins because Bob’s father, Bill, and Sarah’s mother, Sally, are first cousins 

Third cousin…The children of two second cousins…Brian and Stephanie are third cousins because Brian’s father, Bob, and Stephanie’s mother, Sarah, are second cousins. These 3 definitions are fine. As a consequence, shared grandparents, great grandparents, etc. will indeed come into play, but this is the clearest way to define it.

First cousin once removed…Two people for whom a first cousin relationship is one generation removed…The rest of these definitions are not fine…as a matter of intellectual clarity, you cannot define a term by using that same term in the definition…it’s like saying a “house” is the thing that people who live in houses live in…or that a “horse” is what a baby horse grows up to be…if you don’t understand what these convoluted explanations of “removed” are driving at, I’d say you’re pretty darn smart! …Bob and his father’s first cousin, Sally, are first cousins once removed to each other. They are one generation removed from the common generational relationship between Bob’s Father (Bill) and Sally. 

First cousin twice removed…Two people for whom a first cousin relationship is two generations removed…Brian and his grandfather’s first cousin, Sally, are first cousins twice removed. They are two generations removed from the common generational relationship between Brian’s grandfather (Bill), and Sally. 

Second cousin once removed…Two people for whom a second cousin relationship is one generation removed…Brian and his father’s second cousin, Sarah, are second cousins once removed. They are one generation removed from the common second cousin relationship between Brian’s father (Bob) and Sarah  It’s a shame, because this is the point where people wishing to more fully understand our kinship system often get tripped up…and there are many simpler, clearer, more intuitive, and hence more useful ways of laying this out…none of this part is wrong per se…just unhelpful in the extreme.

65.11  Asymmetric definitions. The dyadic honestly, it sounds like this writer is trying more to impress eggheads…and doing a right bumbling job of it…than to make himself understood…run, dear friends! run away as fast as you can! For the record, a “dyad” is just a “pair”…2 things related to each other in some particular way. It’s like what in certain card games is called  a “doubleton.” Normal people should expect to go thru their entire lives without ever uttering the word “dyad” definitions of cousins in the previous section are common but not universal. When you think about it…and at this juncture what’s the point, really?…it’s hard to know what they’re talking about. As the spiel continues, it appears they mean not everyone is content with the generational confusion…older or younger?…inherent in the term “once removed.” I would merely suggest that when dealing with kinship, and the precise way in which people are related to one another, the desire to remove ambiguity certainly is universal, and thank goodness for that. As with other relationship definitions, e.g., father-daughter; aunt-nephew, some people wrong! Not “some”…all, and that’s all civil law, all church law, and all genealogists who have any sense about them prefer to use an asymmetric terminology that defines both the relationship and the roles played by each person in the relationship. In this case, the degree of the relationship from cousin A to cousin B is determined by the distance from A to the common ancestor and the number of times removed is the difference in generations between A to B. Sometimes “upwards” or “downwards” yes, this is used…more commonly, it’s “ascending” and “descending”…and there are other terms too…one blogger said their family always used “augmented” and “diminished” (a musical family?), the latter term comically morphed into “demented” is used to indicate the direction of this difference. For example, if A has a grandparent whose sibling is B’s parent, then B is A’s “second cousin, once removed (upwards)”, whereas A is B’s “first cousin once removed (downwards)”. Oops…this is flat out a mistake…I’ll be charitable and call it a typo. As my Chart 217 shows, the underlined word should be first

65.12 Additional terms…The following is a list of less common cousin terms.

Double cousin… Double first cousins arise when two siblings of one family reproduce with two siblings of another family. The resulting children are related to each other through both parents’ families. Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents in common “share…in common” is redundant and sloppy, I don’t care who you are and have double the degree of consanguinity of ordinary first cousins. Children of double first cousins are double second cousins to each other. This could be taken to mean the children that double 1st cousins have with each other…here at G4BB I use the gentle euphemism “interbreeding”…but it actually means double 1st cousins having children with unrelated mates. And after all, if your parents are double 1st cousins to each other, you will be quadruple 2nd cousins to your siblings, not double 2nd cousins.

Half-cousin…Half-cousins are the children of two half-siblings and their respective partners e.g., the children of two half-brothers and their wives (or two half-sisters and their husbands). They left out “or a half-brother and his wife, and a half-sister and her husband”…but are you surprised?

Step-cousin…Step-cousins are either stepchildren of an individual’s aunt or uncle, or children of one’s step-aunt or uncle. 

Cousin-ln-law…A cousin-in-law is the spouse of an individual’s cousin, or the cousin of one’s spouse. 

Maternal/paternal cousin…A term that specifies whether the individual is one’s cousin on the mother’s side (maternal) or father’s side (paternal).

65.13  A “cousin chart”, or “table of consanguinity”, is helpful in identifying the degree of cousin relationship between two people using their most recent common ancestor as the reference point. Cousinship between two people can be specifically described in degrees and removals by determining how close, generationally, the common ancestor is to each person. This chart is correct, altho it would be more practical if, for example, “great great great great grandparent” were written “4G grandparent.” And to be technically accurate, every “cousin” in this chart is a “half-“…

65.14  Canon law relationship chart: Another visual chart used in determining the legal relationship between two people who share a common ancestor is based upon a diamond shape, usually referred to as a “canon law relationship chart”.

The chart is used by placing the “common progenitor” (the person from whom both people are descended) in the top space in the diamond-shaped chart, and then following each line down the outside edge of the chart. Upon reaching the final place along the opposing outside edge for each person, the relationship is then determined by following that line inward to the point where the lines intersect. The information contained in the common “intersection” defines the relationship.

For a simple example, in the illustration to the right, if two siblings use the chart to determine their relationship, their common parents are placed in the topmost position and each child is assigned the space below and along the outside of the chart. Then, following the spaces inward, the two would meet in the “brother (sister)” diamond. If their children want to determine their relationship, they would follow the path established by their parents, but descend an additional step below along the outside of the chart (showing that they are grandchildren of the common progenitor); following their respective lines inward, they would come to rest in the space marked “1st cousin”. In cases where one side descends the outside of the diamond further than the other side because of additional generations removed from the common progenitor, following the lines inward shows both the cousin rank (1st cousin, 2nd cousin) plus the number of times (generations) “removed”.

In the example provided at the right, generations one (child) through ten (8th great-grandchild) from the common progenitor are provided; however, the format of the chart can easily be expanded to accommodate any number of generations needed to resolve the question of relationship. No problems here that I can see, altho it’s so wordy, I may well have missed one. And for once, there’s a legitimate reason why half-cousins are omitted…as defined by Catholic Canon Law, half-‘s are considered the same as fulls. Still, such labels as “gg son” and “2 gg son” are confusing…one might wonder what the “2” in “2 gg son” means when there are also 2 g’s in “gg son.” Clearer would be “g gson” meaning “great grandson”…or better yet “1g gson”…followed by “2g gson,” “3g gson,” etc.

65.15  Mathematical definitions: There is a mathematical way to identify the degree of cousinship shared by two individuals. Each “great” or “grand” in the description of one individual’s relationship to the common ancestor has a numerical value of 1. 

Example: If person one’s great-great-great-grandfather is person two’s grandfather, then person one’s “number” is 4 (great + great + great + grand = 4) and person two’s “number” is 1 (grand = 1). The smaller of the two numbers is the degree of cousinship. The two people in this example are first cousins. The difference between the two people’s “numbers” is the degree of removal. In this case, the two people are thrice (4 − 1 = 3) removed, making them first cousins thrice removed.

Example 2: If someone’s great-great-great-grandparent (great + great + great + grand = 4) is another person’s great-great-great-grandparent (great + great + great + grand = 4), then the two people are 4th cousins. There is no degree of removal, because they are on the same generational level (4 − 4 = 0).

Example 3: If one person’s great-grandparent (great + grand = 2) is a second person’s great-great-great-great-great-grandparent (great + great + great + great + great + grand = 6), then the two are second cousins four times removed. The first person’s “number” (2) is the lower, making them second cousins. The difference between the two numbers is 4 (6 − 2 = 4), which is the degree of removal (generational difference). Well, this is probably correct, but don’t quote me…it’s so tedious, I’ve lost all heart. I should point out that the chart that accompanies it is actually illustrating 2 different meanings of the word “degree”…degrees of cousinship in the boxes, and degrees of overall relationship, which are the small numbers to the upper left of each box…so the chart isn’t specifically germane to the mathematical point being made.  And there is one labeling error, as I have noted…it should say “Grand Uncles Aunts”…

65.16  And that, dear and patient friends, is where it ends, except for a few random, and trivial, examples of famous cousins. And if you think this is bad, try clicking on the “talk” tab, at the very top on the left, to see how unworkable this “anyone (in theory) can play” philosophy really is. Don’t get me wrong…I use Uncle Wiki a lot, but only as a starting point, to roughly orient myself to a subject I want to learn more about. But that’s why Wikipedia is such a joke among people who are seriously interested in any subject whatsoever. And remember what they say: reading it on the internet is like hearing it on the telephone…and if you call up enough people, chances are you can piece together the straight story eventually. Regular mailbag questions continue next week…peace out, cuz’…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#64: Not Related How Again?

Dear Stolf: I keep reading that humans and chimpanzees share 98% of their genes…and all humans share 99.5% of their genes with each other…yet I only share 50% with my daughter. Can you explain how this can be?   …from Puzzled, in Platypus City

64.1  Dear Puzzled: Yes, yes I can. You are confusing genetics and genealogy. Genetics tells you what you have…genealogy tells you where it came from. Confusing the 2 yields the following paradox: genetically, everyone is virtually identical to everyone else…and yet everyone is almost completely unrelated to everyone else, even most of their relatives.  

64.2  You hear the word paradox thrown around a lot these days, intended to mean something that is confusing or mysterious. Strictly speaking, a paradox is a situation which on the surface seems to make no sense…seems impossible…but when investigated further, turns out to be correct and completely true. A paradox indicates that people don’t really know as much about something as they think they do…their innate grasp of a subject, and hence their erroneous gut reaction, is not all it could be.

64.3  A perfect example is the Lottery Paradox. Suppose you buy a ticket for a lottery in which a million people have entered. Your chance of winning is one in a million…it’s extremely likely that you’re not going to win. Trouble is, this is true of everyone entered in the lottery…none of them has any real chance of winning. And yet…guess what?…somebody has to win…and somebody does win…despite the million-to-one odds. This paradox illustrates that our instinctive understanding of odds and probability, at least in this case, isn’t very trustworthy.

64.4  Now our DNA contains 23 pairs of chromosomes…each pair consists of 2 duplicates. Each chromosome is made up of a series of genes, and between the 23, we have between 20,000 and 30,000 genes. Technically we have twice that, but only one of the 2 duplicates will be active or as they say “expressed”…that is, only one of each pair will determine our physical makeup. Before the Human Genome Project, the number was estimated to be as high as 100,000. Of each pair of chromosomes, one came from your father, one from your mother…so Chart 213 shows a simplified closeup of one pair of chromosomes, father’s on left, mother’s on right.

64.5  I have indicated, in an imaginary and somewhat whimsical fashion, the purpose of each gene…and as you can see, 9 of the 10 genes are identical. And that’s what makes us all human beings, and not chimps, dogs, flounders, or banana trees. Where there exist more than one variety of the same gene, these different variations are called “alleles.” 9 of these 10 genes have no alleles…only the one for eye color does. But again, these alleles don’t somehow blend together to give you your eye color…instead, one of each pair of genes will be “expressed”…called the “dominant” gene…the other will have no effect, the “recessive” gene. Thus in this case, your eyes are brown…

64.6  On the far right of Chart 213, I have checked off which of each gene pair is dominant, your father’s or your mother’s. In a sample as small as this, it might be 7/3 or 10/0 instead of 5/5, but overall it averages out to 50-50. And as you can see, only 1 of these 10 gene pairs will make any physical difference in your makeup…and of course it’s not limited to physical appearance…the genes for the various blood types for example are also alleles. Assuming you have as many as 30,000 genes…altho it’s likely closer to 20,000…99.5% of them have no alleles…thus only .5% of them can make a difference between 2 individuals…that’s a mere 150 genes. This is why we say that everyone on Earth is virtually identical genetically.

64.7  Now the degree to which we are related genealogically…as opposed to genetically…is another thing entirely. It depends on receiving the same gene, whether allele or not, by descent from a common ancestor. Chart 214 shows how many direct ancestors you have going back each generation. As you can see, by the time you get to 13G grandparents, you have 32,768 of them…this is based on every person having 2 parents…in reality, all those 13G slots may not be filled by a different person…and indeed at some point they cannot be, since there couldn’t have been that many humans alive on Earth at the time.

64.8  But theoretically, since you don’t have 32,768 genes, you couldn’t have received one gene from each of your 13G grandparents…it is numerically impossible…there are too many ancestors and not enough genes. And  given 25 years per generation, this is only on average 400 years ago! In terms of the genes that make you you, the ones that have alleles and thus can differ, you cannot have received one from each of your 256 6G grandparents, since again there are only 150 such genes. This phenomenon is called “flushing”…the point at which genetic material from any one specific ancestor is for all intents and purposes no longer present in your DNA by direct descent…of course you could still have that gene, but from someone else. However there are 2 important points to bear in mind.

64.9  First, the probability of inheritance by descent of any genes at all, let alone any individual gene specifically, is never mathematically 0 for any of your ancestors. That’s  because, as we saw in the case of the Lottery Paradox, you have to get those genes from someone…for every one of your genes, one of your ancestors in every generation is going to be a “winner”…even tho the chances of any of them individually are practically nonexistent. So genetically, you have to be related to some of your ancestors, just not most of them. And secondly, you are still genealogically 100% related to every one of your ancestors, by reason of the basic parent/child link. This is a social connection that is absolute, regardless of how little you might be biologically related by descent. And remember, considered in this way, it’s thought that everyone on Earth is related by at most a distance of 50th cousins…and many of course much closer.

64.10  Thus, given any random person alive today, you have practically the same genetic profile as they do. On the other hand, the odds that both of you got any of those genes from the same person, by direct descent, are practically, but never absolutely, 0. Which is why you shouldn’t confuse genetic similarity…what we have…with genealogical kinship…where we got it, or might have. 

64.11  I might also add that the DNA tests you hear so much about these days can reveal important medical information…and certainly confirm parentage…but they can’t tell you who your ancestors are. How could they, unless we had 50 billion DNA profiles on file…one for every person who ever lived. At best, they can trace you back to, say, Hungarians who migrated to Finland at some point in the past…or indicate in what part of Africa your roots are planted, that sort of thing. In fact, in this sense, genealogy helps genetics more than genetics helps genealogy…regardless of the sales pitch you might hear.

Dear Stolf: Well, they’re at it again: “OMG! KEVIN BACON MARRIED TO HIS COUSIN!” This was recently revealed on “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” on PBS. What’s the story, morning glory? …from Ida, in Idiotsville

64.12  Yeah, and altho you’ll hear it has to do with DNA analysis, since that’s a hot topic these days, he actually does it with good old-fashioned family trees and parental pedigrees…and for famous people to boot, since theirs are more completely researched and readily available. But once again, the level of ignorance and mean-spiritedness, egged on by the lunatic Media, is rather sad. On-line commentaries use words like “creepy,” “queasy,” and “weird”…and come up with feeble quips about “degrees of separation” and “shaking up the family tree.” And yes, some of the more conscientious ones will add in “marginally” or “distant”…because sure enough, Kevin Bacon and his wife of 23 years Kyra Sedgwick are 10th cousins once removed. She’s also related to Richard Nixon and Marilyn Monroe.

64.13  But she herself was quoted as saying: “It was a little unsettling, I’m not going to lie.” Well, with all due respect to an talented actress, she’s also a moron. As you can see from the right half of Chart 214, any common genes by descent have been flushed out between 2 individuals at the stage of 7th cousins…and as for those all-important alleles that determine individual differences, they’re all but gone by 4th cousins…which is to say, in ways that matter, you’re as related to your 4th cousin as you are to a random person off the street. But then what can you expect from PBS, when the History Channel is doing shows about Nostradamus and the Mayans, for gosh sakes…

64.14  And by way of review, if somebody says they’re your Xth cousin Y times removed, this means that one of you is the Xth cousin of a direct ancestor of the other. Remember, Xth cousins share a pair of (X-1)G grandparents if they are full cousins, only one if they are half cousins. And the Y tells you how far back that ancestor is…1 for parents, 2 for grandparents, 3 for great grandparents…beyond that,  Y for (Y-2)G grandparents. So in Chart 215, I have a 50/50 chance of being right…either Kevin is 10th cousin to one of Kyra’s parents, or Kyra is to one of Kevin’s. In short, it’s possible you’re more closely related to Kevin Bacon that Kyra is, even if you aren’t an actor…I’m just sayin’…

Dear Stolf: wise/dumbGeek query alert! Eghh! Eghh! Eghh!  …from Albert Einstein III, in Bolsa Chica, CA

64.15  Thanx, Al…I’m on it! And you know, it’s gratifying to think that before I started seriously getting into this stuff, maybe a year and a half ago, I would have had to do some serious brainwork on this question…today, it comes automatically, as I hope it is starting to for some of you, dear friends…next week, more choice missives…adiós


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#63: No Grandparents For You!

63.1  Gosh, I hate to blow my own horn, but if I asked someone else to, that might be considered somewhat unsanitary. Point is, as I survey the various genealogical resources on the net, I have to conclude that Related How Again? goes some ways toward “taking it to the next level,” as they say today. For example, in the area of precision. Does it seem to you that sometimes I get too “picky”? Well, the correct relationship between 2 people is what it is…there are no almosts or maybes. Even when that relationship is complicated, like several things on one side of the family, several things on the other, these people are still related in exactly and precisely those ways.

63.2  And what I have specifically in mind is…the definition of numbered cousins…let’s do it with 1st cousins. As we have seen, “have a grandparent in common” is not sufficient, since that is true of you and your siblings, your half-siblings, and even your half-first cousins. “Have a grandparent in common, but not a parent” looks like it might work, except that this is true of you and your half-first cousins. “Have 2 grandparents in common, but not a parent” seems to nail it…trouble is, double half-first cousins have 2 grandparents in common, yet they are not 1st cousins.

63.3  One obvious solution is to forget grandparents altogether when defining 1st cousins. 1st cousins are the children of siblings, and that is understood to mean full siblings…please do specify “full” if the context demands it. 2nd cousins are then children of 1st cousins…3rd cousins are the children of 2nd cousins…etc. This way, the definition of each successive degree of numbered cousin depends only on the definition before it…but the question of grandparents…how far back and how many…never comes up.

63.4   Now as a consequence of this definition, for example, 2nd cousins will have grandparents who are siblings…full siblings…and those sibling grandparents will share a common father and mother…these being the common great grandparents of the 2nd cousins. It all follows automatically from the simple stipulation that (X+1)th cousins are the children of Xth cousins. In effect, we are defining numbered cousins “bottom up” as opposed to “top down.” And this makes perfect sense, since “top down” can mean different alternate paths down to the cousins, and complications can arise. Start with the numbered cousins at the bottom and work your way up, and all the relationships fall neatly into place, as shown in Chart 209.

63.5  But suppose your grandparents are lovely people, and you hate to exclude them unilaterally. Instead of relating numbered cousins back to a common ancestor, you can instead go back to some degree of grandparents who were siblings…and again, we are assuming full siblings. Thus for example, in Chart 209, 2nd cousins would be defined as having grandparents who are siblings…and again, the rest of the relationships, up and down the tree, fall into line. In short, defining numbered cousins in terms of common ancestors is imprecise at best, and can lead to the wrong conclusions…I strongly recommend against it. And it’s my blog, nez pah? …even tho…to save time, sometimes I will do it myself…sue me…

63.6   Anyway, I pointed out this discrepancy…how sharing 2 grandparents doesn’t guarantee being 1st cousins…at the Genealogy.com general discussion forum, but so far have provoked no reaction…well, jeepers, it was Easter week, everybody’s busy. Now here are 4 ways you could have 2 common grandparents but not be 1st cousins…

63.7   But of course Chart 210  assumes X and Y’s parents are a pair of brothers and a pair of sisters…they could be 2 pairs of “one-of-each,” in which case there are 4 more possibilities, right? Wrong…actually there are only 3 more, since the parents being mixed pairs, and the shared grandparents also being a mixed pair, results in only 1 case, not 2.

63.8   To summarize:

case 1….X & Y share grandfather thru fathers, grandfather thru mothers
case 2….X & Y share grandfather thru fathers, grandmother thru mothers
case 3….X & Y share grandmother thru fathers, grandfather thru mothers
case 4…..X & Y share grandmother thru fathers, grandmother thru mothers
case 5….X & Y share 2 grandfathers thru their fathers/mothers
case 6….X & Y share 2 grandmothers thru their fathers/mothers
case 7….X & Y share a grandmother and a grandfather thru their fathers/mothers

As far as individuals are concerned, case 7 is different from X’s point of view than from Y’s…but genealogically, their positions are interchangeable…so its just one self same arrangement.


Dear Stolf:  Is it my imagination, or is the Media really hurting for scandals…the latest is Whitney Houston’s daughter apparently dating her “god-brother”…that sounds like a stretch, considering I’ve  never heard of such a thing…any thoughts?  …from Gomer, in Goobertown

63.9  I’m with you. In the old days, a child out of wedlock…the euphemistically cheerful “love child”…was enough to cause quite a splash…today, it’s practically routine among celebrities, not to mention everyone else. So yeah, they have to really scramble to come up with the Next Big Horrible Thing. We saw that last week with Jerry Lee Lewis and wife #7. And in the context of Forbidden Love, god-siblings haven’t existed for 500 years…but here’s the story…

63.10  The idea behind godparents…which is to say, baptismal sponsors…was originally to ensure the child would be raised in the Catholic faith, should anything happen to its natural parents. Strictly speaking, this tradition persists to the present day. By way of solemnizing the relationship, canon law originally forbid godparents and godchildren to marry…but over the centuries, this restriction spread to other members of both families…so if Joe Blow was your sister’s godfather, you couldn’t marry Joe Blow’s daughter, that sort of thing. And it got to the point where this was causing a problem with people finding mates.

63.11  After all, besides the religious component, there was also an important social one…a way of linking families not otherwise related by blood or marriage, and thus strengthening community ties. But by the 16th century, these 2 aspects were operating at cross purposes…the family from which you’d want to pick a godparent was also the family you’d want as in-laws. Accordingly, at the Council of Trent, 1545-1563, these restrictions were cut back to just the parents, godparents, and godchildren. Hence your godmother’s son, your god-brother as it were, was no longer off limits.

63.12  In the Catholic Church today, there is no restriction in this regard at all. And indeed, it sometimes happens that a godparent marries a godchild, altho it’s not what you think. Say Catholic Clara is marrying non-Catholic Ned. Before the wedding, Ned converts and is baptized…his sponsor is his fiancee Clara…so technically he will be marrying his godmother, but today there’s nothing against that. Other Christian denominations have other rules and customs, and we’ll get to that in a moment…

63.13  Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown is the only child of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. Nicholas “Nick” Gordon came to live with them in Atlanta 10 years ago, when he was 12 and Bobbi Kris was 9. I can’t find the complete story, but “his parents abandoned him” or “his father went to jail and his mother couldn’t feed him,” that’s the gist of it…apparently he was originally just a friend of Bobbi Kris. He was never formally adopted by Whitney, and his parents are still alive. The Media simply doesn’t know how to describe this relationship, so you will see “god-brother,” “foster brother,” and incorrectly “adopted brother.”

63.14  It is true that he has been quoted as saying Whitney called him her “god-son”…but for the record, they are Baptists, and the Baptist Church has no such thing as godparenting or baptismal sponsors. There is an informal infant dedication custom, which typically calls for a godparent…this could entail a ceremony, or something as simple as asking if they will be  and their accepting. Thus CeCe Winans is Bobbi Kris’ godmother, and Darlene Love was Whitney’s. The common misconception that Aretha Franklin was Whitney’s godmother was corrected by Aretha herself in an interview with Al Roker on the Today Show in February of this year. She said she was just an “honorary aunt,” and Whitney called her “Aunt Ree.”

63.15  Legally, a godparent and godchild…let alone their other family members…have no relationship at all, and thus marriage laws do not apply. Bobbi Kristina and Nick are not related by blood, and other relatives can say what they will about the “i-word”…as far as I’m concerned, that’s where the matter stands…another case of MYOB…for them and for us. Come back next week for more mailbaggage…

Wicked Ballsy

A while back, I noticed this comic strip and wondered if Alex got it right…since it’s so common these says to mistakenly call a step-relative a half-. It hinged on whether Jeff was Joanie’s natural son or step-son…turns out it’s natural…Alex’ mother and Jeff are half-siblings…so Alex is 100% correct…and as graduates of MIT, both me and her, I’d expect nothing less… 😉 😉

But talk about You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby…when Joanie Caucus debuted in the strip on 9/10/1972, she was running away from her husband (never seen, hence no picture)…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#62: Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.

62.1  Jerry Lee Lewis Marries Another Cousin! screamed the recent headlines.  It happened on March 9, and and out trotted the predictable redneck “i-word” jokes…Meet my biological father-in-law, etc.  Except it simply isn’t true. It wasn’t true the first time, and it isn’t true this time. Let’s see what is true…

62.2  Jerry Lee Lewis was born in Ferriday, Concordia Parish, in southern Louisiana, along the border with the state of Mississippi, that border of course being the Mississippi River. His father Elmo (some census records say “Elmore”) was the 10th of 11 siblings, 7 sisters and 4 brothers. According to him, the “Lee” came from Jerry Lee’s grandfather Leroy Lewis, called “Lee” by the family…altho Jerry’s mother Mamie claimed it was in honor of her sister Stella’s husband Lee Calhoun. As you can see in Chart 207, Elmo’s sister Jane married a man named Henry Brown, and one of their sons was J.W., called “Jay.” As far as I can tell, this was his legal name…the initials didn’t stand for anything.

62.3  J.W. played the bass, and migrated to Memphis, where he formed a band, along with his brother Otis, a fiddler. Eventually, 1st cousin Jerry Lee Lewis joined up on piano, and soon he was fronting the band and on his way to superstardom. At age 23, Jerry Lee married J.W.’s daughter Myra Gale in December of 1957…she had turned 13 that July. It was his third marriage…um, her first. A scandal ensued, based on both age and kinship, derailing his career for a good decade.

62.4  So to address those 2 issues…you will see their relationship variously described as cousin, 1st cousin, 2nd cousin, or even, incredibly, 3rd cousin…with or without any number of removeds. As Chart 207 plainly shows, J.W. and Jerry Lee were 1st cousins, making Myra Gale his 1st cousin once removed. Their Coefficient of Relationship is 1/16, which is to say they did not share 15/16ths of their genes. This is the same as half-1st cousins (the children of half-siblings), or halfway between 1st and 2nd cousins. It was, then as now, completely legal…roughly half the states today allow 1st cousin marriages, and even those that do not…do allow anything beyond 1st cousins…with the interesting exception of North Carolina, which excludes double 1st-cousins, since genetically they are the equivalent of half-siblings.

62.5  Truth be told, bride and groom were slightly more closely related than 1C1R, owing to Leroy and Arilla Lewis…grandparents of Jerry Lee and J.W. …themselves being 1st cousins. And given the way families intertwined in that neck of the woods, other connections further back should hardly surprise you.

62.6  Now anyone doing genealogical research will find many examples of 1st cousin marriages all across North America. Today, Louisiana is not one of the states that allows it, but the history of state marriage laws is notoriously difficult to ascertain…and as I’ve said many times, writing a blog for free is different than writing a book for money. Where no laws were in place, holdovers from British Common Law prevailed, and that allowed 1st cousins to marry. And even if laws against it existed, lax enforcement depending on the locale isn’t that far-fetched. It has been reported that the marriage license asked “Relation to Bride” and Jerry put down “none,” which I take to mean, without a shred of facetiousness on my part, “not my sister or my 1st cousin.”

62.7  As to the question of the bride’s age, for most of human history, girls married and bore children soon after the onset of puberty. That is pure fact. Western Common Law allowed marriage, with the parents’ permission, of girls at age 12 and boys at age 14. Grandma Arilla was 15 when she married Grandpa Lee…Jerry Lee’s mother Mamie was 16…his sister Frankie Jean was married and widowed at 12, and sister Linda Gail first married at 14. This was commonplace where they grew up, and Jerry Lee was frankly astonished at the public’s reaction. True, it didn’t help that they lied to the press and said she was 15…it also didn’t help that Myra Gale was quoted as saying “back home a girl can marry at 10 if she can find a husband”…and it certainly didn’t help that they also lied about the date of the wedding, since his divorce from wife #2 hadn’t yet been finalized when they tied the knot…nor that they told her parents after they were married, instead of before, which would have been the strictly kosher way to go about it.

62.8  Still and all, the fact remains that there were no legal ramifications…not to Jerry Lee and Myra Gale’s union, despite the outcry…nor for that matter to any of their many relatives and neighbors in similar connubial circumstances…and the couple remained married for 13 years and had 2 children. And it’s interesting that Elvis Presley’s popularity withstood his falling in love with a 14-year-old…so perhaps it was the misinterpreted blood relation after all that was the real bone of contention.

62.9  As to Jerry Lee Lewis’ recent marriage to the ex-wife of Myra Gale’s younger brother Rusty Brown, I’d say it’s none of anybody’s business. They are not blood relatives, period. He’s 76 and she’s 62, and his caretaker, and according to the bride’s sister, they are in love and extremely happy…heck, it should happen to any of us, right? The fact that Rusty Brown and his father J.W. recently published a book of remembrances of their famous relative suggests it’s one big happy clan, and we all ought to just politely butt out.

62.10  But while we’re on the subject of in-laws, a little history is in order. It will seem strange to us that over the last millennium, codified laws have generally allowed 1st cousins to marry, but not siblings-in-law. Indeed, in England it was not until the 1st half of the 20th century that in-laws could legally wed, altho this was, as it often is, a case of the law catching up with the prevailing social practice.  (see #55.6-55.7) To understand why this is so, one must accept the fact that our ancestors’ ways were not always our ways…and understand the distinction between unilineal and bilineal systems of kinship.

62.11  In Western society today, you consider yourself part of 2 families…your father’s and your mother’s…you have 4 grandparents…and uncles, aunts, and cousins on “both sides.” This is bilineal…2 lines of descent. But this way of thinking has evolved from an older form of kinship reckoning…unilineal or 1 line of descent…where you literally belonged to your father’s family or your mother’s, but not both. It’s a simple thing to state, but as we saw in the case of Beowulf and his matrilineal kin back in  #59: Dygging Ye Olde Rootes, it has some startling implications: for example, a man’s social bonds being stronger to his sister’s children than even to his own children.

62.12  And as we saw, in the days of the first Anglo-Saxons the matrilineal system was changing to a patrilineal one. Thus, when a woman married, she literally became a member of her husband’s family. This is why she took his surname, not because she was “owned” by her husband. The “wife as property” myth has relatively recently been propagated by a school of thought I will not specify here, but it begins with an “f.” In fact, across Europe, laws and customs varied greatly, and in many cases women could own property and had rights of inheritance.

62.13  The point is, “joining your husband’s family” meant something more than we might imagine today. If a man’s wife died, he could not marry her sister, simply because she was his sister too…not by blood, but by law. In fact, that’s what “sister-in-law” meant…sister by law…or sister in the eyes of the law. Obviously, things have changed considerably from olden times till now. Even so, the notion that “in-laws mean incest” has lingered…at least when it comes to “hillbilly” jokes…a sad testament to the ignorance and mean-spiritedness of some people these days.


62.14  Next month a book by J.D. Davis will be published entitled “Unconquered – The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley.” Yes, the three are “cousins” in the broadest sense…no, they are not 1st cousins, each to the others…as we will sort out with Chart 208.

62.15  The key players here are Elmo Lewis and his older sisters Irene and Ada. Their offspring…Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, and Willie Leon “Son” Swaggart respectively…are indeed 1st cousins. Jimmy Swaggart is the son of Son, thus 1st cousin once removed to Jerry Lee and Mickey. It should be noted that all 3 were born within a year of each other…Jimmy March 15, 1935 and Jerry Lee Sept. 29, 1935, both in Ferriday, Louisiana…and Mickey on March 9, 1936, across the river in Natchez, Mississippi. Thus, Son Swaggart was considerably older than these 2 of his many 1st cousins, and growing up they called him “Uncle Son”…calling to mind “Uncle Junior” from the TV series The Sopranos…and the 1st episode of Danny Thomas’ Make Room For Daddy, which was titled “Uncle Daddy.”

62.16  And that’s where it might stand…as I said, the trio are “cousins” in the casual sense…as indeed, J.W. Brown and Rusty Brown are sometimes called the “cousins” of Jerry Lee, altho they are father and son.* Except for the fact that, as indicated by the red lines in Chart 208, Jerry Lee and Jimmy’s mothers are sisters…hence they are 1st cousins on the Herron side, while all three are related as either 1st cousins or 1C1R on the Lewis side. I honestly wish I had time to research this interesting family tree further…I know for a fact that a total of 4 Gilley brothers married 4 Lewis sisters, and it may have gone the other way too, sibling-wise…but that’s on the old bucket list, I’m afraid. Mailbag time next week…Happy Easter, cousin!

*That is how it’s commonly done, after all. Recall on The Andy Griffith Show, Aunt Bee calls both Andy and his son Opie her “nephews,” altho not of course to the extent that she ever introduced them as “My nephew Andy, and my other nephew Opie”… 😉 😉

Not Wicked Ballsy, But  Stoopid

For the life of me, I don’t understand why web-pages like the above exist. Maybe it’s the internet equivalent of people “liking to hear themselves talk”…like when a question is asked on some forum, and half a dozen helpful nudniks reply: “I have no idea.” Perhaps we should take the spirit of such as the above to be “we’re gonna get around to filling this out at some point”…or am I being overly charitable? Anyway, it gave me a chuckle, albeit a weary one.


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#61: Mail Delivered on Sunday…Wow!

61.1  Dear Friends: How did you make out with last week’s challenge? As shown below, we took the tree of the 4 half-sisters whose fathers were 2 brothers, their half-brother, and their 1st cousin..and asked how these half-sisterly relationships would be changed if Ms. C were in fact the mother of 2 of fathers instead of just one…as represented by the green line added between Ms. C and Mr. D.

61.2  Soooooo…since Ms. C isn’t related to either Anne or Beth, the change effects only Cass and Deb. They are still half-sisters (CR = 1/4) on their mothers’ side and still 2nd cousins (CR = 1/32)  on their fathers’ side, since Mr. C and Mr. D are 1st cousins. But Cass and Deb are now doubly related on their fathers’ side, since Mr. C and Mr. D are now also half-siblings, so Cass and Deb are also half-1st cousins (CR = 1/16.) Total CR = 11/32, up from 9/32.

61.3  But recall, the question as stated allowed a second interpretation…that Mr. D was 1st cousin to Messrs. A & B not their their fathers…Big Bro and Li’l Bro…but thru Mr. D’s father Li’l Bro being a sibling of Messrs. A & B’s mother Ms. AB. Again, since Ms. C is unrelated to the “AB” side of the family, this change effects only Cass and Deb. They are still half-sisters on their mothers’ side (CR  = 1/4)…but now, instead of having no relationship thru their fathers, they are half-1st cousins ( CR = 1/16) owing to their fathers being half-brothers thru Ms. C. Total CR = 5/16, up from 4/16 or 1/4.

Dear Stolf: Are all 1st cousins related to their own 1st cousins to the same degree? …from Pilar, in Paducah 

61.4  Dear Pilar: A subtle yet interesting question. The mere fact that you asked it shows you have your doubts, and rightly so. The simple answer, by definition, is yes: all 1st cousins have a Coefficient of Relationship of 1/8…on average, they share 1/8th of their genes. Thus they are a quarter as closely related as full siblings, half as close as half-siblings. But in practice, a pair of 1st cousins may be related in other ways besides 1st cousins…say 1st cousins on their fathers’ side, 2nd cousins on their mothers’ side, so their CR is higher. This is what’s called “irregular double cousins.” If they were “regular double cousins,” they’d have the same relationship on both sides of the family…in the case of 1st cousins, if their fathers are brothers and their mothers are sisters, they are “double 1st cousins,” with a CR equivalent to half-siblings…1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4.

61.2   But what I suspect is eating at you is that the basic definition of 1st cousins is a little loose…2 people who have a common grandparent but not a common parent. By the letter of this definition, “half 1st cousins” would be considered “1st cousins,” as contrasted with “full 1st cousins.” And indeed, your full 1st cousin can be thought of as your half-1st cousin on both sides… 1/16 + 1/16 = 1/8…just as a full sibling can be considered a half-sibling on both sides…1/4 + 1/4 = ½.

61.3  Remember, full 1st cousins have parents who are full siblings…half-1st cousins have parents who are half-siblings…thus, thru that common parent, half-siblings will share only 1 grandparent, not the normal 2.  It matters  because half-cousins are only half as closely related as  full cousins. The standard definition for “numbered” cousins…1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc…establishes how many generations back you need to count. But the key to full 1st cousins is their parents have the same parents…that is, the cousins have the same 2 grandparents on the side they’re related.  Contrast this with double half-1st cousins, who also share 2 grandparents (A and B), but not thru the same parents, as shown in Chart 204. Double half-1st cousins are as closely related as full 1st cousins, but thru 2 different lines of descent, as you can see.

Dear Stolf: You have talked about 2 different kinds of kinship diagrams…what you call “family trees” with descending “branches,” what people would more or less view as traditional or standard. And what you call “parental trees” where the only connections are between parents and children…altho sometimes you mix (I’ll refrain from being trendy and using the word “hybridize”) the 2 kinds…true?   …from Scotty in Scottsboro

61.4  Dear Scotty: True. Busted. Altho you must have gathered that the overriding consideration is to make the diagrams easy to follow and understand. But you’re also right to use the word “traditional”…when a man and a woman wed, had children, and the children wed and had their own children, the downward branching illustrated these relationships perfectly…hence even the use of the word “tree.” In such a traditional setup, single lines connecting 2 individuals indicate parent and child…double lines between 2 individuals indicate a marriage, or at least a biological union, altho in the old days that was presumed to be matrimony. Single lines connect those double lines to the offspring. Sometimes an “X” is used instead of the double lines, but the double lines come in handy if the 2 individuals are situated far apart on the diagram.

61.5  But you’re right about my mixing the 2 styles…and for an example of that, we need look no further than Chart 204 above. Look on the left side of Chart 205, the 1st cousins diagram. I have redrawn it below, sticking to the letter of the law, that is, every parent is connected to every offspring. More complicated than the original? Only slightly so…my original thought was to remove as much clutter as possible.

61.6  Similarly, on the right with double half-1st cousins, I originally connected A to his 2 sons with branching lines instead of straight ones…here it’s a matter of compactness. Otherwise, the bottom part of the diagram would have had to have been spread out so as to bring A’s position in closer. Really, it’s all a matter of style and personal preference…but again, with the goal of being as clear and concise as possible.

61.7  But what makes parental trees useful is the fact that there is only one kind of connecting line, that between parent and child. The 2 parents involved are not connected by a double line or in any other way. For example with Chart 199 from last week, how would you connect the common mother of the 4 half-sisters with the 4 fathers? It would be messy to say the least, as you can see in the lower diagram of Chart 206. The fact that Messrs. A, B, C, and D cannot be on the same horizontal line causes confusion…add to that, connecting the grandparents’ generation…Ms. AB, Big Bro, and Ms. C…to their sons would mean crossing double lines, making the whole thing a hopeless jumble…so much so that I don’t have the heart to do it…I can see it in my mind, and that’s enough…you can do it as an exercise, if you must.


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved