#66: Auntie dumbGEEK’s Cousins

66.1  Dear Friends: Yes, the mailbag is bulging, and we will take a stab at de-bulging it some next week, I promise. Today tho I want to look back to #24: All Answered Up, from June of last year. That was a line-by-line critique of an article trying to explain “cousins” on a website called wiseGEEK. This enterprise was started in 2003, 2 years after Wikipedia, designed to be organized not around topics but around specific questions. The piece on cousins is here…and as I did last week with Uncle Wiki, I did a “typewriter ribbon” review…black and red…both to correct the misconceptions, and as an example of the kind of muddle-headed nonsense you’re likely to encounter on the web when researching basic genealogical concepts.

66.2  I recently looked back on it to see if anything had changed…nope, altho I noted a section of examples I left out, plus a  final paragraph that is so awful, I must have omitted it thru sheer traumatic amnesia. In all fairness, and for the record, I’ll include those parts now…wiseGEEK in italics…

66.3  Here are some examples of levels of cousins with removals:

  • Jane has a grandparent who is the great grandparent of Joey.
  • Jane and Joey are first cousins once removed.  [1]
  • Jane has a grandparent who is the great, great grandparent of Jim.
  • They are first cousins twice removed.  [2]
  • Jane has a grandparent who is the great, great, great grandparent of John.
  • They are first cousins three times removed.  [3] …and Holy Guacamole! All correct, as per my Chart 218.

66.4  Levels of cousins without removals always mean the common ancestor has the same relationship to each cousin. Examples include:

  • First cousins—two people share a grandparent
  • Second cousins—two people share a great grandparent
  • Third cousins—two people share a great, great, grand parent. 
  • Fine, as far as it goes…yes, 1st cousins certainly do share a grandparent…trouble is, so do siblings, half-siblings, and half-1st cousins. So it doesn’t work in the other direction…2 people who share a grandparent may not be 1st cousins, but something else. Duh, double-duh, and triple-duh.

66.5  And finally…Cousinship here is determined from European and American standards.  Not so…in Spanish for example, 1C1R are called 2nd uncles/2nd nephews…2C1R are 3rd uncles/3rd nephews…1C2R are grand 2nd uncles/grand 2nd nephews, etc. Levels of cousins may be different in other cultures, no they are not something different, altho they can be called something which is not directly translatable into Englishand the term cousin may not even exist in certain world cultures. Um, there is no world culture, certain or otherwise. It can get a little murky figuring out these relationships, well, this is murky for sure…I think they’ve gone from talking about that imaginary “world culture” back to how we do it in English…and figuring kinship in English is murky only if your brain is murky…and some people essentially avoid the issue and just call any relatives they know of as cousins or second cousins. I think this means either everyone from 1st cousins on is a “cousin”…or anyone beyond 1st cousin is a “2nd cousin”…they’re thinking of “distant cousins,” a term for which there is no specific definition…it’s true, we do this in casual conversation…but then genealogy isn’t meant to be casual. From a genealogical standpoint, this isn’t quite correct, in other words, it might be accidentally correct, but then you wouldn’t know that anyway, so what’s the point?…but still implies family and relationship. The implication being you’re related to your relatives…good old implications, you can’t beat ’em for shucks.

66.5  This truly is a dumbGEEK article…dead wrong in spots, and awkwardly written…no GEEK worthy of the name would be associated with such a jumble. Then comes postings from readers, mostly asking questions about how people are related. In past G4BB blogs I have answered each and every one, with an explanation and a chart, altho when I tried to tell the folks posing the questions at wiseGEEK, I was not allowed to link to or even refer to another website. Why they keep asking questions without getting answers is beyond me…but 3 more cropped up…so here we blindly go…

66.6  I am going to make an enormous leap of faith…perhaps unwarranted, but there ya go…and assume that you, your boyfriend, and the cousin who is both yours and his…are not all cousins on the same side of the family. I mean, in that case, for all I know your boyfriend is your brother…hoo hah! So what you’re describing here, as in Chart 219, is 2 people, your boyfriend and you, who have a common cousin thru different sides of that cousin’s family…you thru that cousin’s father (which is how I interpret your comment about your uncle) and your boyfriend thru that cousin’s mother. If this is indeed the case, you and your boyfriend have no blood relation whatsoever. You call your boyfriend’s blood aunt “aunt” because she is married to your blood uncle…and the reverse is true of your boyfriend. But between the 2 of you sweethearts: nada…and congratulations.

66.7  This one is very similar to the last one. The key term here is “married”…once your aunt married that guy, all bets are off…you may call him “uncle” because he is married to your aunt, but neither he nor any members of his family is a blood relative of yours. To emphasize this point, I have imagined that they have a daughter “Daisy.” Daisy is your 1st cousin on one side of her family, her mother’s…Daisy is also 2nd cousin to “mystery daughter” on the other side of her family, her father’s, the guy your aunt married. But needless to say, despite sharing a 1st/2nd cousin, you and “mystery daughter” are not related.

66.8  Not knowing your sister, who can say? Sorry, just kidding…seriously, I love this question, because it raises once again the issue of what I have called “phantom relatives.” Isn’t “my cousin’s brother” also your cousin? Isn’t “my uncle’s brother” also your uncle, if it’s not your father? Isn’t “my wife’s husband”…you? Coincidentally, this topic is covered in that same #24 I cited above…where I call them “relatives that don’t exist.”

66.9  But I have an even better name for them: “Conan relatives.” This is thanks to a cameo-like lady, user-named Maximum20Characters (which is actually 19…) who supplied the following witty…and completely correct…response to a question on the net:

OK, 99.99% correctin the normal course of events, your cousin’s sister is your cousin. I might simply and humbly point out that some cultures have different words for a male 1st cousin and a female 1st cousin…and when translated into English, these may come out as “cousin sister” and “cousin brother.” Or these terms could have an even narrower meaning, that of “parallel cousins,” the children of one’s father’s brothers and mother’s sisters…the idea being they are 1st cousins you can’t marry…they are thus in the same category as actual siblings…whereas you can marry “cross cousins,” the children of one’s father’s sisters and mother’s brothers.  And the questioner did say “cousin sister” not “cousin’s sister.” But it amounts to the same thing…in-laws aren’t related by virtue of someone marrying someone…if they are related, it’s something prior to becoming in-laws. (Bear in mind, there are the terms “brother cousin” and “sister cousin,” which apply to siblings whose parents are themselves cousins, such siblings thus being some manner to cousin to each other.)

66.10  The important point here is that there are other explanations for a Conan relation, beyond it being merely the product of sloppy writing or thinking. For example, “my uncle’s cousin” might make sense if this uncle was your father’s brother, but your father was dead. True, dead relatives are still your relatives, but it might be said that way when talking about real people in a real-life situation. Or if you have an especially close relation to cousin Fred, and not with another cousin, that being Fred’s sister, then saying “my cousin Fred’s sister” would be understood by people who know you. And this is especially true if “cousin” is being used in an imprecise way…it could be a half-cousin, a cousin removed, or maybe even just a close friend of the family that is not blood relation at all…what’s called a “fictive” relation.

66.11  And as a pertinent example of this…on The Andy Griffith Show, Andy’s habit of referring to any sister of Aunt Bee as “her sister” rather than “my aunt” got me started on the track of their true relationship, which turns out to be 1C1R…Bee is Andy’s father’s 1st cousin, not brother, as is universally, and erroneously as it turns out, supposed…see here.

66.12  But further, what I wonder about is whether, taken literally, such a phrase as Malek’s “my brother’s sister” might be referring to his half-brother’s full sister (which of course would still be his half-sister, or just “sister”) or even more logically to his half-brother’s half-sister on the other side of the half-brother’s family, the same way that a person can have 2 sets of cousins on the 2 sides of his family, cousins that thus aren’t related to each other. Malek’s case could be that shown in Chart 221. You can verify that the “sister” is not a blood relative to Malek…and that the “cousin” is not a blood relative to either Malek or his “brother.” Maybe it wasn’t as crazy as it sounded after all!

66.13  Which brings us to wiseGEEK post #49…there are a myriad of possibilities because there are so many variables…cousins on the same side or different sides…full brother, full sister, or half-siblings on the same or different sides as each other and/or as the cousins…or something. I will diagram only the 2 extreme cases…everybody on the same side, and everybody on different sides. Done thus, your answer is: by Chart 222a, yes, 5 happy cousins…by Chart 222b, no, everyone is related only to those on their immediate right or left, and to none of the others. See yez in 7…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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