#83: Meet The Perfessor


83.1  My knowledge and enjoyment of kinship relationships…and the genetics behind them…got a massive kick-start when I found this website a couple of years ago…Genetic and Quantitative Aspects of Genealogy. Despite the stuffy title, it is loaded with sound information…an introductory course to this stuff. Written in 2005, and last updated in 2007, by a Brit named F.M. Lancaster…a professor of animal genetics and breeding at Harper Adams University College in Shropshire, retired since 1993. His specialty was waterfowl and poultry…ducks and chickens to us. Applying his expertise to human genealogy was inspired by his daughter, who was researching their family tree.

83.2  And based on the daughter’s genealogy site, I believe F.M. is the gentleman on the left…if it is not, I will stand corrected and….well, correct it. But it is from this source that I learned so much beyond the basics…including what I call the Parental Tree…he calls it a Path Diagram…where the only connection between individuals is parentship. This method is not useful for mapping out actual family histories, but is ideal for figuring the connections and degrees of relationship between relatives. And it’s not surprising that an expert in animal husbandry would prefer it, since let’s face it…ducks don’t have weddings.

83.3  Here are 3 typical examples from G&Q, along with my “tinker-toy” translations.

As you can see, he uses a downward arrow to connect parent and child. And you should recognize the familiar X pattern for full siblings in G&Q 2…and the W pattern for half-siblings in G&Q 1, 3. Here he is figuring the Coefficient of Relationship between the 2 individuals indicated in red. In the caption for G&Q 1, what does “non-reciprocal” mean? To be honest, I don’t really care. In this case, my normally “enquiring mind” prefers not to know why you’d label relationships that way…or symmetric/asymmetric either…after all the wrangling we went thru with the Wikipedians last week… 😉 😉 Such formal categorization is typical of academicians…”eggheads”…and fully appropriate to what they’re used to, so we’ll let it go.

83.4  What we’re looking at here are types of “Enhanced Half-Siblings.” The individuals in red share the same father…I’ve colored his circle blue in each case…but unlike typical half-siblings whose unshared parents would not be related to each other, these are. In G&Q 1, the mothers B and D are themselves mother and daughter…in G&Q 2, the mothers are aunt and niece…in G&Q 3, half-aunt and half-niece. Granted…as in G&Q 1 for example…people would tend to look askance at a man having a child with a woman, then a child with that woman’s daughter…but still, the father in all 3 cases is not related by blood to any of the women he procreates with.

83.5   And since the author comes from an animal husbandry background, the father very likely could have been! In fact, at one point F.M. gives an example of “line breeding”…a sire mated to his daughter, then granddaughter, then great granddaughter, etc. Thus he does not shy away from what we gently call “interbreeding”…it’s going to turn up in your own family tree sooner or later…the further back you go, the less likely it is that any of your “great ancestor” pairs were completely unrelated to each other…it’s simply a fact of mathematics. He will also unabashedly use the word “pedigree” as applied to humans…as should you.

83.6  At any rate, today I’d like to comment on…”annotate” if you will…a section of G&Q dealing with removed cousins, since that is a major sticking point to popular understanding of our kinship system. And I must say, after having done this with the cockamamie explanations of “cousins” at wiseGEEK and Wikipedia, it is a pleasure to be dealing with someone who knows what they’re talking about. Still, I wondered at first if he really had it right…in a roundabout fashion, he does…but I think it’s instructive to see how even an expert can wobble a bit…

83.7  His commentary is in italics…my notes are in red…and I have redrawn his Figures 1 & 2 as Charts 290 and 291.

83.8   Removed cousinships probably cause more misunderstanding than any other relationship. Although the subject is well covered in the main text, a further look would seem appropriate to identify any potentially difficult areas. How very true this is…specifically, the misunderstanding of, and hence confusion between (A) your true cousins…that is, the cousins of your generation, what are sometimes called “contemporary cousins” or what I call “numbered cousins”…1st cousins, 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, etc…and (B) your removed cousins, who aren’t your cousins at all, but are the either the numbered cousins of your direct ancestors…your father’s cousins, your grandfather’s cousins, etc…or the descendants of your numbered cousins…for example, your 1st cousin’s grandson, your 2nd cousin’s son, etc.

83.9  And notice that in the (B) category, what looks like 2 different groups of relations are simply the 2 “ends” of the same relation, no different in principal than uncle/nephew or even father/son. The awkward “removed” terminology we use makes it seem more difficult than it is. Also important to understand is that in the (B) category, these 2 groups are essentially the X’s of your Y’s…and the Y’s of your X’s…your generation is the turning point…above, it’s figured one way…below, another way. The notion that relations are reckoned differently going up or down from you is also true of uncle/nephew and father/son. This is because the 2 ends of those relationships differ in a very important way: You are related to everyone your father or your uncle is related to…but you are not related to everyone your son or your nephew is related to…that is, you aren’t related to your son’s mother (your wife) or your nephew’s mother (your sister-in-law)…nor to those mothers’ families, obviously. Going forward from you, new family lines are introduced…starting with your wife and her family. Going backward, there are no “new” family lines…they all lead to you!

83.10  By definition, all relationships are a two-way affair and removed cousins are no exception. To rationalise their relationship, one of the two cousins should be regarded as the primary focus of attention and referred to as the nominee or proband. The other cousin being considered as dependant or secondary.  But my goodness, perfessors love their jargon, God bless ’em, as here. Proband? Isn’t that a kind of men’s trousers with an elastic waist? 😉 😉 I agree that to understand the 1C1R relationship, you should focus on one individual. I would not have chosen as he has…why he chose how he did will be germane to the issue of whom you should not choose, as we shall see. I would chose the father…in Chart 290 he is H. It is because of him that there are 1C1R’s at all…one is his son, the other is his 1st cousin, the son’s 1C1R. Our clumsy “removed” terminology obscures the fact that this is exactly the way it works with uncle/nephew…a parallel which the Spanish system makes crystal clear using 2nd uncle/2nd nephew instead of 1C1R ascending/descending. There simply are no uncles or nephews if the father doesn’t have a son (the nephew) and a brother (the uncle.)

83.11  The general term “cousins once removed”, does not indicate who is the nominee, so it is not possible to determine which cousin is the senior one in terms of generations. My proposal to resolve this difficulty is to use the terms, “removed forwards” or “removed backwards” to identify the senior partner.   A little of the “ivory tower” syndrome here? This terminology has long been in place, either backwards/forwards, or what I’m more familiar with, ascending/descending…but he’s right to reiterate the necessity of it.

83.12   In the above diagram, if G is chosen as the proband; then J‘s relationship to G (i.e. looking at the relationship from G‘s point of view) is: First cousin, female, once removed (forwards). But if J is the proband, then G‘s relationship to J is: First cousin, male, once removed (backwards).

83.13  I think one of the major causes of confusion is when the “forwards and backwards” terminology is applied, quite correctly, to a single nominated individual, as opposed to using it reciprocally in a mutual relationship between the same two individuals, as shown between G and J above. Not sure what he means by this…no kinship relation can exist unless it’s between 2 people. It would be very odd to hear someone referred to as “a 2nd cousin” without it being specified to whom. 

83.14  In the second diagram (Figure 2) Where Kis the only nominated person, N‘s relationship to K is: Second cousin, male, once removed (forwards). But, I‘s relationship to K is: First cousin, female, once removed (backwards). Thus, the level of cousin relationship is different depending on whether you are looking forwards or backwards through the generations from the same person. OK, he’s starting to get off track here…his conclusions are correct, but he is close to making a very serious mistake. The cousin removed relationship between K and N derives from the existence of L…he is the 2nd cousin of K and the father of N. On the other hand, the cousin removed relation between K and I does not depend on L, but instead on H…because it is H who is the one who has a first cousin and a son. Indeed, trying to derive the relationship between K and I by going thru L leads to the common mistake that the father of your 2nd cousin is  your 2nd cousin once removed.

83.15  Furthermore, the ability to look both ways, from the same nominee, is not always possible. e.g. Returning to Figure 1; if the nominated person is G, as before, then J‘s relationship to G will remain: First cousin, female, once removed (forwards). However, when looking back to E from G, E is not G‘s removed cousin, he is his Uncle. There is no backward removed cousin relationship between E and G because D and E are full sibs, not cousins. Similarly, in Figure 2, E‘s relationship to the proband K is Great UncleI don’t understand what he means by saying it might be impossible to look forward or back…you always can…which is why at Related How Again?  I stress the importance of knowing how to determine a Cousin Line…that is, how each of the the direct ancestors of your numbered cousin is related to you…and this is all the more easy to understand since a pattern emerges based on the number of that numbered cousin. For example, going up from your 4th cousin, you have 3+1…2+2…1+3…x x x uncle…and finally x x x grandfather….those last 2 being phrases that consist of 4 words…4 being the key to the entire ancestor cousin line.  Spelled out, 3C1R…2C2R…1C3R…great great grand uncle…and great great great grandfather.

83.16  In fact, now that I think about it, he is dangerously close to making another error…that is, in thinking that “uncles” and “cousins removed” are 2 fundamentally different kinds of relationships. Sure, they sound different…an uncle is not a cousin after all. But as the Cousin Line demonstrates, none of these relatives are your cousins…they are all your collateral ancestors, and the 2 brothers…the sons of the common ancestor shared by you and your numbered cousin…get a special name…something something uncle. The only difference is in the nomenclature….but yes, it certainly adds to the confusion.

83.17  The fundamental rule for determining the level of cousin relationship when looking backwards or forwards in a “removed” situation is as follows: There are three relevant individuals in each removed relationship, two are contemporary cousins and the third, who is always positioned in a later generation, is the child, grandchild or other descendant of one of the two cousins. e.g. In Figure 2, where K is the same proband in two different relationships, when looking backwards: H and I are the two cousins (first) and K is the third member. But, when looking forwards: K and L are the two cousins (second) and N is the third member. Therefore, it is the relationship between the two contemporary cousins in each case, which determines the title, and the third person must be located at least a generation later than the two cousins. After much fumbling and bumbling, he finally states it right…all cousin removed relationships involve 2 cousins and the descendent of one of them. Wish he would have started with that at the beginning instead of probanding around like a nominee with its head cut off.

83.18  A common error is to select the third person from an earlier generation. e.g. In Figure 2, when considering the relationship between K and I, the mistake is to choose K and L as the cousins (instead of H and I) and I as the third person (instead of K), which would, incorrectly, give the relationship as: Second cousins once removed instead of the true title of: First cousins once removed.  See, just what I said…he really does get it, but he had us wondering for a while. Better to say: Just as uncle/nephew describes the relationship between a father’s son and that father’s brother, so too 1C1R is a relationship between a father’s son and that father’s 1st cousin. And not to sound like a broken record, but this so much clearer in Spanish, with 2nd uncle/2nd nephew.

83.19  The direction, forwards or backwards, simply depends on who is the proband; the relevant cousin or the third person. The relevant cousin being the one who is not the parent or grandparent of the third member. First cousins once removed are sometimes referred to as 1½ cousins and second cousins once removed as 2½ cousins. Never heard of this, and count myself fortunate. However, this terminology is not very satisfactory as it breaks down when applied to cousins two or three times removed, and should be avoided. 

83.20  Finally, the number of times removed, i.e. once, twice or three times, depends on how many generations separate the two individuals. e.g. See Figure 3 and Table 5. In Table 5, the probands are printed in red.  I have omitted the figure and the table…it simply expands what we’ve been talking about out to 3rd cousins then reviews all the cousin, uncle/aunt, and niece/nephew relationships that result. I checked them and they are correct…this final part, and indeed the entire article, may be reviewed here.

83.21  So there you have it…a bit creaky in spots perhaps, but the information is accurate enough. All I’ve tried to do is suggest a better way…hopefully a clearer and more intuitive way…to understand cousins removed. But again, nice to “banter” with someone who knows which end is up! Next week, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time…a lot of fun for me, altho probably not for you so much…plus a couple of recent odds and ends…see yez…

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Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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