#91: Time Again For Mail Time

Dear Stolf: I am in almost daily contact with the planet Xenobulax…and the inhabitants there thought you might be interested in what their genealogical charts look like.  …from Col. Bleep, Zero-Zero Island

91.0  My Dear Colonel: …and you’re right…I might be interested. Thanx, pal…out of this world. Seriously…I mean that…I’m touched you thought of me…cosmic…

Dear Stolf:  Re last week’s discussion of cousins sharing
grandparents…it occurred to me that not only could 2 people share both a grandfather and a grandmother, and still not be 1st cousins…but one of them could even have those grandparents as a married pair, and it still wouldn’t guarantee 1st cousins, as I have sketched out. Right?  …from Hominie, in Gritsburg

91.1  Dear Hominie: Of course right! Funny coincidence…I was using the smallest room in the house when that same idea popped into my head (no pun intended, but whatcha gonna do?) To recap, last week we were reviewing the inadequacies of trying to define cousinhood thru shared grandparents. On the left side of Chart 314, we see the typical 1st cousin arrangement…2 full brothers marry unrelated sisters and have sons X and Y. On the right side, X and Y also have a CR of 1/8, equivalent to that of 1st cousins, yet they are not 1st cousins, but double half-1st cousins…despite sharing a grandfather A and a grandmother B.

91.2  I have redrawn your diagram at the top of Chart 315…and you might wonder, does the fact that X has the shared grandparents thru just one of his parents make his relationship to Y more than just the double half-cousins illustrated in Chart 314? No, it does not…there are only 2 pairs of paths involved…from X and Y to B thru their fathers…and from X and Y to A thru X‘s father and Y‘s mother…so that’s of CR of 1/16 + 1/16 = 1/8.

91.3  By way of comparison, at the bottom of Chart 315 is the previous double half-1st cousins chart, on the left, and a re-drawn version on the right. It’s a matter of personal taste whether lines of descent crossing one another on such a chart makes it less clear…there’s certainly an argument that way. On the other hand, cross-overs do allow all those individuals of the same generation to appear on the same horizontal level, which you can’t do with non-cross-overs…unless you go “up and over,” which I’d just as soon not. Another thing that crossed lines allow for is shown in Chart 316…

91.4  …and I’d like to thank F. M Lancaster for the “trick” of connecting A to 4. Now X and Y are quadruple half-1st cousins, with a CR of 1/16  x  4 = 1/4, the equivalent of half-siblings, or double 1st cousins. X‘s grandparents are A/B and C/D, while Y‘s grandparents are B/C and A/D…no 2 pairs are the same. Yes, quadruple, because X and Y share all 4 grandparents…and yet they are not double 1st cousins nor even single 1st cousins, due to this unique “tag-team” arrangement. See what you started, Hominie? Hope you’re happy… 😉 😉


Dear Stolf: I’m confused…sometimes when you go down a generation, the degree of relationship is cut in half…like from your father to you it’s ½…then from your father to your son it’s half that, or 1/4. But other times it’s reduced by a quarter…like you and your 1st cousin  are related by 1/8, which is a quarter of the relationship between you and your father (or between your cousin and your uncle) not half. Why is it different?  …from Sonny in Business City

91.5  Dear Sonny: Actually, going down one generation is never “different”…it’s always one half, owing to the nature of sexual reproduction on our planet…i.e. 2 parents…could be different on Xenobulax, obviously. Thus, you as the offspring get half your genetic heritage from your father, half from your mother. You are related to everyone your father is related to, but only by half as much as he is.

91.6  Chart 317 is your father and a bunch of his relatives…then in Chart 318,  you come on the scene and your relation to all your father’s relatives is in each case half what his is. One peculiarity you’ll notice is that in doing this, your relation to your brother is 1/4, not ½…and that’s correct…thru your father, anyone who is his son has a Coefficient of Relationship with you of 1/4. The reason you and your brother have a  CR of ½ is that you also get 1/4 from your mother…so 1/4 + 1/4 = ½. Remember, full siblings are “double half-siblings.” And that’s why, when kinship was reckoned unilineally, or thru just one line, there was no difference between brothers and half-brothers…in each case, you had the same father and that was enough.

91.7  But the part of Chart 318 we must zero in on is between you and your 1st cousin…sure enough, the CR between your father and his father is ½…but between you and your 1st cousin, it’s 1/8…like you said, it looks like in this case going down a generation divides it by 4, not by 2. But you can now see what’s happening…between your father and your 1st cousin (his nephew), it’s half what it is between your father and your 1st cousin’s father (your father’s brother, your uncle)…1/4. And how could your 1st cousin be related to you by the same degree that he’s related to your father? Well, he can’t…which is why the half “doubles” when you are comparing 2 individuals, who are descended from 2 other individuals who are related to each other.

91.8  Thus we see on the right of Chart 319, A and B are half-1st cousins…a CR of 1/16. From A to B‘s son Y is half that, or 1/32…but between son Y and son X, it’s half again, or 1/64. You could look at it this way: between A and X, you go “go down once”…that’s A to X…and divide by 2. But between X and Y, you “go down twice”…A to X…and B to Y…so you divide by 2 twice, or 4. And this principle will come into play in a big way next week, when I tackle a seemingly innocuous task.

Dear Stolf: In my family, my parents had me when they were very young. They divorced, married other poeple and had separate families…then years later ended up remarried to each other and had my brother. I know he’s my full brother, but he doesn’t feel like it, since I was raised with one group of my half-siblings. Have you ever heard of such a thing?  Is there a name for it?  …Cindy Lou, from Ogdensvilleburg

91.8  Dear CL: No, I have to admit I haven’t….and I’m guessing this all happened a while back, since you say it was accomplished thru marriages and divorces. That’s old school for sure…today, lots of folks just don’t take the time or effort to bother with that sort of stuff. Name for it? How about “non-serial full siblings” or something along those lines.

91.9  But to review…chronologically…there’s you…then a group of your half-siblings thru your father, and another group thru your mother, one of which you were raised with…then a full brother. Unusual, certainly, but as your case demonstrates, not impossible. Charting it all out is another matter. Detailed genealogical information is best written out as text, as a list. For your father for example, you’d list his first marriage to your mother and the children that resulted (i.e. you)…then his second marriage to your step- mother…then his remarriage to your mother…with your mother’s second marriage in there too, so all your step-siblings are accounted for, as well as your Johnny-come-lately full brother.

91.10  Drawing a chart or diagram for an entire family seldom works…there’s just too much information and too many individuals to account for. To illustrate some small portion of your family, yes, a chart can work. One other factor is this: with a sequential list, you are able to indicate chronological order…which siblings were born first, which marriage came first, etc. You can try to do that with charts as well…first is on the far left, last is on the far right. But how in the world can we do that in your case, with the multiple marriages, remarriages, and sets of half-siblings?

91.11  One approach goes back to one of my earliest charts…and the idea that all individuals don’t have to represented by the same size or shape. In Chart 19, each of your successive ancestors gets “bigger”…which does 2 things: it keeps all the “Cousin Lines” in line…and it also shows how many of those descendants belong to each ancestor’s own individual line: simply those “below” him. But you know what? Maybe that goofy Xenobulaxian chart might come in handy…

91.12  Yeah, it looks pretty weird…and while the descendants of your full sibling and your half-sibling thru your father could just be placed underneath…there’s no room for the descendants of you or your half-sibling thru your mother…they would have to go on the right somewhere, with long lines connecting the generations…very messy. But Chart 320 does do 2 important things…first, all the siblings, half or whole, are connected to their respective parents…and second, the chronological sequence is maintained, left to right…first came you, then 2 groups of your half-siblings, then your parents reconnected for your full sibling. If you’ve got an eye for geometry, perhaps you could do better…I’d be pleased to see it! Till next time, aloha…

Wicked Ballsy

Classic humor is funny because everyone can relate to it…and everybody has family, right? Time and again, the great Groucho Marx would turn to family dynamics, with all its twists and turns. Take this exchange from You Bet Your Lifeit was deemed too “racy” to be broadcast in the early 1950s, but the moment was saved for the “gag reel” shown to salesmen at sponsor’s conventions…

Groucho:  So you had 5 children and 2 pigs…
Woman:  But then we had 3 more…
Groucho:  3 more pigs?
Woman:  No, children.
Groucho:  And what about your husband?
Woman:  Oh, he’s dead.
Grouch0:  Really? Maybe he’s just hiding…

Pretty innocent, no? By the late 1960s, things had loosened up, and so we have this bit from a Kraft Music Hall TV roast of Johnny Carson, where Groucho says…

I  went to Johnny’s hometown in Nebraska and  I spoke with Johnny’s mother. Fortunately, she remembers him. She doesn’t remember his father, but she remembers Johnny. Then I spoke with Johnny’s first grade teacher. She doesn’t remember him…altho she does remember his father.

Of course Johnny took the ribbing in good humor…could I have been so gracious? I’m not sure I wouldn’t have asked Groucho: By the way, whose hair is that?  But finally, please enjoy this endearing ditty


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#90: Mail Time

90.1  Two questions today from the mailbag fit together nicely. But first, let me give you a list of relatives: mother/father, son/daughter, brother/sister, uncle/aunt, nephew/niece, grandfather/grandmother, grandson/granddaughter,  great grandparent/great grandchild, and cousin…which is to say, 1st cousin, offspring of your parent’s sibling. These form the basic core of our kinship terms and relationships…we learn them early on in life, and our understanding of them is rock solid.

90.2  When we move beyond them, many people get confused…and when I say “move beyond,” I simply mean using these relationships as compounds…building upon the basics, like this: father’s uncle, father’s cousin, cousin’s son, etc. When I listed those terms in 90.1, you probably thought of them as how they applied to you…they are the people most closely related to you. But your father has all these relatives too, and because he’s your father, they are all related to you as well…but how? Thus our first question…

Dear Stolf: What is the best way to explain how you are related to your 2nd cousin…so that others can understand it…and I can understand it myself?  …from Sparky, Sebastopol, CA

90.3  Dear Sparky: Good Grief! Excellent question. There are 3 basic definitions…all work, all are correct, but not all are equally clear…and you’re looking for the easiest to understand, nez pah? The Grandparent Definition is the worst, because it’s the hardest to understand…the Cousin Definition is the best because it’s the easiest to understand…finally, the Sibling Definition is also a good way, it’s a bit more complicated than the Cousin Definition…but only a bit more. We’ll examine each of these in turn.

90.4  Grandparent Definition of Cousins  (GDC)

          1st cousins share a common grandparent
          2nd cousins share a common great grandparent
          3rd cousins share a common great great grandparent

This is the most frequent way you will find Numbered Cousins defined…and it’s really a diservice, because taken literally, just as they are stated above, these rules fail in 2 different ways…and for them to be correct, they must be modified to the point where they  become very convoluted and confusing. True, once modified, they are completely correct and very understandable, if you take the time to note all the qualifications. In this way, the GDC becomes trustworthy, but unnecessarily cumbersome.

90.5  First way they fail: by the above definitions, your siblings are your 1st cousins, since you share with your siblings a common grandparent, right? Likewise, your siblings and 1st cousins are also your 2nd cousins…and your siblings, 1st cousins, and 2nd cousins all qualify as your 3rd cousins…which in each of these cases simply isn’t true. First modification, using the rule for 1st cousins as an example…share a grandparent as the closest common ancestor. Now while it’s true that you and your sibling have a common grandparent, that ancestor is not your closest common ancestor…your parent is. Thus, thankfully, you and your sibling are not 1st cousins. And this modification applies right down the line, to 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, etc…

90.6  Second way they fail: Half-first cousins also share a grandparent as their closest common ancestor. But half-1st cousins are not 1st cousins…they share only 1/16 of their genes, while 1st cousins share 1/8. Half-1st cousins have the same grandfather, but different grandmothers…that grandfather had 2 different families with 2 different women. So the second modification could be:  …share 2 grandparents as the closest common ancestors. What we’re shooting for is shown above in Chart 312a. But this still doesn’t work, because you could be double half-cousins…that is, half-cousins on your father’s side and on your mother’s side…as in Chart 312b, you share 2 grandfathers and no grandmothers. OK then, make it …share a grandfather and a grandmother as the closest common ancestors. Again, this won’t do it, since as in Chart 312c, you could do that, have “one of each,” and still be double half-cousins, not full 1st cousins.

90.7  It should be obvious that what we really need is for you to share the same married pair of grandparents…but how do we say that succinctly, considering that they may not be married, just had children together? I’m going to stop here…as you can imagine, putting all this together does work, but it’s messy. If that were the only way to define Numbered Cousins, we’d be stuck with it…fortunately, it isn’t and we’re not…

90.8  Cousin Definition of Cousins  (CDC)

          1st cousins are the offspring of siblings
          2nd cousins are the offspring of 1st cousins
          3rd cousins are the offspring of 2nd cousins

Done and done…iron-clad and airtight. Notice that all the fuss about how many grandparents and precisely which ones is unequivocally decided by that one word “siblings.” Siblings are not half-siblings…siblings have the same father and the same mother…married, unmarried, doesn’t matter. Half-‘s are ruled out by definition…and going along, “offspring of 1st cousins” does the trick for defining 2nd cousins, “2nd cousins” for 3rd cousins, etc. (And if you’re of a truly mathematical bent, “siblings” can be replaced by “0th cousins…making it a definition derived only from cousins.)

90.9   OK, given people’s extraordinary ability to misunderstand even the simplest declarative sentence, you might suspect there is one tiny leak. But not really. I daresay 99.99% of the people reading the above CDC realize that the siblings who have the offspring who are 1st cousins, these siblings are not married to, or procreating with, each other. In the normal course of events, 2 brothers marry 2 women…these women are not related to each other, or to the brothers. But what if they were? Let’s take the worst case, and say you and I are back in ancient Egypt, and our parents are indeed brother and sister. We are siblings…we are also 1st cousins..in fact, double 1st cousins…that is, 1st cousins in 2 different ways, since my father is the sibling of your mother, and my mother is the sibling of your father. Fine, but the CDC rule still holds…it’s just that, besides being 1st cousins, we are also something else. But we are nevertheless 1st cousins. Now let’s take the CDC back one generation…

90.10  Sibling Definition of Cousins  (SDC)

          1st cousins have parents who are siblings
          2nd cousins have grandparents who are siblings
          3rd cousins have great grandparents who are siblings

Once again, the word “siblings”…now used to define each degree of Numbered Cousins…specifies 2 people who have the same father and the same mother…no half-‘s included.  And even if those siblings are procreating with each other, the definition still holds…it’s just that there will now be other ways the cousins are related besides what the definition says, as showed by our Egyptian example. Really, between the CDC and the SDC there is very little to choose…both absolutely nail the Numbered Cousin relationships…in some cases, one might be more useful in seeing the actual cousin connection than the other. Personally, I find the CDC a little clearer, that’s all…but not by much!

90.11  Then again, if you want  to complicate it, nobody’s stopping you…this then would be the equivalent of the SDC as stated above…still correct, just more wordy…and I wonder why you would feel the need to go both up and down the family tree…when simply going up will do the trick quite nicely, thank you…

     my 1st cousin is the child of my parent’s sibling
     my 2nd cousin is the grandchild of my grandparent’s sibling
     my 3rd cousin in the great grandchild of my great grandparent’s sibling


Dear Stolf: I’m having an on-going argument with my brother. Can you have 2nd cousins without having 1st cousins? He says no way…I say of course way. Can you please help us?  …from Sissy in Siblingburg 

90.12  Yes, I can settle your squabble, which I hope hasn’t escalated to the point of one of you saying to the other: “Oh yeah? Well you were adopted!” But what I really like about your question is it gives me a chance to show how the above SDC can be preferable to the CDC. Look at SDC, and suppose your mother is an only child, and so is your father. You have no 1st cousins, since neither of your parents have siblings. But does that prevent your grandparents from having siblings? Of course not! Or your great grandparents? Ditto. So you could have 2nd cousins, and 3rd cousins, and on down the line. It’s just that simple.

90.13  Now it’s true you can draw the same conclusion from the CDC. The trouble is, it’s a little less obvious. If your parents have no siblings, you have no 1st cousins…and the 2nd cousin rule states:  2nd cousins are the offspring of 1st cousins. What you must realize is, since we’re talking about your 2nd cousins, “offspring of 1st cousins” doesn’t mean your 1st cousins…and anyway, we already know you don’t have any…it means your parent’s 1st cousins! And the only way your parent can have a 1st cousin is if your grandparent has a sibling, so we’re back to the SDC. See how it all ties together? Pretty cool, sez me.

90.14  BTW…Anyone who incorrectly thinks that your 2nd cousin is the child of your 1st cousin…would naturally conclude that without any 1st cousins, 2nd cousins aren’t possible. A valid argument, but an invalid conclusion nonetheless, because it’s based on a premise that is false. And anyway, it would only mean that you as 1C1R ascending wouldn’t have a 1C1R descending. But you yourself could be the 1C1R descending, and you could then have a 1C1R ascending…that is, your parent’s 1st cousin, which you would incorrectly…but at least if you’re being consistent…have to call your 2nd cousin…since you are his  2nd cousin in the sense of being the child of his 1st cousin. Perhaps that’s what was in your brother’s head…either way, you’re right, he’s wrong…as Archie Bunker would say, ipso fatso. See yez next week…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#89: Kitty Korner Kousins

89.1  It would seem like a no-brainer, nez pah? “Quarter cousin” is a colloquial term used in some parts of the UK, and the Oxford English Dictionary favors British over American usage, so just look it up! Trouble is, OED takes us in a whole other direction…because OED doesn’t think mathematical fractions have anything to do with it…

89.2  That bit about Shakespeare is from Merchant of Venice, 1596… “His maister and he, saving your worships reverence, are scarce catercosins.”  OED’s first recorded usage of “cater-cousin” is 1547…first for “quarter cousin” is 1656…supporting the idea that “quarter” is a corruption of “cater.” But then again…wait for it…some more recent sources have it the other way around…”quarter” came first, and eventually morphed into “cater.”

89.3  Most experts today distinguish between 2 definitions of catercousin…either a very distant blood relative…or a person who is not related but thought of as being as close as a relative or cousin. There is no agreement, as you can see from the OED citation, about what the “cater” part means. Today the idea of eating together or catering to one another…another old term is messfellow…is given less credence. The preferred derivation is from “catre,” an Old French form of “quatre” meaning the number 4. In this sense, we are talking about a square, the verb “to cater” meaning to place, cut, or move diagonally…hence cater-cornered, what you probably call catty-corner or kitty-corner.

89.4  And dear friends, if it strikes you as odd that the “experts” are uncertain as to the origin of this, as well as so many other English words and phrases, well, that’s just the etymological reality…this stuff gets lost in the swirl of billions upon billions of written, but mostly spoken, words…and nobody was really “paying attention.” Yes, many of the citations for “quarter cousin” I found are in the sense of a distant relative…too distant to bother to be precise, if they can truly be considered related at all. But many others clearly have some specific relationship in mind, and the move from “half” to “quarter” in a mathematical sense seems undeniable. And after much searching, I finally found 2 instances that spell out “quarter cousins” clearly…and it’s not what I expected.

89.5  Mind you, this doesn’t mean that all or even most of those who say “quarter cousin” mean it in this sense. But the first, thank goodness, is extremely credible…because is has to do with the ancestors of Myles Standish….yes, the Myles Standish…and a happy Thanksgiving to you too! Detailed family records were kept, both in England before the Mayflower trip…and after, delineating those oh-so-important “first families” of the New World. Even so, there was confusion interpreting the records, since so many individuals had similar names…but from what I understand, it’s all been sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction. Chart 307  concerns individuals from the Old Country, and I don’t actually know where Myles comes in, but that’s irrelevant to our purposes.

89.6  I should mention that where you see (1) and (2), these are not meant in the usual sense of Senior/Junior or I, II, III…but are instead labels given by genealogists to keep things straight. Because as you can see, both of the 4th generation Thomases married women with the same names…what’s more, when Thomas (1) and Margaret (2) died…guess what?…Thomas (2) married Margaret (1)…nice!!!

89.7  But here’s what we were looking for, gleamed from Section (6) of this detailed commentary: “Thomas (1) and Thomas (2) […] were both great-grandsons of Sir Christopher, and therefore quarter-cousins, which in the 16th century made them close kinsmen, tied together even closer by marriages into the same local gentry families.” Well, it couldn’t be any plainer than that…except at first blush this doesn’t make sense, when we redraw Chart 307 as Chart 308  to make it easier to analyze…

89.8  But if the sons of 1st cousins are quarter-cousins, what happened to the half-cousins? My first thought was something along these lines…

89.9  …that is, we’re using fractional terminology to enumerate the contemporary or same-generation cousins…what I call “numbered cousins”… straight across the family tree horizontally. But upon further reflection, my best guess is that Chart 309 shows what’s really going on…

89.10  Remember, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “half-cousins” as 2nd cousins…and goes on to say that “2nd cousins” can mean either the sons of 1st cousins, which is what we in the modern sense consider 2nd cousins…or 1st cousins once removed, that is, one individual is the son of the 1st cousin of the other. And following the logic of the fractions, the son of your half-cousin is your quarter-cousin. (BTW, this blog is composed on an Apple, using TextEdit for the text, and Paintbrush for the images. Paintbrush only allows rotation thru 90 degree intervals…”half-cousins” in Chart 309  was accomplished with Open Office’s Draw program, which allows rotations in 5 degree intervals…in this case, it’s 30 degrees.)

89.11  And I’ll say that at least one other person agrees with this. Consider this quote from a website discussing the genealogy of a Harmon family: “So your grandfather was my great uncle and you would be my quarter cousin related at six degree[s] of consanguinity.”

Looks pretty kosher to me. So for the time being, and pending further developments, we’ll say a “quarter cousin” is what in our standard system of kinship terminology is known as a “2nd cousin”…at least in the mind of one Mayflower blue-blood genealogist. But the question then becomes, how far does this fractional cousin system extend? Using the foregoing reasoning, what we’d call a “2nd cousin once removed” would presumably be an “eighth cousin,” and a “3rd cousin” would then be a “sixteenth cousin”…or should we be saying “one eighth cousin” and “one sixteenth cousin?”

89.12  Reminds me of McDonalds Third Pounder burgers…the first time I saw that, I wondered who ate the first 2 pounds! Of course, Third Pounder doesn’t mean the third of 3 pounds…it means the fraction 1/3…or one third of one pound…but that’s not what they say, is it? And then those Uncle Wiki goofballs say this sandwich consists of “a third-pound of …” Duh…English spoken here, please…

89.13  But alas, googling “one eighth cousin” returns only a couple dozen hits, all of which refer to an 8th cousin…that’s one single 8th cousinas opposed to a whole gaggle of them…with the sole exception being a type-written transcript from an Indian Affairs hearing from the 1960s. Here the term “one-eighth cousin” is used to explain that in the Indian culture in question, no child is considered “abandoned” or without kin, even if he is only as distantly related to someone as “one-eighth cousin.” Needless to say, no indication of just what a “one-eighth cousin” actually means in this context. Perhaps they simply meant 8th cousin…altho one would think 3rd or 4th cousin would be distant enough for the point they’re making.

89.14   But if you want a weird twist…check this quote from the book The dialect of Leeds [UK] and its neighborhood  by C. Clough Robinson…

Barns are babies, and gurt-nevvy is great nephew. But what concerns us is horf-cousins, quarter-cousins, horf-quarter-cousins an’ so on. And does “an’ so on” lead to “quarter-quarter-cousins”? Trouble is, if you can have “half-quarter-cousins,” why not “half-half-cousins”?  Or maybe half-halfs are quarters? Then again, perhaps the speaker is being facetious, and just making up kinship categories to exaggerate the overflow of assembled relatives. A google search on “half quarter cousins” yielded just 3 hits…amusingly enough,  “half (quarter??) cousin” “half (quarter!?) cousin”…and “half/quarter cousin”…which I take to mean “half or quarter.”

89.15  Other bits I found include half-half-cousin from a fan fiction story based on Gone With the Wind…half-half-quarter cousin from an on-line story about Pokemon characters, altho this might have been in jest, can’t tell…then there’s the “Urban Dictionary,” founded online in 1999, with both general and ethnic slang…they define quarter brother as your half-brother’s half-brother, which is to say, one not related to you…you and your quarter brother would share a half-brother, but on different sides of his family…same goes for sisters. But like they say…after the Devil invented wind-chimes, he moved far, far away…and so, once opened, we’ll let the topic of “quarter cousins” breathe for a while…and next week, we’ll check some mail, hokay?


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#88: So Who’s Your Quarter Cousin?

88.1  I spent a lot of time this week surfing the web, looking for quarter cousins…found mentions both recent and antique…mostly from the UK or Australia…but also some from the US, which isn’t unexpected considering we share…nominally anyway…a common language. What I didn’t find was a clear-cut definition of what relationship the term is meant to refer to. And since it isn’t an “official” genealogical term, that’s not surprising either.

88.2  But let’s back up a moment, and get on firm footing with the word “half.” In English it has 2 distinct meanings…it can mean literally 50%, as in half a gallon…or approximately that much, as in half a banana. But it can also mean “partially” or “not fully”…as in I was only half-joking. This runs parallel to our use of the prefix “semi-“…a semi-circle is exactly one half of a circle…whereas if you were half-joking, it can be said you were semi-serious. Consider the difference between semi-annual and semi-automatic…or half-Italian and half-cocked.


88.3  And if I might digress a bit, what makes English such a rich language is the fact that while its basic roots are Germanic, it enjoys a healthy infusion of Latin, as in semi-…Greek, as in hemi-…and French, thanks to the Norman Invasion, as in demi-…each of these means “half.” You have words like hemisphere, demitasse, and of course the progressively more fleeting family of musical notes shown above. These latter concoctions arose in England during the Renaissance…American English prefers to use the mathematical fractions. And while I’m thinking of it, “half-ass” is not just a colorful way of describing someone or something that isn’t “all there”…it’s also the formal name of a large equid that was judged different enough from the common donkey to be considered not fully one…with some features that more resembled a horse, it was only “half” as ass…and that’s the Onager or Asiatic (formerly Persian) Wild Ass, Equus Hemiones.

88.4  At any rate, in modern kinship terminology, “half” means literally 50%…a half-brother shares with you 1 out of 2 parents, not the 2 out of 2 you’d share with a full brother. And while it seems strange to say your full brother is your “double half-brother”…or half-brother on your father’s side and half-brother on your mother’s side…that really is what’s going on, and this is an important concept when it extends to half-cousins, half-uncles, etc. Needless to say, the Coefficients of Relationship bear this out mathematically…½ for brother, half that or 1/4 for half-brother…1/8 for 1st cousin, half that or 1/16 for half-1st cousin, and so on. On the other hand, the older use of “half,” still prevalent in some parts of the UK, does not mean literally 50%, but rather “not fully.” After all, if “half cousin” means your 2nd cousin, that’s a CR of 1/32, which is not half of the CR with a 1st cousin, 1/8. Here, half simply means “further along the family tree collaterally.” And thus “quarter cousin” would suggest “further along still,” or 3rd cousin.

88.5   All neat and tidy, if that were the usage we find…except we don’t…for example…

88.6  Now had this helpful nudnik simply stopped after “your half-2nd cousin,” there would have been some sense to it, altho not the same sense as we were just describing. In this case, your half-cousin, or more precisely half-1st cousin, would be half-way between 1st and 2nd cousin, thus quarter cousin would be half-way between 2nd and 3rd cousin, or half-2nd cousin. Unfortunately, they then go on to give an example that completely contradicts this…instead, they think a 2nd cousin is a 1st cousin once removed, that is, the son of your first cousin…and the half- would then be an incorrect synonym for step-, in the sense of by or thru marriage. Oops and double oops…well, throw that one in the Biz Bag…

88.7   Our next example is interesting…it comes from the US…Spanish Fork is sure enough in Utah. And Girl’s Special Agent is excited that she looks like her quarter cousin. But who is GSA’s quarter cousin? She describes it as a Conan Relative, along the lines of “brother’s sister’s cousin’s sister”…

88.8   …or specifically here, “half-brother’s half-cousin.” At the top of Chart 305,  we see the typical W-shape you get with half-siblings when using a Parental Tree diagram…I have assumed that YOU and 1/2B have the same father and different mothers. Now what does it mean for your half-brother to have a half-cousin, and we’ll assume that’s a half-1st cousin? It means that 1/2B and 1/2C have parents who themselves are half-siblings…so for 1/2B, that would involve either his mother (Chart 305 bottom left)  or his father (Chart 305 bottom right.)

88.9  If it’s thru the mothers, then YOU and 1/2C are not related by blood at all…the fact that there’s a “family” resemblance, as GSA said in shape of the face and eyes, is purely coincidental. This could well be, altho I get the feeling she is saying that they are related…since 1/2C is being described as “her” quarter cousin. So it must be thru the fathers, bottom right of Chart 305. Trouble is, in this scenario, 1/2C is simply a half-cousin to YOU as well as a half-cousin to 1/2B. Looked at from 1/2C’s point of view, both YOU and 1/2B are the children of 1/2C’s mother’s half-brother, and this is true whether YOU and 1/2B have the same mothers or not.

88.10  GSA’s mistake is a common one…thinking that the link between herself and 1/2C must be different than that between her half-brother and 1/2C…since she is not a sibling, but a half-sibling to 1/2B. But the truth is, whether GSA and 1/2B were full siblings or half-siblings, their relationship would be the same to 1/2C…that is, half-cousin. In Chart 305,  whether YOU and 1/2B have the same mothers or different mothers is irrelevant to 1/2C…what is relevant is, both YOU and 1/2B have a father who is a half-sibling to 1/2C’s mother, and that makes them both 1/2C’s half-cousins.

88.11  This is the principle of interchangeability…for example, from your 2nd cousin’s point of view…you, your siblings, and your 1st cousins are all 2nd cousins to your 2nd cousin. The relationships within one branch of the family have no significance when comparing between 2 different branches…they are interchangeable. And of course it expands from there…to your 3rd cousin…you, your siblings, your 1st cousins, and your 2nd cousins…are all 3rd cousins.

88.12  Bottom line: GSA’s half-brother’s half-cousin is either no relation at all to her…or else her half-cousin as well…thinking 1/2C is “further along”…hence not a half-cousin but a quarter cousin is wrong. But the sad part for us is, we therefore don’t really know what GSA has in mind for a “quarter cousin”…the person she identified as such is in fact her half-cousin. Of course, this is assuming GSA knows what a half-cousin is in the first place…maybe she doesn’t! In which case, all we really can say is, she’s heard of “quarter cousins.”

88.13  Our third citation is of no help either…I include it only as a prime example of the way people take wild guesses when they really don’t know what they’re talking about…the technical term is “flailing about.”

88.14  What we have in Chart 306 is this: if “brother” and “wife” had a child, this child would be YOU’s 1st cousin…thru “brother.” But this child would also have 1st cousins thru its mother, “wife”…and that’s what “daughter” is…no relation at all to YOU. Why even guess “quarter cousin” in the first place? Perhaps under the mistaken impression that your blood uncle’s wife is somehow a step-relation to you, and step- is the same as half-…and “daughter” is sort of one step over from this “half,” so that makes her a “quarter.”  But I’m just guessing…it’s impossible to tell what’s in HazBazz’ mind.

88.15  So where do we stand? Well, it seems fair to say that “quarter cousin” derives linguistically from “half-cousin.” And so it would depend on what the “half-” means…and there we have 3 choices:

As we saw last week, (2) and (3) are obsolete meanings of “half-“, albeit still defined that way by the Oxford’s English Dictionary, and sure enough, that usage lingers in the UK. But to take a stab at it…

88.16   And as a matter of fact, one of my older citations…from 1888, The Kinship of men: an argument from pedigrees; or, Genealogy viewed as a science, a book written by Henry Kendall, favors choice (3)…

Notice he is calling half- and quarter-cousins what we would call cousins once, twice, etc. removed…that is, descendants of our numbered cousins. But careful! He also says such things as this:

So a quarter-brother means a quarter of a brother, in terms of degree of relationship…does that mean a  quarter cousin is a quarter of a cousin? Thats 1/8 divided by 4, or 1/32…i.e. a 2nd cousin…which, alas, isn’t one of our 3 choices…it’s getting worse, not better, isn’t it?

88.17  But hold on a minute…speaking of older sources, what’s the OED have to say about all of this quarter cousin business? Cliffhanger!  Back next week…  


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