#122: The Coyfields & the McHats


122.1  I recently (finally) watched the History Channel’s miniseries on the Hatfields and McCoys. There are several interesting genealogical aspects I’d like to touch on…but first, the burning question…

122.2  …which you should ask yourself anytime you’re watching a “bio-pic”…Is this really the way it happened? It’s a fact of life that there has to be some degree of “poetic license” in the telling a factual tale…from a historian’s point of view, this can many times be described as “extreme,” and the miniseries in question falls into that category.

122.3  One problem is when several real-life individuals are combined into one…what they call a “composite.” The judge at the “Hog Trial” was not Uncle Wall Hatfield, but rather Devil Anse’s father’s half-1st cousin, also named Anderson Hatfield, and known as “Preacher Anse” (sometimes called “Deacon Anse,” confusing him with his brother Basil “Deacon” Hatfield.) Preacher Anse lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug River, the McCoy side, and was trusted by the McCoy clan. He demonstrated his impartially by impanelling 6 Hatfield jurors and 6 McCoys. The fact that Selkirk McCoy voted against his kin and in favor of the Hatfields is testament to how intertwined these 2 families were…he and several other McCoys worked for the Hatfields in their timber business.


122.4  Further, the judge at the trial of Paris and Sam McCoy for the killing of Bill Staton was indeed Valentine “Uncle Wall” Hatfield…but this was not Devil Anse’s older brother Valentine, who was one of the 9 convicted for the “Paw Paw Tree Incident.” The judge’s full name was Valentine Wallace Hatfield…thus Uncle Wall not Uncle Val…and he was named after his Uncle Valentine, Ephraim’s father and Devil Anse’s grandfather…following all this!? The sundry Valentines are summarized in Chart 429. And despite what it says on the official marker, Uncle Wall was not Devil Anse’s uncle…he was a 1st cousin once removed, being the 1st cousin and not brother of Devil Anse’s father Ephraim.

chart 429

122.5  Another change: lawyer Perry Cline did not have designs on marrying Roseanna Hatfield…he was already married at the time and had a son, the first of his 8 children. And one thing they left out: at the time of the New Year’s Eve Raid, Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts was himself married, altho it is believed he and his wife had no children. And did you wonder why they’d even risk taking a “mentally challenged” individual out on such a mission? The fact is, while it was widely acknowledged that there was something “not right” with him, historians today don’t rightly know what. There is evidence that while he was in custody, attempts were made to have him declared insane….as opposed to “feeble-minded.”

122.6  And other stuff…despite what is often written, there is no historical evidence that Devil Anse and Randall served together in the Civil War. In fact, in a 1944 article, LIFE  magazine claimed it was Devil Anse, not Uncle Bill, who killed Asa Harmon McCoy…and not after the war, but in a battle during the war. Bounty hunter Bad Frank Phillips was appointed as a special officer by the Governor of Kentucky…not hired by Randall McCoy and lawyer Cline. And as the miniseries progressed, the the variances from fact increased substantially. But that’s show biz, I suppose…

122.7  Then there is the typical condensation of the time-line. The dispute over the hog occurred 13 years after the death of Asa Harmon McCoy…13 years!  Ellison Hatfield was killed 4 years after that…and  another 8 years passed before the trial of the Hatfield Nine, and the hanging of Cotton Top as the scapegoat of the affair.

122.8  And of course, there are areas where historians still can’t agree on exactly what happened…like whether Devil Anse actually knew about the New Year’s Eve Raid at all, let alone organized it and planned to lead it. The miniseries chose one side of that debate and ran with it. And that’s just scratching the surface of the many mysteries, controversies, and theories as to the true chain of events. You could spend a lifetime sorting it all out…and trust me, people have!

122.9  On the genealogical side, there is first the issue of just how big these families were. Devil Anse’ came from a family of at least 12 children…some say as many as 18…and he himself had 13. Randolph McCoy…called Randall or “Ole Ran’l”…came from a family nearly as big, and he fathered 16. Yes, the show had some little ones running about, but there were a ton more of them…and cousins by the dozens, literally. Which is why no matter how many relatives were killed, both sides seemed to have plenty more.

122.10  Uncle Jim’s surname was Vance, not Hatfield…so to be Devil Anse’s “uncle,” he either married one of Devil Anse’s parent’s sisters, or was a brother to Devil Anse’s mother. It turns out the latter was the case. But this brings up an interesting point…when families are so intermixed as the McCoys and Hatfields were…and with many other families besides…it is not always clear where one’s loyalties should lie. Life and circumstances often chose for you. Thus Uncle Jim was fiercely a Hatfield without actually being of Hatfield blood…yes, he was blood to Devil Anse, but thru the Vances, not the Hatfields. It harkens backs to the matrilineal kinship system…not seen in the Western world since the 7th century and Beowulf…where a man was typically more closely allied to his sister’s children than to his own. 

122.11 And to further muddy the waters, it is believed that Jim Vance and his sister, Devil Anse’s mother Nancy Vance, were Vances only thru their mother Elizabeth Vance, who had them out of wedlock….their father is unknown, altho rumored to have been a brother-in-law. Mind you, this Elizabeth Vance was a different Elizabeth Vance…by over half a century…from the one who was the wife of patriarch Joseph Hatfield, at the top of Chart 429. Uncle Wall also married a Vance…as did Preacher Anse’s Uncle Jeremiah, his father George’s brother…and John Hatfield, Devil Anse’s uncle and father of the alleged hog-napper Floyd Hatfield, married a Vance too.

122.12  Next…you may hear it said that Bill Staton, key witness at the Hog Trial, was kin to both the McCoys and the Hatfields. True to an extent…see Chart 430

chart 430

Bill Staton’s mother Nancy was Randall McCoy’s 1st cousin, making Bill his 1st cousin once removed, not nephew as is often said. But besides that, 2 of Bill’s sisters married Hatfield 1st cousins, one a brother of Devil Anse. Thus by blood Bill Staton was a McCoy…but his close friendship with his 2 brothers-in-law put him squarely in the Hatfield camp…bad luck for him, as it turned out. And there were many more ways the McCoys and Hatfields were linked by marriage, over and above that of Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield and Roseanna and Nancy McCoy.

122.13  For the record, I should mention that it is often said that Floyd Hatfield was the son of George Hatfield, who was Devil Anse’s grandfather Valentine’s half-brother (see Chart 429.) George did have a son named Floyd…but if that Floyd was the Hog Trial Floyd, he would have also been the brother of the man who presided over that trial, Preacher Anse Hatfield! And this clearly wasn’t the case…it is well documented that the Hog Trial Floyd was one of Bill Staton’s brothers-in-law, making him the wife of Esther Polly Staton, and the son of John Hatfield, Devil Anse’s father’s brother…for the record.

122.14  Another family with close ties to the Hatfields were the Chafins. Devil Anse’s wife Levisa…also called Levicy or Vicy…was a Chafin…and 3 of her sisters married Hatfields…Chart 431. Also, in real life it was Devil Anse’s 1st cousin once removed Bad Lias who got into the scuffle with Tolbert McCoy over payment for the fiddle, not Devil Anse’s brother Good Lias as portrayed in the miniseries. And because these big families were so spread out over time, Bad Lias was 5 years younger than Good Lias, altho Bad was Good’s father’s half-1st cousin.

chart 431

122.15  I mentioned lawyer Perry Cline…despite the miniseries’ portrayal of him as one of the major villains in the piece, history suggests otherwise. He was elected sheriff of Pike Country, Kentucky for 2 terms…also served in the state legislature, and as a school commissioner. In fact, a school was named after him, the Perry A. Cline High School…it taught black students from 1937 until integration came in 1966…and the building was declared a landmark in 2007. Ironic, since back in the day, his father was wealthy enough to own slaves. We must be careful tho, because he had a nephew also named Perry A. Cline…that middle initial has so far resisted all my attempts at deciphering. BTW, our  Perry was the youngest of 9 siblings…again, big families.

122.16  But the interesting thing is that kinship is generally imputed between Perry Cline and Randall McCoy…I’ve seen it described as cousin, 1st cousin, distant cousin, and cousin by marriage. None of these are true, as per Chart 432. Perry’s sister Martha “Patty” Cline was married to Asa Harmon McCoy…that would make Perry and Asa brothers-in-law…but is Perry a brother-in-law to Asa’s brother Randall?

chart 432

122.17  Randall is certainly Martha Cline’s brother-in-law, as the brother of her husband. But in my experience, your  brother-in-law doesn’t extend to your sister’s husband’s brother…altho families are free to do as they will. I love how Uncle Wiki puts it: “A brother-in-law is the brother of one’s spouse, the husband of one’s sibling, the husband of one’s spouse’s sibling (possibly), and perhaps the brother of one’s sibling’s spouse.”  Ah, that delicate balance between “possibly” and “perhaps”…and not for nothing, but is your brother’s husband your brother-in-law? Can we have a ruling…?


122.18  But here’s the kicker: some “experts” say that Perry Cline married Asa Harmon’s widow, Martha McCoy…which would be…um…lessee now…oops, his sister! No less than the History Channel itself, host of the miniseries in question, makes this claim on their website, shown above…compared to Martha Adkins Cline’s gravestone. My guess is they’re mixing up their Marthas. Dear friends, I have checked this 8 ways to Sunday, and Perry Cline did not marry his sister. $100 if you can prove he did, cash on the barrelhead. Sheesh…


122.19  Finally…we come to Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts. Was he an albino? In the natural world, there are varying degrees of albinism…for example, an albino zebra can be white with pale brown stripes…or pure white with no discernible stripes at all. The consensus on Cotton Top, seen above with the bluesy Brothers Winter, is that he was, to some degree at any rate. As to his status as a bastard, that’s completely true…Ellison Hatfield was his father, and was not married to his mother…who was…wait for it…Harriet Hatfield! Yup, daughter of John Hatfield, sister of Floyd “Hog Trial” Hatfield…and of course Ellison’s 1st cousin…check back with Chart 430. Little Ellison was 3 years old when his mother married Daniel Mounts, thus he was named Mounts, not Hatfield. And he even had a younger brother, George…variously known as George Hatfield and George Mounts…also believed to be the son of Ellison.

chart 433

122.20  But before you jump to conclusions…the problem was that Ellison and Harriet weren’t married…not  that they were first cousins. After all, Randall McCoy and his wife Sally were themselves…1st cousins!…she being the daughter of Randall’s father Daniel’s brother Samuel. Then again…3 of Sally’s brothers married 3 Burress sisters…and one of them, Asa McCoy, was the father of Selkirk McCoy, the deciding vote at the Hog Trial…thus Selkirk was the nephew of Randall’s wife, as well as Randall’s own 1C 1R, making his “betrayal” especially galling. Another McCoy brother who married a Burress, William, had a daughter who married a Hatfield…and so it went…tangles within tangles. But this wasn’t  some hillbilly custom…it was the way everybody did it in those days…their ways weren’t our ways…

wicked ballsy


From last week…did you guess Marlo Thomas? From a 1st season episode of Dobie Gillis…altho at that time, she was still billed as Margaret Thomas, her birth name…Marlo was a childhood nickname. And do you notice somebody else soon-to-be-famous in the cast listing? According to Imdb, this was his very first appearance in movies or on TV.


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#121: That Famous Relativity II

121.1  This is a followup to #40…as my collection of little-known relatives of show business celebrities was starting to pile up! Now if I told you Marilyn Monroe had a sister who was also an actress, you’d be plenty surprised, I’d bet. Well, she didn’t…but Brigitte Bardot did! 4 years younger, Marie-Jeanne used the professional name Mijanou Bardot, a childhood nickname.


She appeared in only a handful of movies, the last in 1970…most notably the 1960 comedy Sex Kittens Go to College…along with Mamie Van Doren, Tuesday Weld, Louis Nye, Martin Milner, Conway Twitty, John Carradine, Jackie Coogan, Norman “Woo Woo” Grabowski, Vampira, and bit parts by Charles Chaplin Jr., Harold Lloyd Jr, and Buni Bacon, who would go on to be the trainer of Clarence the Cross-eyed Lion….hellava cast, nez pah? According to the Internet Movie Data Base she’s still alive, still married to Belgian actor Patrick Bauchau, who’s best known as Scarpine in A View to a Kill, and more recently as a regular on The Pretender and a guest appearance as Dr. Chase’s father on House.


121.2  Another younger sibling I doubt you ever heard of is Bobby Valli, Frankie’s singing brother. And I mean really younger, by 15 years. They were born in Newark with the last name Castellucio…in fact, little brother went by the name Bobby Castelle early on, while his brother was still Frankie Valley…eventually changed by his record label to Valli after a country singer Texas Jean Valli. Bobby’s professional resume, with all due respect, seems to be very well-padded if you catch my drift…never associated with any hit records or groups that I can confirm…altho he apparently makes a good living today on the nostalgia circuit, and God bless.


121.3  What I find interesting is when a family member changes their name, becomes a big star, then somebody else in the family changes their name to the same thing. I guess it depends on how the issue sits “all in the family,” you know? Like Pat Costello, older brother of Lou Costello. They were born into the Cristillo family in Patterson…yup, more Jersey Boys. Pat worked mostly behind the scenes, first as a stunt man, then a TV producer. And altho 4 years older than Lou, Pat outlived his younger brother by 30 years…Lou died of a heart attack in 1959 at age 53…see today’s Wicked Ballsy. Above is a rare on-screen appearance from the 1948 movie Mexican Hayride, where Pat plays a plainclothes detective on the trail of Lou, bottom right.


121.4  But it’s funny about names…take Monkee Mickey Dolenz. You might not realize he was the child star…as Corky… of the 1950s TV show Circus Boy…because at the time he was billed Mickey Braddock. He had a couple of other TV roles under that name, but was Mickey Dolenz in 1964 when he appeared on an episode of Mr. Novak…a year after the death of his father, actor George Dolenz at age 55. George’s family immigrated from Italy in the 1920s, and he hooked up with RKO and Howard Hughes in the 1940s. George Dolenz is best remember for the adventure series The Count of Monte Cristo…who I’ll bet would have really worn gloves like that…sure…why you so cynical all the time?


121.5  One brother who kept the family name was Richard “Dick” Yarmy…an actor and comedian who died in 1992. You know his older brother, Don Adams…born Donald Yarmy. Their father was a Hungarian Jew, their mother an Irish Catholic…Uncle Wiki says Don was raised Catholic, Dick Jewish. Sounds a little fishy to me since they also had a sister…what was she, a Hindu? Other sources merely say both parents were disowned by their families for marrying outside their faith, which makes more sense. For a short while Don called himself Don Young, as part of a comedy duo the Young Brothers with Jay Storch, brother of Don’s childhood buddy Larry Storch, who went by the name of Jay Lawrence. Did Don and Dick ever work together? Yeah, he pops up on a couple episodes of Get Smart…big surprise…as do the Storch brothers.

doug autry

121.6  Now the obvious question here is whether unknown relatives were trying to latch onto the coattails of their famous family members. And it happened, never more blatantly perhaps than the case of Gene Autry’s younger brother Dudley “Doug” Autry. Doug was in Gene’s band in the 1940s, but his problems with the bottle caused Gene to ask his friend Pee Wee King to take Doug off his hands…notice in the photo above, Minnie Pearl was with them at the time. Eventually, Doug drifted to the Dailey Brothers circus…sounds like Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, doesn’t it?…where he was touted under the banner “Autry Rides Again!” until Gene took legal action. Doug died in 1962 at age 43.


121.7  But in the end, talent is going to trump family connections. Consider the case of the Hickman brothers. Darryl Hickman (bottom row) was the child star of the family…by the time he turned 21 in 1952, he had been in over 50 movies, starting at age 7, and most memorably in The Grapes of Wrath at age 9. Dwayne Hickman (top row), 3 years younger, had been in about 20 movies when in 1955 he was cast as Bob Cummings’ nephew on the TV series Love That Bob!  After 5 successful seasons, he did another 4 years in the title role of Dobie Gillis…while nothing much came Darryl’s way. Altho interestingly, during the first season of Gillis, Darryl was cast as Dobie’s older brother Davey…but he was away at college most of the time studying ornithology, and appeared in only 3 episodes, then never again…shades of Chuck Cunningham on Happy Days.

121.8  And in the 4th and final season, Bobby Diamond…Joey Newton on Fury…did 7 episodes as cousin Duncan “Dunky” Gillis…well, he was “Bob” Diamond by then. But from the 1960s on, the Hickman brothers found acting opportunities scarce and both became involved in the production end of the business. And it’s Darryl BTW you may have seen on talk shows in recent years, discussing the joys and pitfalls of child stardom. But in the end, Dwayne had something that Darryl didn’t…just that simple.


121.9  By all accounts, Johnny Carson was very close to his younger brother Dick Carson. Dick won 5 Emmys, directing The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and over 4000 episodes of Wheel of Fortune. He even directed and made a cameo appearance in an episode of Get Smart…which just happened to have been written by Don Adams’ sister Gloria Yarmy Burton. Then we have the late irrepressible Louis Prima…his son Louis Prima, Jr….by his second wife Gia Maione… makes his living these days recreating his dad’s wild Las Vegas act…wonder what Pop would think of the earrings?….zooma zooma!  

lesbrown 1

121.10  But speaking of Juniors, here’s one that even trivia buffs get wrong: A singing group called the Wellingtons did the theme to Gilligan’s Island…and also appeared regularly on Shindig!  But Les Brown Jr., son of the famous band leader, was not a member of the Wellingtons. He began touring with his father at age 15 as a drummer and “boy singer”…and later had many bit parts as an actor, eventually talking over the leadership of the Band of Renown in 2001.

lesbrown 2

The confusion arises from the Gilligan episode titled “Don’t Bug the Mosquitos,” their take on the Beatles. The Wellingtons played the Mosquitos, but they were a trio and needed a drummer, so that was Les Brown Jr., as seen above. But now who’s the girl sharing his hotdogs? I’ll tell you next week…look hard and think on it, dear friends…

wicked ballsy


Jonathan Joseph “Candy” Candido was from New Orleans and rose to fame as a bass-player and comedic singer with Ted Fio Rito’s big band. He was also a voice expert in the Mel Blanc vein, with an astonishing range, high to low. He had worked with Abbott and Costello in several movies, and when Lou suddenly died in 1959, Bud teamed up with Candy in 1960. They toured the country, including Las Vegas…their act was for the most part reprising old A&C routines and got good reviews, but Bud’s heart wasn’t in it, and he broke it up after a about a year.


But here’s what I want to know…how come they’re called Gianni & Pinotto in Italy? Gianni is a form of John, sure, but Bud was born William…and why wouldn’t you just use their actual names? Any paisans got a clue?


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#120: Uncle Wiki, Twice Removed

120.1  A bit harsh last week…in my critique of the latest iteration of the “cousin” page at Uncle Wiki? You think? I don’t. That page is a mess and I stated my reasons for thinking so. Why cut these wiki-cultists any slack? An “encyclopedia” whose basic underpinnings are completely anti-intellectual? I don ‘t think so…I mean, democracy is fine, but we don’t get to vote on facts…we can have our opinions as to what the facts are, but opinions are either right or wrong…granted that ours are always right… 😉 😉

ex 1120.2  But one way I could have been more helpful last week was to have done what I said they should have done…that is, provide charts so you can appreciate more clearly that statement on the left. What with so much else going on, I didn’t want to “get involved,” but what the heck? As Chart 426  shows, there are actually 3 types of double 2nd cousins…well, 4 if you count 1st cousins marrying each other…but I don’t count that, since those offspring are more that just double 2nd cousins, they’re also siblings…a different and much closer relationship.

chart 426

120.3  Now when they say “one double 1st cousin relationship among their parents” that’s unilineal. “Two [single] 1st cousin relationships” covers both bilineal and sesquilineal…so technically they’re right, but it isn’t the whole story…and when you move to double 3rd, double 4th, double 5th cousins, the types really start to balloon. So there’s that.

120.4  Thing is tho, you don’t get the full wiki-treatment unless you click the “Talk” tab, at the top of the main Article page, to the left. On the cousins Talk page, I noticed some of my old stuff is still there…back when I thought to worthwhile to hash these things out “in person”…silly me. But as much as I believe in not giving credit where credit is not due…I also give it where it is due…and to their credit, they don’t bring up the common mistake of calling your father’s 1st cousin…or your 1st cousin’s son…your 2nd cousin…not a peep. Well, OK, that’s actually both good and bad.

120.5  Good…in the sense that you’re not putting ideas in people’s heads…that’s the reason radio stations on snow-days only  tell you what schools are closed…and not also which are open…because trust me, I’m in that business, and just saying the name of a school on a snow-day means they’re closed…but we said OPEN!  Doesn’t matter…that’s not what they hear. So completely ignoring the issue is one option, certainly.

120.6   Bad…because only stating what’s correct will elicit responses like: well, that’s not the way I’ve always done it…or…wait, what about thus-and-so? And not addressing those responses is anti-intellectual…the idea that if I didn’t say it, it’s not true…just doesn’t occur to people. It’s not how they think. So I am torn…bottom line, I’d probably address the error…altho as I mention in my comments there, there are many other mistakes you could also explain and set right…like a 2nd cousin once removed being the same as a 3rd cousin…as they say, the difference between wisdom and ignorance is that wisdom has its limits. And bear in mind, with Uncle Wiki it’s all subject to change anyway…

120.7  But I did see a couple of points on the Talk page worth commenting on…like this exchange between “a ghost” and a cultist named Too Old.

ex 2

120.8  I should mention for the uninitiated that a “ghost” is someone who hasn’t yet figured out the accepted way to wiki-sign one’s name to a comment…Too Old is later on taken to task for being “unwelcoming” to an obvious newbie who meant no harm. But the part I’ve underlined in red goes to the heart of why so many people refuse to even try to understand the English language kinship system…it doesn’t seem to make sense, to wit: the cousin of my grandfather should be a type of grand uncle to me, not a type of cousin.

chart 427

120.9  Chart 427  above illustrates the way it should be “logically”…Chart 428  below, the way it actually is…and I also like Ghost’s comment underlined in purple. It’s all well and good to dismiss everything by saying that language is illogical, live with it. But the truth is, in many cases there is an underlying logic…like when you say “happy as a clam.” Makes no sense until you add the second part: “…at high tide”…i.e., you can’t dig for it. Or why “knife” is spelled with a K, but not pronounced with a K…because, big surprise, at one time is was pronounced kuh-nife


120.10   On the other hand, that part underlined in blue…Ghost clearly doesn’t grasp what “removed” is all about…that is, referring to relatives in generations other than your own…”once removed” is your father’s generation, not your grandfather’s…and we don’t remove uncles at any event, much as we’d like to  sometimes. Yes, your grandfather’s cousin is sort of an uncle to your father…but he is not of your farther’s generation, hence “once removed” is incorrect…it should be something “twice remomved.”   BTW…that word he uses “semiology”…half-knowledge?  No, it’s another way of saying “semiotics,” which is the study of signs, symbols, and symbolism. And true, “TOTALLY WRONG” is a bold assessment…but why not be bold…worst you can do is be wrong, right?

120.11  The thing that really piqued my curiosity was how they’re talking about in Russian a cousin is called a “secondary brother/sister.” I often wonder why I can’t seem to find simple kinship diagrams that name all the relatives in a particular language. Maybe you need to resort to dead-tree media for that? Lists of equivalent English and Russian words tend not to be very complete…and, sadly, sometimes sort of mixed up. Case in point was the most comprehensive listing I found, here.

120.12  Sure enough, a male 1st cousin was a dvoyurodnii brat (brother) and a female, a dvoyurodnaya sestra (sister)…and your parent’s 1st cousin was a dvoyurodnii dyadya (uncle) or dvoyurodnaya tetka (aunt). Plus your grandfather’s brother was your dvoyurodnii ded (grandfather)…so this “dvoyurodnii/naya” obviously has the sense of “secondary” or even “second”…2nd brother, 2nd uncle, 2nd grandfather…cool. And your 2nd cousin was a troyurodnii brat…so maybe this is some kind of “third.” To confirm this, I googled troyurodnii and dvoyurodnii  together…not linked together in quotes, just the 2 words…and got 3 hits. THREE!!!! 2 of them were this same site I was looking at, and the third was in Russian.

120.13  When you expect 3 million hits and get 3 hits, that’s usually a spelling problem…likely here the author of this list had a way of converting the letters of the Russian alphabet into transliterated “English” words that was uniquely his own. Sure enough, turns out dvojurodny and dvojurodnaya were more common, but only barely…77 hits…and definitions ranged from “of the second generation” to “once removed.”  It’s not feeling like such firm footing any more. But struggling on, if grand uncle is dvojurodny ded  or “secondary grandfather”…then trojurodny ded would be great grand uncle or “third grandfather,” right?…nope…its 1st cousin 3 times removed…that is, great grandfather’s 1st cousin, not his brother…wha–? In fact, this list defined 1st cousin once removed…and 3 times removed…but NOT twice removed.


120.14  Further was the word vnuchatnii/vnachatnaya…obviously from grandson/granddaughter or vnuk/vunchka.  Nephew was plemyannik and grand nephew vnuchatnii plemyannik…yet also listed were what were called “archaic” forms… vnuchatnii brat for 2nd cousin…”grand brother” or “grandson brother”?…and vnuchatnii ded for 1st cousin 3 times removed or great grandfather’s cousin…”grandson grandfather”? Yup…I know when it’s time to get out of Dodge…but I’m sure I’ll attack this again…after a long rest and some professional counseling…

ex 4

120.15  Moving on…they say there are no stupid questions…this one comes close, boy…talk about missing the entire picture. A calm and dutiful answer was provided, but geez…

120.16   Finally, as I mentioned, there were some old posts from yours truly…at the time I didn’t feel there was any point to responding further…but this whole issue of “symmetry” is interesting. You’ll recall, Uncle Wiki’s basic cousin article considers it “symmetric” to call your father’s 1st cousin your 1C 1R…and your 1st cousin’s son also your 1C 1R…whereas it’s “asymmetric” to add on “ascending” and “descending.” In fact, they go so far as to call the “asymmetric” way an “alternate system.” Well, as I explained last week, these are both the same system, one a simplified form of the other, that’s all.

120.17  But the point is, there’s symmetry…and then there’s symmetry. Just as Ghost said above about what’s logical and what isn’t, asymmetry on the surface may belie a deeper underlying symmetry.


120.18  So I put it to you…which is right? Above in the red box is a typical symmetrical kinship relationship…you are my cousin, so I am your cousin too…same with sibling, same with spouse, friend, countryman.  And below that, what 1st cousin once removed would look like if it were a symmetrical relationship. In the green box is a typical asymmetrical kinship relationship…I am your uncle, but you are not my uncle, you are  my nephew…and I’m not your nephew…same with mother/daughter, husband/wife, brother/sister, boss/underling. And below that, what 1st cousin once removed would be if it were  asymmetrical.  Obviously, the green box…asymmetrical… is correct for 1C 1R…

120.19  …meaning that while the phrase “1st cousin once removed” sounds symmetrical, it’s actually trying to describe an asymmetrical kinship relationship, and adding the ascending/descending…cumbersome as it may be for some…proves this out. And I’m done with Uncle Wiki for now…bliss out, dear friends…

wicked ballsy

ex 5

No doubt about it…people in general are getting stupider…by  the minute, it seems. I saw this item in the paper…now the word “generation” can have several meanings. In the sense of “it was a different time, a different generation” that would fit what he’s trying to say. But to say that time was “a full generation before…” doesn’t wash. OK, maybe 12 years is for humans a biological generation, procreation-wise…but that’s not what he means here.

Here generation means, the adults of today were kids yesterday…today’s generation of parents were children, and today’s grandparents were still only parents. And that’s not 12 years…after all, in a sense every high school or college graduating class is a “generation” of its own…but “a full generation”? That’s 20-25 years, maybe more…sorry…editor must have been asleep.



Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

#119: Not Non-Cousins

119.1  Dear Stolf: I know you’ve ragged on Wikipedia’s “cousins” article more than once. I notice it’s changed again…any better? …from Drymk Buzgat, Thwambry, NJ

119.2  Dear Who What from Where?: Sure, I did that twice at least…#65 and #82. And you’re right, they’ve now included charts now to illustrate each type of relationship and that’s über-smart IMHO. But once you start reading the accompanying text, it’s as goofy as ever. And that’s the fatal flaw in the whole Wikigenda…that anyone at anytime can change things around, then it gets changed back, or part of it does, or…huh??? I suggest that you save the page for the charts…for future reference…because who knows how long they’ll live.

119.3  But you know what, I’m feeling especially combative this morning, so I think we’ll have another go at my favorite game, wack-a-moron. As in the past, the article’s contents will be in black italics, my comments in red.

119.4  A cousin is a relative with whom a person shares one or more common ancestor(s) (other than a parent, child/descendant, sibling, child/descendant of a sibling, or sibling of a parent/ancestor). However in common parlance, “cousin” normally specifically means “first cousin”. “Normally specifically”? Wow, that’s heap big elegant writing…puh-leez. As for the basic definition, could it get any more convoluted, which is to say, twisty? Dun’ think so. OK, so how would I define “cousin,” if I’m so smart? Well, 2 ways…first, the “common parlance” meaning, that of “first cousin”: A cousin is the child of your parent’s sibling. Careful now…implicit in the word “sibling” is full, not half…meaning your parent and his sibling have the same mother and father. This removes any tortuous reference to common ancestors…because after all, double half-1st cousins also have 2 grandparents in common, yet aren’t 1st cousins. (Naw, that isn’t “original research,” just patently obvious.) And for the life of me, I can’t understand this idea of defining something in terms of what it’s not…sheesh.

119.5  For the broader definition of “cousin,” I would go with something like this: A cousin is a relative belonging to your generation who is directly descended from the sibling of one of your direct ancestors. And again, “sibling” means full…half-cousins are something different. True, “belonging to your generation” might not be immediately clear to some folks…same with “directly descended” and “direct ancestor.” But this definition is airtight, foolproof, and TRUE! And further explanation does get into some key elements of kinship…to wit: “direct” means linked by a series of parent/child relationships…your grandfather’s uncle could be thought of as an ancestor of sorts, but not a direct one…neither is your first cousin’s grandson your direct descendant, altho he is part of a generation down from you. And then…

119.6  Systems of “degrees” and “removals” are used in the English-speaking world to describe the exact relationship between two cousins (in the broad sense) and the ancestor they have in common. Various governmental entities have established systems for legal use that can more precisely specify 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 “distant cousins” or “relatives”Talk about beating around the bush, eh? But in my definition, “belonging to your generation” locks in the “degrees.” Thus your 2nd cousin is the grandchild of your grandfather’s sibling…why grandchild? Because you are the grandchild of your grandfather, and that positions you and your 2nd cousin in the same generation: 2 brothers, each has a grandchild, those grandchildren are 2nd cousins…and similarly, great grand for 3rd cousins, great great grand for 4th, etc. And of course all this mirrors the case of 2 brothers having children, and those children being 1st cousins, the “common” cousins, capeesh?

119.7  And speaking of “weasel words”…when you see something like “common usage often eliminates,” you should read that as “…and equally often does not eliminate.” Really, the tone of this opening part seems almost apologetic to those who think that degrees and removeds are “fussy,” too complicated, splitting hairs…when in fact, this is exactly how kinship is properly described in the English language. Anything that divides the world into categories can be either generalized or made more specific…there are horses, there are thoroughbreds, there are individual blood-lines, etc. Generalization leaves out information, and sometimes that’s OK. But in genealogy, pin-pointing exact relationships is crucial, and don’t you forget it. And never frickin’ apologize!

119.8  Basic definitions The ordinals 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. 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. “Ordinals”?…ahem. Better to say “numbers”…true, 1st, 2nd, 3rd aren’t “numbers” in the strictest sense, that of quantity or amount…but close enough…ordinals!  Otherwise, this part is correct but again needlessly wordy…and “note” that, as in my definition, they assume you understand how generations work. Face it, a definition can only do so much…I mean, what if you didn’t know what a “relative” was?

119.9  And I wish they’d gone into more detail concerning comparative ages. If your 1st cousin is an adult when you’re a child, you could very well call him “Uncle”…or if your uncle is a child when you are, he could be considered your “cousin.” Some families do it this way, others not…nothing wrong with it, as long as you remember to shift gears when you’re doing your genealogy or you’ll be sorry. Next, we move on to types of cousins and accompanying trees…the trees are fine…the explanations, not so much…

cousin example119.10   First cousins. The children of two siblings. David and Emma are first cousins because they are non-siblings who share the same grandparents in common. On the left is the diagram, and no problem there. “Children of two siblings” suggests we’re back in ancient Egypt where siblings married each other. Better: “Children whose parents are siblings.” Now saying it this way also includes the possibility of interbreeding, but that can’t be helped…and for the record, if your father is your mother’s brother, you and your siblings are 1st cousins too…and in 2 ways to boot. “Share in common” is a laugh! Either “share” or “have in common”…not both. It shows you write rottenly… 😉 😉

119.11  But the real howler here is “non-siblings.” I swear, in all my time studying this stuff…and writing a weekly blog for over 2 years…I’ve never come across this, or found the need to call any relative a non-something…I’d like you to meet my non-Aunt Margie…LOL…Still, this brings up an important point: when you try to define cousins based on common ancestors, you can very easily find that your sibling is now your cousin, since siblings share the some of the same things cousins share, ancestor-wise…hence need for the non-. The issue is “common ancestor” versus “closest common ancestor,” you see?

119.12  Second cousins.The children of two first cousins. Frank and Gwen are second cousins because they are non-first cousins who share great-grandparents in common.Third cousins.The grandchildren of two first cousins; also the children of two second cousins. Harry and Isabel are third cousins because they are non-siblings who share great-great-grandparents in common. And so on and so forth.

119.13  First cousins once removed. Two people for whom a first cousin relationship is one generation removed. The child of one’s first cousin; also the first cousin of one’s parent. Frank and his father’s first cousin, Emma, are first cousins once removed. Emphasis mine. 1C 2R and 2C 1R are defined the same way. But it’s a basic principle of rational thought and unambiguous communication that you never use the word you’re defining in the definition itself…as in, say, a horse is defined as what a baby horse grows up to be. Helpful, isn’t it?  Further, that “also” makes it sound like a 1C 1R can be one of 2 different things, when it’s really just one relationship: that of 2 people, one of whose parent is the 1st cousin of the other. There is a direct similarity to uncle/nephew, which is 2 people, one of whose parent is the sibling of the other. Difference is, with uncle/nephew the 2 generational “ends” of the relationship have different names…but see below, 119.21

119.14  Additional terms. The following is a list of less common cousin terms. In this context, “less common” is meaningless…97% is less than 98%, but you’re still an A+ student, nez pah?

119.15  Double 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 of their parents, and are thus doubly related. Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents in common and have twice the degree of consanguinity of ordinary first cousins. Double second cousins can arise in two ways: from two first-cousin relationships among their parents, or from one double-first-cousin relationship between their parents. Clumsy but correct. Double Cousins of the World, Arise! And that bit about double 2nd cousins is an interesting insight…a diagram would have helped enormously. Half cousins are the children of two half siblings. Half-1st cousins, yeah…and again, doesn’t have to be with each other, sparing you the yuck factor.

119.16  Step-cousins are either stepchildren of an individual’s aunt or uncle, or nieces and nephews of one’s step-parent. A cousin-in-law is the spouse of an individual’s cousin, or the cousin of one’s spouse.  In my experience, most people don’t extend step-‘s and in-laws this far, but it’s a free country…

119.17  Maternal or Paternal cousin. A term that specifies whether one individual is a cousin of another through the mother’s side of the family (maternal) or the father’s side (paternal). If the relationship is not equally paternal for both or equally maternal for both, then the paternal cousin of one is the maternal cousin of the other. Um…so you’re saying not all cousins are equally maternal? This is really bad…seriously…

119.18  Kissing cousins are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “relatives or friends with whom one is on close enough terms to greet with a kiss.”  There are many other “kinds” of cousins, some colloquial, some technical…why kissing cousins alone is singled out is beyond me. I could say something about the heart wanting what it wants, but that would be needlessly snarky, so I won’t…

119.19  Relationship charts.  2 are presented here, one in square grid form, the other the famous Canon Law “diamond.” Personally, I’ve never found the need for them…they are somewhat complicated, and sketching out a tree lets you compare more than just 2 relatives, and in a very plain and obvious way. But if they work for you, knock yourself out.


119.20  Mathematical definitions. There is a mathematical way to identify the degree of cousinship shared by two individuals. In the description of each individual’s relationship to the most recent common ancestor, each “great” or “grand” has a numerical value of 1. The following examples demonstrate how this is applied.

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 three times 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). All this, if correct and forgive me but I don’t have the energy at this point to check, is interesting, but of little practical value, at least for me. Of more mathematical utility, believe it or not, is the simple move of considering siblings as 0th cousins, that is, cousins of degree zero. Next comes Alternative definitionsand I thought, here we go, they’re gonna elevate the common mistake of calling your 1st cousin’s son your 2nd cousin into a full-blown “alternate” system…but to their credit, they don’t. Nice move. Instead…

119.21  Asymmetric definitions. The definitions discussed in the article above are the ones found in dictionaries of standard English, but they are not universal. At least one alternative usage also exists. In this alternative system, 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.  Jeepers…unless I’m missing something, this is NOT an alternative system, but the self same system outlined above under the definition of removed cousins. Sometimes “upwards” or “downwards” 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 “first cousin, once removed (upwards)”, whereas A is B’s “first cousin once removed (downwards)”. Note that this is not standard terminology, and is completely absent from many major dictionaries. Which is to say, it is completely present in those major dictionaries from which it is not completely absent. Did you check any minor dictionaries? “Ascending” and “descending” is most common in genealogical circles…I’ve also seen backwards/forwards, major/minor, and even one family that went with augmented/diminished…and over the years, diminished changed into demented…now that’s funny. 

119.22  As seen in this example, this usage is asymmetric, since different terms are used to represent A’s relationship to B and B’s relationship to A. By contrast, the standard usage of “cousin” discussed in the main part of this article is symmetric (in this example, the standard terminology would be that A is B’s first cousin once removed, and B is A’s first cousin once removed), and is also dyadic (for example, one can say “A and B are first cousins once removed”). Permit me to point out you can live a long and fruitful life and never have occasion to use the word “dyadic.” Beyond that, this whole section is muddle-headed. When you are comparing generations, you want to be “asymmetric,” as in grandfather/grandson, aunt/niece, etc. But this is not an alternative system by any means…this is the only system there is in English…and simplifying it by dropping the ascending/descending part is just…well, simplifying it, not reinventing the wheel.

119.23  Colloquial usage. In day to day speech, “cousin” is often used unmodified. Normally it means a first cousin, but some people use the term “cousin” to refer to cousins of all types, such as first, second, and third cousins, as well as cousins once or more times removed. Modifier terms such as “half-cousin” or “step-cousin” are rare rarely used in everyday speech. [citation needed]  No, citation not needed…simply delete this section as spectacularly superfluous.

119.24  Usage for extremely distant relations. Although use of the word “cousin” in this context is infrequent (especially outside of evolutionary literature), any two individual organisms regardless of their respective species (or any other level of taxonomy) are in fact very distant cousins by virtue of shared descent from a single cell whose descendants survived beyond the Paleoarchean Era. OK, now they’re on drugs, that’s plain to see. Yes, and the Sky is Cousin to the Sea…and Second Cousin to the Pond. But here it ends…what a trip…well, anyhow, nice diagrams.


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