#136: Just In From geekWORLD

136.1  At this website: wiseGEEK/cousins you will find an explanation of what numbered cousins and cousins removed are. Honestly, I don’t think much of this explanation, and stated my reasons here: Related How Again? #24. As with many such sites, you may post comments…and they have for the most part been questions concerning kinship…and many of them, can we legally get married?

136.2  At first I took it upon myself to address each question, with an explanation and a chart, here at this blog. There was (and is) no way to alert the original commenters of this, since wiseGEEK does not allow you to post links in your comments. At some point, I began posting answers there…altho I still believe a chart or diagram is an enormous help in hashing these things out. Four more questions have appeared since I last checked…and we’ll do those today.

136.3  And the last question we’ll look at was in fact the 2nd of the 4 latest ones. I’m leaving it for last because it is the most complicated…but it was also the first question so far that addressed ME by name…and I am gratified that someone cares, you know?…warm fuzzy feeling...

chart 472

136.4  Now reading over this question and checking Chart 472, I realize I made the assumption that the “her” to which you refer is your girlfriend…she might very well be your parole officer, how do I know? At any rate, on the left side I’ve called her father Zeke…and Zeke is your father’s nephew, so Zeke is also your 1st cousin, making “her” your 1st cousin once removed.That’s the “genealogical way” to say it, but since many people don’t understand what that means, the everyday equivalent would be: she is the daughter of your 1st cousin.

136.5  But bearing in mind that the man she calls “Uncle” might be the husband of her biological aunt, thus no blood relation to her, I sketched out the diagram on the right side. The answer’s still the same, altho Zeke is now your cousin thru your mother, where before it was thru your father. And the most any state prohibits for marriage is 1st cousin…1C1R is more distant than that, so you’re in the clear…if it comes to that.

chart 473

136.6  Next…I have noticed that if you don’t know what “removed” means, you’re likely to think that when kinship connections go back several generations, there must be a removed in there somewhere. But that isn’t always the case…and it’s not the case here…no removeds needed. “[His] father’s mother and my dad are 1st cousins”…as you can see in Chart 473…that sets up a basic Cousin Ladder…and down the ladder you climb to 3rd cousins for your son and his friend.

136.7   And if anyone asks, you’ll be ready to tell them that you and your son’s friend are 2nd cousins once removed, owing to the fact that you and the friend’s father are 2nd cousins…nez pah?

chart 474

136.8   Can’t figure it out why? Because you simply don’t know where to start. The best place to start is with the oldest person involved, which is your grandma. Who is her nephew? It’s her sibling’s son…in Chart 474 I have made that sibling her brother. Put yourself in your father’s place and things should start to clear up…his mother’s brother son is his 1st cousin, correct? Going down to the next generation, your father’s child is you…your father’s 1st cousin’s child is your husband…so you and your husband are 2nd cousins. Such matches were much more common a few generations ago…but are still legal in practically every corner of the world, including all 50 states….lovely!


136.9  Finally, this one…and I must say I had a lot of fun answering it…mostly because this is an area of kinship I’ve had to work hard at understanding. My entire answer is reprinted below…but the important point is what I call “interbreeding”…when husband and wife are related to each other. Now it’s believed that everyone alive today is no more distant than 50th cousin to everyone else…so in this sense, it’s all interbreeding. But when I say “related to each other,” I am really considering only those ties that you can reasonably expect to establish genealogically. It’s a rare pedigree that can be determined back further than say the 1600s. Reliable record keeping either didn’t exist or has been long lost. And in many cases, what we do have is open to interpretation…and, inevitably, guesswork. And as interesting as kinship connections can be, actual genetic relationship drops to virtually nothing somewhere between 4th and 5th cousins.

136.10  This is a fascinating question but also a tricky one, so I’ll try to explain it as best I can.

First off, your description of your family contains one mistake: you say Walter and Betty are fourth cousins, but if you count down, you will find they are actually third cousins.

As to whether your mother is your fifth cousin once removed, you can say that if you like. It will also mean that your mother is fifth cousin to herself, since as your mother’s fifth cousin once removed, you are the child of her fifth cousin, her fifth cousin in this case being herself. For that matter, you are your own sixth cousin.

chart 475

Here’s the problem with that sort of reasoning: our assignment of kinship terms is based on genetic inheritance, that is, genes passed along from ancestors to descendants. In the relationships I just described involving your mother and you, there is no additional genetic sharing, over and above the mother/child relationship. I mean, how could you be more related to yourself if you were your own sixth cousin than if you weren’t?

Here’s the key: The only way you can be related to your mother, over and above parent/child, is if your parents are related to each other. In such a case, since she is your mother, you automatically have half of the genes she has, because she passed them to you. You would also share additional genes with her, not because she passed them to you, but because you got them from your father, and your father shares them with your mother, since they are related.

Now if your mother really were your fifth cousin once removed, you’d share 1/4096 of your genes with her, over and above the half you share as mother and daughter. But where did those “extra” genes come from? All the genes you got from her are already accounted for in the one half. See how it works?

cdfhart 476

How about your mother’s sister, I’ll call her Aunt Martha? Mary and Martha’s mother is Ann, and since Ann didn’t marry somebody related to her, her children are only related to her, and to each other, by the normal half. Now going back another generation, say Ann’s sister is Alice. Ann and Alice are both siblings and double fourth cousins, since their parents are third cousins to each other. Thus your mother and you, as descendants of Ann, have an “extra” relationship with the descendants of Alice, owing to the fact that Ann and Alice have an “extra” relationship.

The bottom line is this: when you have interbreeding like this, some of the lines of descent that you can count back to common ancestors do not result in any additional genetic sharing, like the lines that make you appear to be your own sixth cousin. Whether you should assign kinship names to these relationships is your choice. But since they do not result in any additional genetic relationship, they are generally ignored.

136.11  In general, you can determine how closely 2 people are related by tracing back all the lines to common ancestors. But as Chart 475b shows, counting all the lines, when close interbreeding is involved, gives you an “overage”…here, the 1/4096 you’d normally have to a 5th cousin once removed simply doesn’t exist when that’s also your mother.

136.12  The real difference between this situation and a “typical” one is that you do have a double relationship to John and Nancy…what’s sometimes called “double grandparents”…your chances of getting a gene from John (or from Nancy) is doubled because it could come thru Walter or thru Betty. Of course, ALL of it comes from your mother Mary, thru her mother Ann, but both of them have a “double dose” of John’s genes and of Nancy’s. Back in 7…

wicked ballsy

lincoln redux

This goes back to the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and both George Clooney and Tom Hanks, discussed here: Related How Again? #130. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy…but a very common mistake…neither George nor Tom goes back to Lincoln via a chain of parent/child links…so neither is a “descendant,” which is the same thing really as a “direct descendant.” Trouble is, we really don’t have a word for what they are, except to say that, for example, George and Abe are descended from the same person. Best we can do is: They are related. 

And I must say that for once Ancestry.com says it exactly right: you have to be a member to get the 14-day free trial…and that’s because you have to give them your credit card info to get this “free” thing. Once they have that, they have you, in theory, for life. Normally, you would be able to sample something before you had to decide to commit to it…but the truth is, you have to commit (with CC info) to ancestry.com before you are allowed to sample it. That’s not right of course, and it irks many people indeed, especially those “samplers” who find to their dismay how extremely difficult it is to get out, when they didn’t realize they were in yet in the first place. But recall the wise words of Mark Twain: It’s easier to stay out than to get out…


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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