#139: Quest…or Bust!

139.1  What does it mean when your Quest comes up dry? Maybe that you’re not questing hard enough…or maybe what you’re searching for doesn’t actually exist. For all the people who mistakenly call their 1st cousin’s son their 2nd cousin, I’ve yet to find a complete family tree that takes this mistake and runs with it…that is, identifies all your relatives, up, down, and sideways…a full system of kinship terminology. As I have suggested many times, this is because those who make the “2nd cousin mistake” have absolutely no kinship system in mind in the first place…they don’t know how ours works…they are making what seems to them a logical guess about 2nd cousins…but haven’t the slightest notion how one would proceed…what, for example, would you then call your father’s first cousin’s son?

139.2  Thus my Quest…to scour the internet, looking for a family tree based on the “2nd cousin mistake.” I examined dozens of diagrams…some plain, some fancy…and all checked in as completely correct. The method of checking was straightforward: who is your 2nd cousin’s father? Should be your 1st cousin once removed. Check √. Next, just to be sure, examine the “Cousin Line” for your 3rd cousin…going up, should be 2nd cousin once removed, 1st cousin twice removed, great grand uncle, great great grandfather. Double check  √√.  And every tree agreed. And when I finally found a wrong  one…guess what? It was one of my own, outlining what 2 such erroneous systems of kinship might look like, Chart 264 from Related How Again? #75.

chart 264

139.3  Went back and read it over…pretty interesting actually, my run-in with a pinhead “academic.” Can you say that, that you like stuff you wrote? Um…yeah. If I don’t like what I write, I tear it up and start over, if you’ll excuse the old-school speak.

139.4  But what Chart 264 does, it sketches out the patterns, without reference to whether an Xth cousin is a straight numbered cousin, or removed however many times. The one labeled “RIGHT” shows something that might seem confusing…take “1st cousins,” the blue ones…downwards, they go straight down from your 1st cousin…upwards, they go progressively “sideways.” This is because there is a fundamental shift in kinship at your generation…for example, you are related to everyone your father is related to…not so with everyone your son is related to…you aren’t related to his mother’s side, normally anyway. At any rate, for the sense of absolutely clarity, I thought I’d go ahead and fill in all the appropriate removeds, Chart 483.

chart 483

139.5  And the first thing I should mention is that the “Really Wrong” chart doesn’t have any removeds…a noble goal certainly, since they do tend to confuse some people. This is the system the prof was proposing in #75…I call it the Even/Odd Cousin System, because as you’ll notice, “cousins” of your generation are odd…1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. One generation above and below you, they are even…2nd, 4th, etc. Then they continue to alternate up and down. The big problem with this system is that for Xth cousins, they have X distinct places on the family tree. Take 5th cousin…using standard kinship terminology, your 5th is either your 1C 4R desc., 2C 2R desc., 3rd cousin, 2C 2R asc., or 1C 4R asc. …which is to say, your 1st cousin’s great great grandson, your 2nd cousin’s grandson. your 3rd cousin, your grandfather’s 2nd cousin, or your great great grandfather’s 1st cousin.

139.6  So how exactly do those 5 types of “5th cousins” constitute a natural or obvious kinship category? Genetically, they do, sure…all related to you by 1/128.  But as I said once before, show me a kinship system that calls a half-sibling, an uncle, and a grandfather the same thing, simply because you are 1/4 related to each of them. You cannot.

139.7  And how would you specify which 5th cousin you were talking about? Well, I suppose something like: twice descending, once descending, generational, once ascending, twice ascending would work…but that’s just in theory. How do real people use this system to talk about their relatives? They don’t, because it doesn’t exist, case closed.

139.8  Anyway, Chart 483b is one that builds on the 2nd cousin mistake…if your 1st cousin’s son is your 2nd cousin, what would your 1st cousin’s grandson be, a.k.a. your 2nd cousin’s son? 3rd cousin seems a reasonable guess (I was gonna say “educated guess” but caught myself in time!) In Chart 483b  the X marks the straight numbered cousins, and the removeds go sideways instead of up and down. Truth is, this is a completely consistent system and really just the mirror image of the system we use, with the cousin terminology reversed. It’s wrong, but it’s not crazy, put it that way.

139.9  So for now, the Quest is on hold…it’s nice to have something to look forward to, but I’m not holding my breath because this is pretty much what I expected…anybody doing genealogy who screws up basic kinship relationships is going to get “laughed out of the business,” as they say. But actually, I did find a few odd scraps that should prove illustrative…like this bit regarding the Material Girl…


139.10  …which shows the “numbered cousins go up and down” idea does occur to people…why is Madonna’s dad Silvio the “3rd cousin” of YOU? As per Chart 484abecause he’s your grandmother’s 1st cousin, thus your parent B‘s 2nd cousin…and you are Silvio’s 1st cousin’s granddaughter. So far so “good”…then we go off the rails with: Which would make Madonna your 3rd cousin once removed. Guessing about kinship willy nilly like this will give your “system” hopeless inconsistencies…let’s see why…

chart 484

139.11  Assume that both statements in this response are true. From the first statement, we get: Your 1st cousin’s grandchild is your 3rd cousin…this is from Silvio to You…from which it follows: Your 1st cousin’s child is your 2nd cousin.


139.12  From the second statement, from you to Madonna, we get: Your 3rd cousin’s child is your 3rd cousin once removed. Thus we now have a rule for “1st cousin’s child” and “3rd cousins’ child”…so that ought to give us the rule for “2nd cousin’s child”…except when we try to do that, we get 2 alternatives…using the first rule, 1C goes to 2C, we get 2C goes to 3C…but using the 2nd rule, 3C goes to 3C 1R, we get 2C goes to 2C 1R…which is it? D’oh!!!

139.13  And the sad fact is, once an element of inconsistency is introduced into the system,  the problems multiply. For example, using the “3rd cousin’s son” rule, Silvio’s 1st cousin’s child ( = YOU’s parent) is his 1C 1R..making YOU Silvio’s 1C 2R…when we already decided that YOU is Silvio’s 3C…or is the child of your 1C 1R your 3C??? Quite a mess, no? There is clearly no rhyme or reason…altho some people do think this way…that “1C 2R” is just another way of saying “3C”…you add the numbers together to “simplify” the relationship…ha!

139.14  Which just goes to show you, there are a thousand ways to be wrong, and only one way to be right. And the internet certainly serves up its share of whimsical absurdities…


Here, B is using the method illustrated by the “Really Wrong” chart…just add one every time you go down and damn the consequences! C and D are convinced that 2nd cousin and 1st cousin once removed are the same thing…one, according to C, an “easier to say” version of the other…altho ironically, C is on the right track in saying your father’s cousin isn’t your cousin. And both B and C hope they’ve helped…yes, hope springs eternal…more’s the pity, sometimes.

139.14  Finally, try this one on for size…


F‘s answer starts out fine…your father’s 1st cousin is your 1st cousin once removed…that is, one generation removed from your generation. F then takes the unexpected step of calling your father’s 1st cousin’s child your 1st cousin twice removed…apparently forgetting that we’re now back in YOUR generation, and not removed from it…not once, not twice, not any way. This “wrong system” is different still from the other 2 wrong systems I outlined…in fact, by this way of thinking, virtually everyone on your family tree would be some sort of 1st cousin to you…as for example, your grandfather’s 1C, 2 generations removed from you, would be your 1C 2R, his son your 1C 3R, his grandson your 1C 4R, and so forth. As they say, the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits… 😉 😉  Next week, a fine tangle elegantly detangled…don’t miss it!

wicked ballsy


Well sir, this whole deal is pretty funny…not related to genealogy I suppose except to the extent that if a Nerd married a Dork, their kid would naturally be half-Nerd and half-Dork, which the Venn Diagram shows you is 1/6 Geek, 1/6 Dweeb, and 4/6 = 2/3 Dork. Would that be dweek?…or…gwork?


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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