#166: How wise Was My GEEK

166.1   wiseGEEK is a website that describes itself as “clear answers for common questions.” One question might be: why answers for questions instead of answers to questions? My answer is: it’s the new grammar, the “close enough” grammar…certainly better than answers about questions or answers on questions, wouldn’t you agree? Unlike Wikipedia, I have never seen wiseGEEK cited as a source of information…in fact, wiseGEEK doesn’t have a page on Wikipedia, surprise of surprises.

166.2   Sadly, the wiseGEEK page on cousins is anything but clear…awkward and confusing in spots, flat out wrong in others. It does prompt regular comments, in the form of questions about kinship, which I answer there…and here. They won’t let you link to another site…and here is much better since I can include a diagram…seeing is believing, nez pah? The questions tend to focus on: can we get married or at least date, without going to jail? But there are all kinds, some simple, some complex. Time to get caught up…

chart 586

166.3  Before anything else, there is an error in the statement of the question: “Christy and Alan are my Mum’s [Miriam’s] first cousins.” Christy is, Alan isn’t. Miriam and Christy’s mothers are sisters, so they are 1st cousins right enough. But Miriam’s mother and Alan’s father are 1st cousins, so they are 2nd cousins. Also, Christy and Alan, married, are 2nd cousins, as you can see on Chart 586.

166.4  Because your mother is related to both Joe’s mother and father, you and Joe will be related to each other in 2 ways: 2nd cousins, since Miriam and Christy are 1st cousins…and 3rd cousins, since Miriam and Alan are 2nd cousins. Total relationship 1/32 (= 4/128) + 1/128 = 5/128.  By percentages, 3.9% related, 96.1% unrelated. Anything beyond 1st cousins 87.5% is completely legal everywhere in the world…and even 1st cousins are legal in most of the world and about half the states. So that’s a go! Plus they’re right, Jeff really does have nothing to do with this…sorry, Jeff.

chart 587

166.5  To begin with, 2 clarifications…some people reading that first sentence might think it means your Dad’s brother married your Dad’s sister…we will graciously assume that this aunt is on the other side of the family, your mother’s. Also, not to get picky, but if there are “direct cousins,” what in the world would be “indirect cousins”? Actually, there is neither, also obviously.

166.6  What we have here is something that was much more common a few generations ago than it is today: 2 siblings from one family marrying 2 siblings from another family. The resulting cousins are called “double 1st cousins”…1st cousins thru their fathers and thru their mothers…1st cousins in 2 different ways. What’s more, while “single” 1st cousins share only one pair of grandparents, doubles share both pairs. Since being related to someone in more than one way is unusual, it’s understandably confusing to many people. The rule is: both ways count! So your total relationship is 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4…you are as closely related to your double 1st cousins as you would be to a half-sibling. And the years spent trying to figure this out are now…officially…over!

chart 588

166.7  For sure, you and your girl-friend are 3rd cousins, as per Chart 588…completely legal in every state in the union and every country in the world. You have mathematics working for you, as your degree of relationship is 1/128…meaning you are 99.2% unrelated. And if that doesn’t sound like very much, it’s because it isn’t very much…for all intents and purposes, you are not genetically related at all, altho genealogically, you are 100% related…but there’s the difference between genealogy and genetics, you see.

chart 589

166.8  When you hear, for example, that somebody’s great grandfather is somebody else’s great grandfather’s brother, you should immediately glom onto the fact that they are of the same generation…brother to brother…hence their descendants of each generation will be “straight” numbered cousins, with no “removeds.” Not here tho…its grandmother to one, grandmother’s aunt to the other…meaning we’re in “removed” territory. Since an aunt is one generation away from the niece, it’s going to be “once removed.”

166.9  Then we simply slide down the “cousin ladder” as I call it…your mother and your girl-friend”s grandmother are 1st cousins…you and her mother are 2nd cousins…you and her are 2nd cousins once removed…so that really does make you and her some type of, doesn’t it? As I said, seeing really is believing.

chart 590

166.10  You might think I’m picking on the poser of this question…if so, believe what you like. I am here to help, nothing more. The fact remains that this is an excellent example of what happens when somebody hasn’t the slightest idea of how our kinship system works, and so just takes a wild stab at it. They are asking: what is my 5th cousins’s 8th cousin to me? Feeling compelled to supply an answer, they think that adding 5 + 8 is logical…resulting in “13th cousins” with “by marriage” tacked on just in case. It isn’t logical…it isn’t anything. In genealogy, it has no meaning or significance whatsoever.

166.11  You will notice that on Chart 590 I have not delineated the cousin ladder…sibs, 1C, 2C, 3C, etc., as I normally do. In this case, there’s no need to. You know how you see ads on the internet promising to solve some problems with “a weird trick”? This gets my goat, since usually it’s not weird at all…just something you never thought of…and as such, it really isn’t a trick, just a way or a method. But whatever you call them, there are several of these in genealogy, that even folks who understand the basics aren’t aware of. Here the rule is simple: to you, your Ath cousin’s Bth cousin is whichever is larger, A or B. If A and B are the same number, the answer can be anything from siblings up to and including Ath cousins.

166.12  So your 5th cousin’s 8th cousin is your 8th cousin, 8 being larger than 5…left side of Chart 590, in green. The caveat is that this is only true if you are related at all…because this 8th cousin may be on the other side of your 5th cousin’s family, in which case they are no relation to you…right side of Chart 590, in pink. I’m tempted to think that’s really what’s going on in this case, since “by marriage” was mentioned…but no way to tell for sure. Computers stop dead in their tracks when confronted with “insufficient data”…I plow on.

chart 591

166.13  When it comes to famous vs. non-famous, I just shrug and say: Everybody’s related to somebody. Here, we simply do what we should always do: start with the siblings. Despite what the wiseGEEK cousins article says, figuring cousins from a common ancestor is imprecise and best not done…always look for and start with the siblings…and if they turn out to be half-siblings, everybody going downward will be halfs*…half-1st cousins, half-2nd cousins, etc. …like it or not.

* Since genealogy blogs can be rather dry, I try to make this one as wet as I can stand it…which means I’ll go off on tangents at the drop of a hat, and sometimes drop my own hat. Would you have preferred I said “halves”? Hockey fans will immediately recognize this quirk as they have a team in Toronto, historically called the Maple Leafs, not the Maple Leaves. There are various explanations as to why this is so, but it really boils down to accepted English usage. In some cases, a thing described by an  irregular plural noun is not sufficiently like that basic thing to merit the use of the irregular plural.

For example, the teeth of a gear are considered to be enough like the teeth in your head to be called teeth not tooths. On the other hand, if somebody gooses you…then it happens again…you were correctly the recipient of 2 gooses…nobody would say 2 geese. For some reason…perhaps the global dumbing-down is to blame…some people are hesitant, when talking about the computer mouse, to say 2 mouses, thinking 2 mice sounds better. Trust me, it doesn’t…it sounds, well, dumb. And since there is no such thing as halve-cousins, I will not say halves but rather halfsmuch as my spell-checker wants to change that to halts.

166.14  Zero in on the siblings in Chart 591 and work your way down from there. Your great grandfather and Friedrich Ebert’s father are brothers…your grandparent (child of your great grandfather) and Ebert are 1st cousins…you are 2 generations removed from your grandparent, so Ebert is your 1st cousin twice removed. As Archie Bunker would say, ipso fatso.

chart 592

166.15  Banishing confusion is my business, brother! See that = in Chart 592? That’s like an impassable boundary…it means somebody you’re related to got married…and on the “other” side of that marriage, nobody is related to you by blood. The closest relatives on the spouse’s side could be called “in-laws”…further away, you could say “by marriage”…but even then, many people think these terms are only appropriate when it’s your marriage that’s the origin of it all…with the exception of sibling-in-law, which you can have without being married if you at least have a sibling. Still, usage varies…so to say Charlie is your 1st cousin by marriage is not the worst crime in the history of humanity, not by a long chalk. Deep thoughts next week…bring your bathing cap and dive in, won’t you?

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 Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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