169.1 There are 2 ideas that when combined can cause much error and confusion. Happily, the first idea is confined mainly to the halls of academia…altho some ambitious civilians…wanting to be hip to the latest jive (and it is 100% jive)…have embraced it as the cool new thing. And that’s the idea of being “nonjudgmental”…which means nothing is right or wrong, only different. It follows that nothing is better or worse than anything else. I daresay the overwhelming majority of the world disagrees with this concept, but it’s out there.
169.2 As it applies to genealogy, the nonjudgmental approach means when someone misuses or misinterprets our system of kinship terminology, they aren’t “wrong”…they’re just using a “different system.” Gosh, I went toe-to-toe with one egghead over this many moons ago (here: #75: Odds and Evens) and I don’t relish the thought of ever doing that again. As an old saying has it: “The difference between wisdom and ignorance is that wisdom has its limits.”
169.3 The second idea is summed up by another old saying: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” And do I have a pertinent example in mind? Oh boy, do I ever! I was cleaning up my computer files and found a back-and-forth I had a while ago with a guy who has a page on kinship…we’ll call him Blogger B. I will not link to this site…it needs as little publicity as it can get…from the hints that follow, you can Google it easily enough. Not surprisingly, he goes wrong on removed cousins…several folks besides me call him on it, but he just says our system is ambiguous, or else, other people use different systems, which is complete BS. No, other people make the same mistake that you do, my friend.
169.4 So I finally gave up…oh yeah, and I deleted these files I had saved. Still, Blogger B was wrong in a very interesting way, so it’s an instructive case. The part about removed cousins that he correctly understands is that “removed” means generations removed from you…your father, his siblings, and his cousins are one generation removed form you…your grandfather and his sibs and cousins, two generations, etc.
169.5 What he didn’t understand was exactly how being removed applies to cousins. He was correct to say your 2nd cousin’s son is your 2nd cousin once removed…since the son is one generation away from the father, who is your 2nd cousin. But then he tried to go the other way and said your 2nd cousin’s father is also your 2nd cousin once removed, because that too is one generation removed from your 2nd cousin’s generation. Which is completely wrong…your 2nd cousin’s father is your 1st cousin once removed…for the simple reason that your 2nd cousin’s father is your father’s 1st cousin…and the sons of 1st cousins, you and your 2nd cousin, are 2nd cousins, by definition.
169.6 And since Blogger B is not a rational thinker, and cannot follow ideas to their logical conclusion, he misses 2 very curious things that result from his “system.” Who is your 1st cousin once removed? Going down, your 1st cousin’s son…and also, gong up, your 1st cousin’s father, better known as….your uncle!…as per Chart 598a. Have you ever in your life heard your uncle described as some sort of cousin to you? Don’t feel bad…nobody has.
169.7 The second thing he misses is illustrated by Chart 598b…you are a 2nd cousin once removed to neither of your 2nd cousins once removed: to the one in your father’s generation you’re his 1st cousin once removed…and to the one in your son’s generation, you’re his 3rd cousin once removed. Have you ever heard of the degree or number of a cousin changing, depending on which way you look at it: to me, you are my 1st cousin, but to you I am your 2nd cousin? Well, according to Blogger B, you have now!
169.8 In 168 weekly posts of Related How Again?, I don’t believe I’ve used the phrase “Loony-Tunes”…till now. That may be the way they reckon kinship in the Rubber Room, but outside the comfy confines of the Ha-Ha Hotel, not so much. But hold on…when you think about it, at least this could be a way to distinguish between the generations…you could say “A is my 2nd-cousin-once-removed-to-whom-I-am-a-1st-cousin-once-removed”…and “B is my 2nd-cousin-once-removed-to-whom-I-am-a-3rd-cousin-once-removed.” Do you like this way better than “2nd cousin once removed ascending/descending”? Didn’t think so, but thought I’d ask…
169.9 But talk about making an admittedly complicated system even worse. We observed the error, explained it and corrected it. And as I said, he couldn’t follow any of this reasoning…none of it. Couldn’t or wouldn’t?…whatever…life’s too short. So we leave it at that?…we could…but he justified this cockamamie approach by providing a link to somebody who says the same thing. Right…1000 people say one thing, 1 person says another…nope, not a mistake, just a different system. Still, I could’t resist…and I found a website that indeed “confirms” his error, and adds a couple of fascinating twists of its own. Actually, it’s a serious website that provides cemetery records in the UK…you have to subscribe to it…but when they try to explain kinship terms…”naming conventions”…they go seriously astray…take a look…
169.9 Now the part I put in the green box is fine…so is the part I underlined in green…green for go. The red is for stop…no, this is not true of preceding generations of cousins as well. That would be the same backing up manuever that Blogger B likes to do…getting to your 1C 1R ascending thru your 2nd cousin, and therefore calling him a 2C 1R. But check the part I underlined in blue…this cat here sees what Blogger B missed, which is you can’t go backwards from your 1st cousin, otherwise your uncle is also your 1C 1R.
169.10 I’ll admit, he’s to be complimented for noticing…trouble is, I know of absolutely no situation in kinship or genealogy where you have a rule that has exceptions…none. Your mother’s aunt is your grand aunt except when…nope, never happens. Your Xth cousin’s father is your Xth cousin once removed except when X = 1…yeah, that would do it, but like I said, no exceptions…find me one and I’ll send you $100. Now look at the second half…
169.11 The part underlined in blue, true. Red, definitely not…but compare that to the very next sentence, underlined in green…he contradicts what he just said! Thus, the final “example” in the green box, agrees with the green underline, disagrees with the red. And what you end up with is shown in Chart 599…underlined in red gives you the red box..underlined in green, the green box….your father’s 1st cousin is both your 2C 1R and your 1C 1R. Somebody isn’t thinking straight, are they?
169.12 As if this weren’t crazy enough, consider Chart 600…you have just been born, but your father’s 1st cousin X doesn’t yet have any children…still, X is your 2C 1R, even tho you don’t yet have a 2nd cousin? Neat trick. Oh, you could say, well, if and when he does have a child, you will have a 2nd cousin, so it’s OK. No, it’s not OK…it’s why you call your newborn son a “son” and not a “grandson’s father”…but again, we see why kinship is reckoned top down, not bottom up. And when you think about it, if Blogger B was half-baked, then this stuff here is twice-baked…yup, zwieback…
169.13 Bottom line: 2 people are related because they have a common ancestor, not a common descendant. Proof: your father and your mother have a common descendent, namely you!…but they aren’t related, at least not normally…and if they were, it was before you ever came into the picture. What’s more, to be related at all, you have to be able to trace a path from one to the other along your family tree.
169.14 If we do that in Chart 601a, we see that you are related to your 1C 1R because he is your father’s 1st cousin…that’s where the trail leads…not because he is your 2nd cousin’s father. If we try to get to him by tracing a path thru your 2nd cousin…Chart 601b…we find there is no path to follow! Unless you try a double-back approach as in Chart 601c…except it doesn’t work that way…once you get to where you’re going, you stop dead in your tracks, dammit! And be here again next week, same time, same channel, aloha.
This is a cartoon from the British humor magazine Punch…which I’m sorry to say closed up shop in 2002, after 161 years on the newsstands. (BTW, Nabisco no longer makes their tasty Zwieback cracker.) Now you’re never supposed to analyze humor, but just for the sake of argument, this falls into the “taking it literally” category…the sign promised “fun for young and old”…and sure enough, the old man and the young child are still laughing, while the neither-young-nor-old gentleman appears to have been unmoved. We’ll call him Nigel and assume they are family…here are some possibilities…
Trouble is, after father/son and uncle/nephew, the terms (in bold) are the same…we can’t tell who’s the older generation and who’s the younger. In genealogy you need to be specific, so we would add ascending to Column B and descending to Column C. And in everyday life, a cousin once removed could every easily be referred to as an uncle or a nephew…since they are of the same generation as a “real” uncle/nephew, just further across on the family tree. Wouldn’t it be simpler if uncle/nephew were official? In the Spanish language, they are…1C 1R is either your 2nd uncle or your 2nd nephew…2C 1R, 3rd uncle/nephew. True, you can’t change a language overnight…but language does change…just a serving suggestion from lovable old me…
Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved