part 1 Genealogy for Baby Boomers



Genealogy  for Baby Boomers

1.1 The idea for this series of columns is something I have been doing the past few years, and I’ve noticed others my age are also doing. That is, reconnecting with relatives, especially on the internet, with social networking sites like Face Book. Perhaps you’ve been out of touch with cousins…and altho you might have been aware they’ve had children, you didn’t know some are now grandparents. There may be older relatives you haven’t seen since you were a kid, and some have now died. Others have remarried. A big part of this reconnecting is sharing old photos, and you start going back to your grandparents’ generation, their siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, and back further and further. And you might even discover a few things you didn’t know…like the “uncle” who was actually your cousin!

1.2 Genealogy for Baby Boomers will not deal with how to research your family tree. There are dozens of resources, on and off the net, to help you with that. What I’ll be examining is how all the information you’ve gathered fits together…the “inner workings” of family trees…how who is related to who. Now you might think, Well, gee, I know all that stuff. And maybe you do. Your grandparents, your nieces and nephews, your uncle and aunts, your 1st cousins, sure. You might even know who in your family are your 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, 4th cousins etc…altho chances are good you don’t, and that’s a topic we’ll cover in depth on G4BB.

1.3 But take for example your Maternal Grandmother’s Niece. How is she related to You, to your Mother, to your Daughter, to your own Niece? I’m guessing the answers didn’t roll off your tongue. How is your 2nd Cousin related to your 3rd Cousin? How are your Father’s Uncles related to your Nephews? Do you know what Double Cousins and Half Cousins are? How about Enhanced Half Siblings? Um, does that mean they’ve had an operation? Good try, but no. And what in the heck is Removed supposed to mean?


1.4 Even your plain old 1st Cousins, the children of your Parents’ Siblings…did you know you could be more closely related to some of them than others? Or consider this scenario: You have a Half Brother Al, who is not related to your Wife. And your Wife has a Half Brother Zeke who is not related to you. And yet, Al and Zeke could be Half Brothers to each other! Some of you may have thought: sure, that makes sense…but I’m guessing not a lot of you. So maybe there is something you can learn from G4BB after all.

1.5 And this would be a good point to mention 2 important conventions that I will be using. First…unless I specify otherwise, when I say “relatives” or “related to,” I am referring to blood relatives, not relatives by marriage or by adoption. This is especially pertinent to Uncles and Aunts…no doubt you called the spouses of your Parents’ Siblings your Uncles and Aunts, but they weren’t blood relatives, obviously. Perhaps in the wake of divorces and remarriages, some Uncles or Aunts suddenly weren’t “related” to you anymore! And remember, your 1st Cousins have 2 distinct sets of 1st Cousins…those who are related to you…and those who aren’t, derived from their Parent that isn’t related to your Parent. (Unless of course you’re Double Cousins…uh oh…don’t worry, we’ll get to that…eventually.)

1.6 The second convention is this: family trees, and indeed families themselves, are the result of, let’s face it, human reproduction: Mothers and Fathers, Sons and Daughters. Except in very specific situations, I will be assuming that such offspring are, for want of a better word, “legal.” Not in the sense of the Parents being married, but in the sense of the Parents not being closely related, the dreaded I-word. And by closely related, I will follow the custom of Western Society, altho across the world today, and thru-out recorded history, it certainly isn’t everyone’s custom: Parents will not be Siblings, Half Siblings, or 1st Cousins. Now in researching your family history, you may well find some “irregularities.” If this disturbs you, try another pastime…like scrap-booking…well, maybe not scrap-booking. But it is what is it, it was what it was…and I should mention that 1st Cousin marriage is a fascinating topic…today it’s legal in most of the world, including 25 states in the U. S., either without restriction (18), or in certain circumstances (7). Did you know for example that Albert Einstein married his 1st Cousin? But in untangling the puzzle I posed in 1.4, you may safely assume that all the relationships are completely “kosher,” shall we say.


1.7 But why even bother? Because in mapping out your family tree, putting individuals on the wrong limbs can’t be good, and it may even stifle further avenues of research. Sometimes 2 old relatives from several generations back, who have the same name, can be confused and put in the wrong positions, or even be thought to be the same person! Knowing how kinship terms are used, and were used in the past, will help you correctly interpret the information you find. If you’re also a History buff, it will tie in with marriage traditions, naming customs…in fact, depending where your “people” came from, you may discover societies who reckon kinship relationships in ways quite different from “the way you’re supposed to.” Sociology, Anthropology, Religion, Linguistics, Demographics, Biology, even Political Science and Geography will come into play.

1.8 So let’s get started with Chart 1. I should say that there are dozens of charts out there, displaying a wealth of information…no chart can include it all, there’s simply too much of it. Many of the charts I’ve found are good but could be better…so I will for the most part be designing my own. Now when I’ve shown Chart 1 to people, the response is often a satisfying Wha–? But the idea is a very simple one: Chart 1 focuses in on 3 individuals, YOU (green), YOUR FATHER (yellow), and YOUR GRANDFATHER (pink.) It shows a typical, generic family tree, and how each individual is related to You, your Father, and your Grandfather. The gray arrows indicate parentage and offspring.

1.9 For instance, look at the green square labeled YOU. The individual represented by the square directly to the right of You is divided into 3 colored sections. This person is Your Brother (green), your Father’s Son (yellow), and your Grandfather’s Grandson (pink.) Now look at the individual to the right of YOUR FATHER. The three colored sections tell you this is Your Uncle (green), your Father’s Brother (yellow), and your Grandfather’s Son (pink.) These 2 examples deal with relationships you are completely familiar with, I’m sure. But this system of information also extends, both vertically and horizontally, to areas of the family tree you might not be as familiar with.

1.10 To make sure you fully understand how this chart works, look at your Grandfather’s Father…connected by a gray arrow that goes over, up, and over. You’ll notice his square is not labeled YOUR GREAT GRANDFATHER. And the individual represented by the square to his right is your Great Grandfather’s Brother, yet that label doesn’t appear either. That’s because I have purposely limited the information for any individual to how he is related to only You, your Father, and your Grandfather. Yes, I could have extended this to your Great Grandfather…his square could have been blue, and the other squares on the chart would then have 4 colored sections, not 3. Then orange for your Great Great Grandfather, and 5 sections, not 4. You see how complex it can get, very quickly…and such an expanded chart may yet be coming, who knows? But for now, I’m considering just the 3 generations you’re likely to have actually known in your lifetime…most people, tho certainly not all, have only vague recollections of their Great Grandparents.

1.11 A couple of notes on Chart 1. “C” means Cousin, and “R” means Removed…thus “2C 1R” is a 2nd Cousin, Once Removed. Also, I have arbitrarily used only male relatives, and indeed this chart represents what’s called Unilinial Descent, that is, thru only one Parent in each generation. Had I included both Parents, it would have been Bilinial Descent…and almost prohibitively complicated! In our society, the two sides of your family are equivalent in determining kinship, but it’s not always that way. In some systems, one line or the other takes precedence…this means that in some cultures you wouldn’t be related to your Mother’s family at all! Or, much rarer, your Father’s family…and in some cases, you can actually decide which line you will be affiliated with.

1.12 And as you explore the information detailed in Chart 1, one thing in particular might jump out at you: your 1st Cousin, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Cousins are all on the same “line,” or of the same generation, as You and your Brother. This may not be “the way we do it” in your family…perhaps your 2nd Cousin is the Son of your 1st Cousin. And you’re completely free to continue doing it that way. But trust me, according to civil law, church law, and all, and I mean all genealogical authorities, you’re wrong. Without a true understanding of how Cousinship is reckoned, your family tree is guaranteed to be a mishmash of incorrect and inconsistent connections. And Cousins will be the topic for next time.

BTW…depending on what kind of computer setup you have, Chart 1 may appear rather small. If you’d like a bigger version, try this: right-click on the chart, then print it out in landscape format…I find I can increase the size to 110%

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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