part 2 G4BB: My Generation, Cousins!



2.1 A Family Tree spreads out in 2 directions: verticality and horizontally. The vertical is called your “direct line” or “lineage”…the technical term is lineal. Going “up,” this consists of your Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, etc. Going “down,” your Son, Grandson, Great Grandson, etc. These are the people you are directly related to…your ancestors (up) and your progeny (down).

2.2 Horizontally along your Family Tree, you have what’s called your collateral relations…these include your Brother, your Father’s Brother (your Uncle), your Grandfather’s Brother, etc. And because each “nuclear family” unit is repeated over and over, up, down and sideways thru-out your Family Tree, collateral relations also include your Cousins, your Father’s Cousins, Your Grandfather’s Cousins, etc. You are of course related to all your collaterals…that’s the whole point of all this! And those of past generations are in a general sense your ancestors. But you are not “descended” from them…that term is reserved for members of your direct line only. Thus, the snooty club for people descended from passengers of the Mayflower will deny membership to someone related to one of those passengers collaterally, but not lineally.

2.3 In terms of where your “blood line” has been, and where it’s going, the relevant relations are the lineal ones. Indeed, they are the whole basis for kinship, for families, for clans. Your Father and Grandfather are the past…and your Son and Grandson are the future. But as for the present, your most important relations are your collateral ones, your Siblings and Cousins…they are, quite literally, Your Generation. In days gone by, when mobility was limited, most people lived their whole lives in one place. The people you worked with, worshiped with, marched to war with, organized and governed your community with…were your kith (neighbors) and kin (relatives.) And to a degree no longer the case in Western Civilization today, altho certainly still true of much of the rest of the world, kith was kin!


2.4 This is thanks to what I said earlier about the family unit, Father-and-Son, repeating itself over and over all thru your Family Tree…it’s practically fractal in nature. From your Father, you have Siblings. But your Father also has Siblings, and from them you get your Cousins…or we should say 1st Cousins. But your Father’s Father, your Grandfather, also had Siblings…their children were your Father’s 1st Cousins, and their children, your 2nd Cousins! It is just that simple.

2.5 Thus, descended from the collateral relations of your lineal ancestors, you have 3rd Cousins, 4th Cousins, 5th Cousins, etc. I have used the patented Stolfistrator to identify these concepts on Chart 2. The orange area is your lineal relations…note that your Sons, Grandsons, etc. would also be in the orange area had I included them. The blue area is your collateral relations…including the darker blue, which represents Your Generation.

2.6 All this having been said, it’s interesting to note that until fairly recently, people didn’t know how literally unrelated they were to their so-called “distant cousins,” in terms of what we now think of as shared genetic information. For example, counting both sides of your family, you have 32 Great Great Great Great Grandfathers (commonly abbreviated as 4G Grandfathers), as does your 5th cousin. Now if these ancestors were 64 separate and unrelated individuals, the 2 of you would also be unrelated. Instead, as 5th Cousins, there are really only 63 old gentlemen…1 of whose genes you share, your common ancestor, an “overlap” in your Family Trees…and 62 of whose you don’t! What are the chances that both of you are the spitting image of Great Great Great Great Grandpa?!

2.7 Again, these Cousins (and in terms of the mathematics of it, it works to call your Siblings “0th Cousins”) made up the part of your family that was Your Generation. These are the relationships that cemented your community together, the blood-ties that were, as they say, “thicker than water.” Consider this: Assume that historically every man in your village had 5 sons who reached adulthood, and each of them had 5 sons. Your Generation, your Siblings, 1st Cousins, etc, extending out to your 5th Cousins, would constitute 15,625 individuals! Mind you, that’s just on one side of your family, thru your Father! Add another 15,625 thru your Mother, and is it any wonder that in unilineal systems, people would only consider themselves related to one side!

2.8 In fact, the experts say everyone alive today, all 7,000,000,000 of us, are no more distantly related than 50th Cousin. And remember, taking an average generation as 20 years…which is rather conservative considering that for most of human history, life expectancy was half what it is today…50th Cousins have a common ancestor only 1,000 years ago, and recorded history goes back at least 4,000 years. It’s actually kind of mind-boggling when you think about it.

2.9 But we haven’t even gotten to the “good” part yet, the one component of community life that was far and away the most important: marriage, parentage, and offspring. Believe it or not, the experts say that 20% of all marriages in the world today are between 1st Cousins, and down thru history, that figure is 80%! In fact, it was very unusual to marry someone who wasn’t related to you…it would have had to be someone from another clan or village, what the experts call “out-breeding”…and of course, for the sake of genetic diversity, this was a beneficial thing, but rare nonetheless. “Keeping it in the family” made perfect sense: parents arranged their children’s matches, and they chose from the pool of people they knew and lived with…extending even to those very few societies that practiced sibling marriage.

2.10  It’s funny, but today we think of it in terms of who you can’t marry. While legal in half the states for example, 1st Cousin marriages are still uncommon, and usually frowned upon. The Christian world generally bans 1st and 2nd Cousins from marrying…3rd Cousins and beyond are allowed. In fact, that was Rudy Guliani’s reason for divorcing his 1st wife…as Catholics, they thought they were 3rd cousins, but it turned out they were 2nd. Yeah, there were raised eyebrows over that “explanation,” but let it pass. The point is, kinship today is used to exclude potential mates…in olden times, it was just the opposite!

2.11 I have to clarify something. When considering 5th Cousins, I mentioned 63 4G Grandfathers and the resulting 15,625 relatives as if they were all distinct individuals. And of course that never was nor even could have been the case. You’ve probably heard the argument that “we’re all related” because if we weren’t, a thousand or so years ago, a trillion different people would have had to have been alive, which is impossible…I’m ballparking the figures, but you see the point. And this is absolutely true. There is a ton of “overlapping,” there has to be, and for a dramatic example of this, you need look no further than the royal houses of Europe. Untangling their interconnections is a real challenge, and good practice, too.

2.12 And it isn’t exactly “in-breeding,” at least not in the sense of farm-animals. But Cousins of any degree were fair game obviously, and even more imperative given the exalted nature of those blood-lines. You’ll even find a couple of Uncle-Niece pairings along the way, among other variations. Thus such eminent personages as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (the guy “in the can”) were 1st Cousins. And Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, both Great Great Grandchildren of Queen Victoria, are 3rd Cousins…thru various other lines, they are also 2nd Cousins Once Removed, 4th Cousins, 4th Cousins Once Removed, 5th Cousins, and who knows what else. Have fun!

2.13 Next week, we’ll look more closely at precisely who your 2nd Cousins are, and why. And in coming weeks, we’ll touch upon other kinds of cousins: Double Cousins, Half Cousins, Parallel Cousins, Cross Cousins, and varieties so rare and complicated that they don’t even have agreed upon names…altho if you have them in your family, not so rare at all! And what about the dreaded “Cousins Removed”? Well, let’s tie it all together: In the same way that your Uncle isn’t your Cousin, nor is your Nephew your Cousin, your “1st Cousin Once Removed” isn’t your Cousin either! Then why for gosh sakes are they called “Cousin”? Because they’re a Cousin to someone related to you, just not to you…and thus, they are not members of Your Generation! Keeping that single principle in mind, you can’t go wrong, as will be explained…

2.14  answers from last week…But take for example your Maternal Grandmother’s Niece. How is she related to You [1C 1R], to your Mother [1C], to your Daughter [1C 2R], to your own Niece [also 1C 2R]… I’m guessing the answers didn’t roll off your tongue. How is your 2nd Cousin related to your 3rd Cousin [3C]…How are your Father’s Uncles related to your Nephews [Great Grand Uncles]…”


2.15  also from last week…I posed a Half Brother puzzle, just to demonstrate how kinship relationships, for most of us, can be far from obvious. I asked how Al could be your Half Brother, and not related to your Wife…and Zeke could be your Wife’s Half Brother, and not related to you…and yet Al and Zeke could be Half Brothers to each other. To those of you who saw immediately how this could happen, I salute you. Me, I had to think about it before I could explain it…here’s the diagram…

As you can see, you and Al are Half Brothers thru your mutual Father…likewise, your Wife and Zeke are Half Brothers thru their mutual Father. And if the Mothers labeled “?” are the same person, then Al and Zeke are Half Brothers thru her. Which is another way of saying, your Brother’s Brother is your Brother, but your Half Brother’s Half Brother might not be your Half Brother. Thank you, and good night, till next Sunday…

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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