part 3 G4BB: Who’s Your 2nd Cousin?

Who’s Your 2nd Cousin?


3.1 Your 1st Cousin can be described in several ways: your Father’s Nephew…your Uncle’s or your Father’s Brother’s Son…your Grandfather’s Grandson. But that last one isn’t quite accurate, since your Brother is also your Grandfather’s Grandson. Thus to say you and Fred share a common Grandfather could mean Fred’s your Brother or your 1st Cousin. But one of the most common definitions of 2nd Cousins you’ll find on the net makes the same mistake: “Your 2nd Cousin is someone with whom you share a common Great Grandfather.” But this definition also applies to your Brother and your 1st Cousin! It should go on to say, but not a common Grandfather. Then it would be correct…but also rather cumbersome, and perhaps not immediately obvious as to precisely what it means. There is a much better way.

3.2 Just as your 1st Cousin is the Son your Father’s Brother, your 2nd Cousin is the Son of your Father’s 1st Cousin. In Chart 4, each generation is a different color…thus the green 1C is your 1st Cousin…the yellow 1C is your Father’s 1st Cousin, etc. The basic nuclear family of parent and offspring repeats all up, down and across your Family Tree. It is the basic building block that makes the whole thing possible. Thus we see in Chart 4, your Father has 2 sons (S is for Sibling…I meant B for Brother…I’ll fix that someday.) Your Father’s Brother also has 2 Sons. Your Father and his Brother are the Sons of your Grandfather, who also has a Brother, who has 2 Sons, each of which has 2 Sons, and over and over.

3.3 And of course as we move to the right, I’ve simplified and left people out, only because it would grow far too big and complicated to represent here. But the most important thing to remember is this: Cousins…1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…are of your generation…not your Father’s generation, not your Grandfather’s generation, and not your Son’s generation. And by generation we mean the same number of steps or individuals to a common ancestor. Relative age does not enter into it, altho it can make the situation confusing.


3.4 For example, if your Grandparents have a Son after your Parents have you, you will have an Uncle who’s younger than you. Now socially, growing up together, you and he will in one sense be of the same generation. But for genealogical purposes, he is your Father’s Brother, hence your Father’s generation. In fact, it’s easy to sketch out a plausible scenario where there are 1st Cousins who are 60 years apart in age! But the law of averages tends to pull the generations back into line when they start to drift. And even when they do get out of sync, it tends to take a long time…and they can get back in sync too…the branches of the Family Tree are very flexible!

3.5 A good example of that is Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. They were 5th Cousins Once Removed, which is to say, Franklin was the 5th Cousin of Elliot, Eleanor’s Father and Teddy’s Roosevelt’s Brother, making Teddy Eleanor’s Uncle, and of course the 2 Presidents were also 5th Cousins. To find the common ancestor, the number of steps is always 1 more than the cousin number. For example, the common ancestor of you and your 1st Cousin is your Grandfather, 2 generations way. That’s 1 step back to your Father and your 1st Cousin’s Father…and a 2nd step back to their Father, your Grandfather. Thus, to the Roosevelts’ common ancestor it was 6 generations back for Franklin, 7 back for Eleanor. That person was Nicholas Roosevelt, born in 1658, 224 years before Franklin, 226 years before Eleanor…it took that long for the generations to gradually slide out of sync. Bottom line: genealogical generations are the only way to correctly construct a family tree, and they alone define kinship relationships, not relative age.

3.6 But this is a good time to point out that true kinship in not necessarily reflected in practical everyday reality. If your Uncle is younger than you, you may in fact consider him your Cousin…or your Uncle…depending on the family practice. This can make the correct interpretation of collected genealogical data tricky. And of course if might be the case that it isn’t until you start tracing your Family Tree that you discover Cousin Bruce was really Uncle Bruce!

3.7 Looking again at Chart 4, just as your 1st Cousins come from your Father’s Siblings, and your 2nd Cousins come from your Father’s 1st Cousins, your 3rd Cousins come from your Father’s 2nd Cousins…again, this basic pattern spreads out, across, up and down your Family Tree. One thing that’s interesting, that you don’t see on Chart 4, is the number of sets of cousins you have. Assuming no parent is an only child, you have 2 sets of 1st Cousins…those from your Father’s Siblings, and those from your Mother’s Siblings…and these 2 sets are unrelated to each other. But remember, your Father also has 2 sets of 1st Cousins…from these you get 2 sets of 2nd Cousins, likewise on your Mother’s side, for a total of 4 sets of 2nd cousins. And 8 sets of 3rd Cousins, 16 sets of 4th Cousins, 32 sets of 5th Cousins, etc…and that’s Your Generation!

3.8 You might notice how it’s all beginning to tie together…2 sets of 1st Cousins corresponds to 2 pairs of Grandparents, just as 4 sets of 2nd Cousins corresponds to 4 pairs of Great Grandparents, 8 sets of 3rd Cousins corresponds to 8 pairs of Great Great Grandparents, etc. This is the construction of your Family Tree…Siblings of those in your lineal or direct line giving rise to a flood of collateral relatives, across and down.

3.9 To summarize: If you and Zeke are 1st Cousins, you have Parents who are Siblings. If you are 2nd Cousins, you have Parents who are 1st Cousins…and Zeke has a Grandparent who is a Sibling to one of your Grandparents. If you are 3rd Cousins, you have Parents who are 2nd Cousins, Grandparents who are 1st Cousins, and Great Grandparents who are Siblings.

Or going back the other way, as 3rd Cousins, you and Zeke are the Great Grandchildren of Siblings, the Grandchildren of 1st Cousins, and and the Children of 2nd Cousins. If you’re 2nd Cousins, you’re the Grandchildren of Siblings and the Children of 1st Cousins. If 1st Cousins, you’re the Children of Siblings. Patterns building upon patterns, that’s the key.

3.10 Putting it another way: You get your 1st Cousins from your Father’s Brothers…your 2nd Cousins from your Grandfather’s Brothers… your 3rd Cousins from your Great Grandfather’s Brothers, etc. Or yet another way: You get your 2nd Cousins from your Father’s 1st Cousins…you get your 3rd Cousins from your Grandfather’s 1st Cousins…you get your 4th Cousins from your Great Grandfather’s 1st Cousins, etc. And in this context you can consider your Siblings as your 0th Cousins (zero-th) and the math checks.

3.11  One other important thing to notice in Chart 4…the 2 pink circles presenting your Grandfather and his Brother (S for Sibling, sorry…) Below each of these circles are 2 identical structures, right? They are interchangeable, depending on who you’re descended from, your Grandfather or your Grandfather’s Brother. Thus, your Siblings and your 1st Cousins are all 2nd Cousins to your 2nd Cousin. And your 2nd Cousin’s Siblings and 1st Cousins are all 2nd Cousins to you. Similarly, from your 3rd Cousin’s point of view, you, your Siblings, your 1st Cousins, and your 2nd Cousins are all his 3rd Cousins. And your 3rd Cousin’s siblings, 1st Cousins, and 2nd Cousins are all 3rd Cousins to you…and your Siblings, 1st Cousins and 2nd Cousins. Each Brother starts his own sub-Tree, and within that group, there are “close” relations of different types, while all of them are the same relation to members of other sub-Trees…”distant” cousins! Which is why, when I asked back in 1.3 how your 2nd Cousins were related to your 3rd Cousins, the answer was…3rd Cousins.

3.12 I’ll finish up today with 2 practical examples from TV. The first is from The Beverly Hillbillies. Now with some shows, like The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, and Leave It To Beaver, where I pretty much know the episodes by heart, I am confident that I understand the family relationships. This is called the “Fan Logic” game, where you try to fit together everything ever said or implied on the show into one coherent picture…and sometimes that’s not possible, due to inconsistent information over the long run of a series. The relationships I’ve diagramed here are beyond question, except for how Jed Clampett and Pearl Bodine are related. I believe they are always called “cousins,” and I am assuming that means 1st Cousins…an assumption that quite frankly I can’t base on personal recollection. Some people on the net claim that indeed Jed once said that his Father and Pearl’s Mother were Siblings…and that would make Elly May and Jethro what? 2nd Cousins…good, I think you’ve got it! But others swear it was also mentioned once or twice on the show that Jed and Pearl were Siblings. If so, Elly May and Jethro would be 1st Cousins…as it stands, they are simply called “cousins,” so either 1st or 2nd could be true. Certainly, if they really are 2nd Cousins, calling each other “cousin” is the common practice…once again highlighting the difference between social or practical relations and genealogical kinship.

3.13 Unlike the other 2 charts today, I did not make this one of The Sopranos myself. I found it on the web…altho I did tweak it a little and I added the pictures. Now Carmella always called Chris her “cousin.” This is accepted practice, altho as you can see here, it was Chris’ Father “Cousin Dickie” who was Carmella’s 1st Cousin, making Chris her 1st Cousin Once Removed. Thus Chris is 2nd Cousin to Carmella’s daughter Meadow, altho on the show, again, he and Meadow are always simply “cousins.” Last week I said that “Cousins Removed” aren’t really Cousins at all…and we’ll examine that in detail next week… altho from the discussion and the charts so far, I think you’re getting an inkling of what this “Removed” business really is all about.

3.14 But I’d like to leave you with a little puzzle to ponder. On The Sopranos, Carmella’s husband Tony always referred to Chris as his “nephew.” Not a blood relative, obviously, but Tony’s Wife’s Nephew would be his Nephew by marriage. Except that Chris isn’t really Carmella’s Nephew, since he is the Son of her 1st Cousin, not her Brother. Still, from a practical standpoint, according to social usage Tony isn’t “wrong.” But here’s the puzzle: could it all be completely, and I mean genealogically, true? In other words, is it possible for a man’s blood Nephew to also be his Wife’s blood 1st Cousin, and remembering back to what I said in 1.6, solutions involving the I-word don’t count. (Hint: see 3.7!) Answer next week. Ciao.

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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