part 4 G4BB: Cousins Removed & Cheat Sheet





4.1 Today we’ll look at a “Cousin Cheat Sheet”…and start Removing your Cousins. But first, the answer to last week’s puzzle. I wanted to know how it is possible for your blood Nephew to be your wife’s blood 1st Cousin, without anybody marrying a blood relative. I’ve diagrammed the solution below as Chart 5. Your Brother has a Son, your Nephew. That Nephew has Cousins on your side of the family, blood relations to you…but he also has Cousins on his Mother’s side, who are not blood relations to you. Thus, your Brother’s Sister-in-Law Alice has a daughter Zelda…and you marry Zelda. Now the person who is your blood Nephew is also your Wife’s blood 1st Cousin. There is another sequence of events, and you can follow it on Chart 5. You marry Zelda, then your Brother marries your Wife’s Aunt (Alice’s Sister) and has a Son…the Son is your blood Nephew and your Wife’s blood 1st Cousin. It’s the same thing, but arrived at the other way around.


4.2 Would it be wrong to say there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with knowing how your Family Tree “fits together”? It may have seemed complicated so far at times, and will get even more so. But the thing to keep in mind is: the basic structures and relationships repeat over and over again. It’s true that “every family is different,” but it’s also true that every family is the same. After a while, it might even get monotonous…especially if your recent generations had large families, and the information is readily available…everybody had siblings, they all got married and had kids, who all got married and had kids, over and over, up, down and across. Finding something a bit unusual would then seem like quite a treat! And I have to say, the dizzying complexity we lost from days gone by when 1st Cousins marriages were plentiful, we more than make up for with the increased divorce rate and out of wedlock offspring, resulting in plenty of steps- and halfs-.

4.3 Last week I told you the straight definition of Xth Cousin…this week I’ll give you a mental cheat sheet. But to use it, you need to do a little trick…and that is…spell “Grandfather” as 2 words “Grand Father.”  The cheat sheet consists of this formula: X up > brother > X down. Let’s try it with 1st Cousin…1 up (that’s your Father) > brother (your Father’s Brother…or your Uncle) > 1 down (your Uncle’s Son…your 1st Cousin…bingo!) Try 2d Cousin…2 up (Grand Father) > brother (Grand Father’s Brother) > 2 down (Grand Father’s Brother’s Grand Son…or your Father’s 1st Cousin’s son…your 2nd Cousin.) And that’s really all there is to it…on paper you can verify that it works, but with a little practice you can do it in your head!

4.4 It works with larger numbers like a charm. And remember, you can also abbreviate Great’s with a number. Great Grand Father is 1G Grand Father… and I’m using the trick of spelling Grandfather as 2 words so you’ll have the right number for your Xth Cousin. Take 8th cousin. To go 8 up you need 8 words, so that’s 6 Greats (6G) + Grand + Father = 8. Spelling it correctly then, your 8th Cousin is your 6G Grandfather’s Brother’s 6G Grandson. X up > brother > X down.

4.5 For the record, remember I said that the math works if you consider your Brother as a 0th Cousin. Try the cheat sheet: 0th Cousin means…0 up (you’re still on you!) > brother (your Brother) > 0 down (you’re still on your Brother!) So 0th Cousin is your Brother, and it checks!

4.6 And the beauty part of the cheat sheet is that it works with other kinship terms, too. Notice that your 1st Cousin is your Father’s (1) Brother’s (0) son…1 + 0 = 1. Your 2nd Cousin is your Father’s (1) 1st Cousin’s (1) son…1 + 1 = 2. And your 3rd Cousin is your Father’s (1) 2nd Cousin’s (2) son…1+ 2 = 3. Or…and here’s the kicker…your 3rd Cousin is also your Grand Father’s (2) 1st Cousin’s (1) grandson…2 + 1 = 3! Remember, when you go “up,” you also have to come “down” by the same number. Continuing this example, your 3rd Cousin is your Great Grand Father’s (3) Brother’s (0) Great Grand Son…3 + 0 = 3. This is starting to look like a piece of cake, isn’t it? And if you really have a mathematical bent, you might wonder: what does 0 + 3 = 3 mean? It means up and down 0 generations, that is to say, staying on you, your 3rd cousin is your 3rd cousin.

4.7 Let’s try it going in the opposite direction. Who is your 3G Grand Father’s 2nd Cousin’s 3G Grand Son? (Don’t forget, to end up in your generation, we have to go up and then come down the same number of steps.) Well, “3G Grand Father” is 5 words, so that’s 5 up + 2 for his 2nd Cousin = 7…answer: your 7th Cousin! And as long as those number’s add up, you’re golden. For example, sticking with 7th Cousin…let’s change 3G Grand Father to 2G Grand Father. That’s 4 words up…and to get your 7th Cousin, it has to add up to 7…so it’s your 2G Grand Father’s (4) 3rd Cousin’s (3) 2G Grand Son….4 + 3 = 7.

4.8 To review: to get your Xth cousin…go A words up…take that person’s Bth Cousin…and come A words down…making sure A + B = X. For example, how is your 6th Cousin related to your Great Great Grandfather? Using the cheat sheet and the spelling trick: Great Great Grand Father is 4 words…4 up…2 Cousins over…4 down…since 4 + 2 = 6. So your 6th Cousin is your Great Great Grandfather’s 2nd Cousin’s Great Great Grandson. Go to the head of the class! (And once again, when I said “2 Cousins over,” that got us to a 2nd Cousin…if it had been a Brother we needed, it would have been “0 Cousins over.”)

4.9 And you thought calling a Brother an 0th Cousin was weird? What it did was generalize the cheat sheet from X up > Brother > X down…to…A up > Bth Cousin > A down, where A + B = X. You now know how all your ancestors, lineal (Father/Grandfather etc.) and collateral (their Brother/1st Cousin etc.), are related to all your Cousins…in your head!


4.10 Now let’s get “Removed” out of the way, and we’re done with the basics. The trouble with “1st Cousin Once Removed” is that it’s a genealogical term and nobody has any business using it in everyday life. There are 2 reasons for this: (1) The person to whom you say it probably doesn’t  have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about, and it apt to think this relative is one of your Cousins, which it isn’t. And (2) Even if they do know what the term means, its ambiguous and could refer to 2 completely different relatives. They might ask: “Ascending or Descending?” and then you better know what you’re talking about!

4.11 What you should have said is one of 2 things, whichever fits: “He’s my Father’s Fist Cousin” or “He’s my 1st Cousin’s Son.”  And there in a nutshell is the twin definition of a Cousin Removed…a person who is a Cousin to someone in your direct line going back in time, or someone who is the direct descendant of one of your Cousins, going forward in time. Naturally enough, the former is “Ascending,” the latter is “Descending.” But why 2 definitions, and the complicated terminology? Excellent question.

4.12 And the answer to this question is another reason why this term is best used in genealogical contexts. There is an interesting convention we use, one so natural that we hardly think about it. With kinship terms, people in your generation have a reciprocal relationship to you…in other words, you and your Sibling are Siblings to each other…you and your 1st Cousin are 1st Cousins to each other, etc.  But this is not the case when you cross generational lines: you are not your Father’s Father, nor is he his Son’s Son. Same with Uncles and Nephews. That’s because there is no need to specify the generation of your Sibling or Cousin, since it’s by definition your generation. Any other relation could be generations up or generations down, and the terms we use automatically indicate which. It’s a good system, but it breaks down with Cousins Removed.

4.12.1 (And of course, the closeness of the Sibling relationship results in a further division into Brother and Sister, which you will notice are not reciprocal. Altho some cultures do extend the gender differentiation to cousins…and even further…different words for paternal and maternal relatives of all kinds, for example…multiplying the number of kinship terms almost to infinity. In China for example, children have to be drilled on this stuff, like multiplication tables! And some even do it by age…your Mother’s older Sisters are your Big Mothers, her younger Sisters are your Little Mothers. And we don’t…thank heaven for small favors.)

4.13 Suppose for example we didn’t have the words “Uncle” or “Nephew,” but instead used just one word “Nuncle.” You’d be a Nuncle to your Nuncle and he to you. So when you told someone about your Nuncle, you could be referring to an older man (your Uncle) or a child (your Nephew). To be clear, you’d have to say something like Nuncle Ascending or Nuncle Descending…better to say my Father’s Brother or my Brother’s Son, which is exactly what we do when we say Uncle or Nephew.

4.14 But the reason we use Cousin Removed is that it does work better when you’re talking about distant generations. 7th Cousin 5 Times Removed Ascending, complicated as it sounds, is much better than Great Great Great Grandfather’s Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather’s Brother’s Great Great Great Great Great Grandson, wouldn’t you agree? I take that gasp to be a Yes. Heck, it took me 5 minutes to make sure I had that right, even using the X Up > Brother > X Down cheat sheet!

4.15 Simply put, the Removed part tells you which generation, and the Cousin part tells you how they’re related to that generation…or to be more specific, how they’re related to your direct ancestor in that generation. This is why I’ve been saying, a Removed Cousin is not your Cousin…they’re a Cousin to somebody in your family, just not you.

4.16 And remember, Removed Ascending and Removed Descending apply to the 2 participants in a non-reciprocal relationship, just as Father/Son and Uncle/Nephew do. They describe different ends of a cross-generational relationship. But as we saw in 4.13, Ascending and Descending really is a compact way to span dozens of generations and pinpoint one specific individual. Some families use different terminology…I’ve heard of “Augmented” for “Ascending” and “Diminished” for “Descending”…and they jokingly substituted “Demented” for “Diminished”!

4.17 To see how it works, it’s easiest to apply it to the generations nearest you. Ascending…Once Removed is your Father’s generation…Twice Removed is your Grandfather’s generation…3 Times Removed is your Great Grandfather’s generation, etc. And this is important: the number of the generation will match the number of words used, if you use the trick of spelling “Grandfather” as 2 words. Likewise, Descending: Once Removed is your Son’s generation…Twice Removed, your Grandson’s generation…3 Times Removed, your Great Grandson’s generation, etc.

4.18  Now in everyday life, 4 generations up and 4 down are all you’re likely to actually come in contact with…as I’ve mentioned, many people have only vague recollections of their Great Grandparents. Living 2G Grandparents and even 3G Grandparents are certainly not unheard of…the theoretical limit I suppose, if everybody in your family started procreating as soon as is physically possible, would be maybe 8G? But for most living relatives, using the common kinship description rather than the genealogical one makes everything much clearer. And while “Great Grandfather’s 3rd Cousin” is just about as complicated as “3rd Cousin 3 Times Removed,” going back even further, the Cousin Removed system becomes indispensable.

4.19 But to sum up, let me explain something I’ve been stressing, that might have seemed a bit puzzling: a Removed Cousin is not your Cousin…they’re a Cousin to somebody in your family, just not you. Now this is certainly true Ascending…1C 1R is your Father’s 1st Cousin, not yours. But it doesn’t seem to apply to Descending: your cousin Andy has a son Zeke…Zeke is your 1C 1R, but Zeke isn’t somebody’s Cousin…Andy is, namely your 1st Cousin. And this is where the idea of reciprocal again comes into play. Think of it from Zeke’s point of view…you are what to him? You are his Father’s 1st Cousin! To Zeke, his 1C 1R (you) really is “a Cousin to somebody in his family, just not him”…in this case, a 1st Cousin to his Father, Andy. So it does work both up and down. And this is the same interchangeable feature of relationships across generations that we saw in 4.1, with the 2 “different ways” we arrived at the same result.

4.20 Again, we normally avoid this kind of confusion by using different terms to describe the 2 ends of a cross-generational relationship…Father/Son, Uncle/Nephew, etc. The fact that Cousin Removed, without the added Ascending and Descending, breaks this rule is a strike against it…and indeed there is a better system, rarely used as far as I can tell, but one we’ll examine in a future edition of G4BB. But next week: more kinds of Cousins come out of the woodwork! Till then, be yourself, but don’t overdo it…

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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