part 10 G4BB: No Removeds

No Removeds For You!


10.1 In reading blogs, discussion groups, and webpages over the past several months, I’ve come to understand some of the drawbacks of what I might call the Anglo-American System of kinship terms. Actually, we’re all “Eskimos.” That’s because in 1871, anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan published his ground-breaking book Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family. It was the first comprehensive survey of the way societies organize and classify how people are related to each other. He grouped systems into 6 basic types, and arbitrarily named each type after one example of a culture that used it, thus we are on the Eskimo Plan.

10.2 Of course, nothing having to do with the Human Race could ever be that simple, and there are many sub-categories and exceptions to the rules. One of the primary responsibilities of eggheads (academics) is to argue amongst themselves, and over the past 140 years, anthropologists and sociologists haven’t been slack. Thus you may read where Morgan’s work is today considered out-dated or obsolete. More likely, the truth is that if there are 10,000 such eggheads, there are 9,987 distinct systems of classification. That having been said, his basic 6 categories remain a useful introduction to the subject, and a valuable learning tool for the non-professional. You may peruse it at your leisure if you’re so inclined, it’s on the web.

10.3 But getting back to the Anglo-American System or AAS…the system used thru-out the English-speaking world today…there are shortcomings. Perhaps the worst is that so many people today do not understand the system…they find it confusing and illogical. This is due no doubt to the fact that people today have less incentive to understand it, since they don’t need to use it the way past generations did. Our mobility has exploded in the past century, spreading families out geographically…families that in the past would have spent generations living and dying within 5 miles of each other. We care less today about blood-lines and ancestors…we have no clans or tribes…and in fact even the immediate or nuclear family is becoming more fragmented, as divorces rise and out-of-wedlock births increase. And one of the primary functions of a kinship system, knowing who among your peers are available to you as marriage partners, has become a non-issue.

10.4 And when we don’t understand something, we make up our own rules. This is seen today most critically in the confusion between 2nd Cousins and Cousins Removed. Some people use the terms correctly, others don’t, and this leads to miscommunication. If someone mentions their 2nd Cousin, they might mean the Son of their Father’s First Cousin, or they might mean the Son of their First Cousin. And in fact, there is a perfectly acceptable solution…just spell it out! Just say, my Cousin’s Son, if that’s who you mean. That’s never wrong, and always completely understood, with no ambiguity or confusion. If you’re talking about your Father’s Cousin’s Son, just say that…altho it starts to get cumbersome, and that’s how “2nd Cousin” came into being, as a shorthand way of explaining a more complex relationship. But then today, it may never come up …you may not even know who that person is, let alone have any reason to mention them.

10.5 Further, I’ve found that even among people who completely understand and can use AAS, there is still the complaint that it is unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Why don’t we have a better system? And it turns out, lo and behold, we do! And it’s used today by the Spanish-speaking world, with various local modifications, encompassing some 350 million souls.

10.6 Well, I take that back…kinship systems are inherently complicated, and what we might call the Hispanic System or HS has its own peculiar twists and turns. But in the specific area of 2nd Cousins versus Cousins Removed, it is a much clearer system to use and understand. If fact, for this reason HS terminology has spilled over into AAS at various times and places in the past, and in tracing ancestors, you might come across its influence. Chart 30 is so well done that I am presenting it first exactly as I found it, altho I will modify it as we go.

10.7  While Chart 30 is written in Spanish, the meanings are obvious given the placement of individuals in the typical Family Tree diagram. Ego is you…and your Brother is your Hermano (for some reason all terms on this chart, except spouse,  are plural.) Primo means male Cousin…Prima is female Cousin, and indeed all terms will be gender-dependent. As you follow horizontally along Your Generation, you’ll see 1st Cousin = Primo Carnal…2nd Cousin = Primo Segundo…3rd Cousin = Primo Tercero…etc. But the key thing to notice is this: you have no other Cousins!

10.8 Which is to say, you have no Cousins Removed, neither Ascending nor Descending. I hate to sound like Carl Denham in the movie King Kong, when he says “I’m going right into a theme-song here,” but what have I been saying lo these past weeks? Removed Cousins are Cousins to somebody, just not to you! A blogger summed it up best when he pointed out: If my Brother has a Son, I have Nephew. If my Cousin has a Son, I have another Cousin. What sense does that make? Well, language doesn’t have to make sense, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to not make sense either.

10.9 There are several interesting features to HS, but for now, I will re-write the relevant parts of Chart 30 in English. Most importantly, notice the Removed Cousins in yellow. And here we come up against one of the difficulties of translating from one language to another. The Spanish word carnal…which also has the same meaning as in the English “carnal knowledge”…in the context of kinship has no simple English equivalent. The phrase hermano carnal (not on this chart) means “natural brother”…which is to say, not thru marriage, not your brother-in-law. In fact, in recent years simply saying carnal has become a slang term for any close male friend, similar to the English “bro.”  Thus tio carnal might seem to mean “natural uncle”…in the sense of the Brother of your Father, not someone married to the Sister of your Father. But as you can see, in the context of the Removeds, it also means “1st Uncle”…while at the same time, hermano carnal does not mean “1st brother.”

10.10 Anyway…next week we’ll look more closely at how HS improves upon AAS in the dreaded area of “Cousins”…but I believe last week I promised some Letters to the Editor, and here they come.

10.11  Dear Stolf: My Father and his Brother married Identical Twin Sisters. Thus my Cousin and I are 1st Cousins on both side of the family…Double 1st Cousins. Could you go over again how closely that makes us genetically related?  Would it be 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4?…from Bill in Buffalo.


10.12 Dear Bill: This is why I said that Identical Twins knock CR into a cocked hat. Let’s start with a simpler example. Suppose Annie and Zoe are Identical Twins, and they marry men that are unrelated to each other. Their daughters are Alice and Zelda. How are Alice and Zelda related? They are of course 1st Cousins, today, tomorrow, and always. Those are the cold hard facts of the Family Tree. The CR for 1st Cousins is 1/8. But Alice and Zelda are more closely related than normal 1st Cousins. That’s because from a genetic standpoint, their Mothers Annie and Zoe are the same person, call her “Zannie.” It is as if the Fathers of Alice and Zelda each mixed their genes with Zannie, and the 2 resulting daughters thus have the CR of Half-Siblings, or 1/4.

10.13 In your case, you and your Cousin are indeed Double 1st Cousins…nothing can change that. Your Fathers are Siblings, your Mothers are Siblings…that’s Double 1st Cousins. But like Alice and Zelda, you are more closely related than normal Double 1st Cousins. Genetically, it is as if you are Half Brothers, with the same Mother and Fathers who are Brothers…what’s called “Enhanced Half Siblings.” (With “non-enhanced” Half Siblings, the 2 unshared parents are not related in any way.) Thus, while it’s true that according to your Family Tree you are Double 1st Cousins…genetically you are instead 1st Cousins thru your Fathers, but Half-Siblings (not 1st Cousins) thru your Mothers, who as Identical Twins remember are genetically the same person.

10.14 Here I’ve repeated the Charts for Double 1st Cousins and “3/4” Siblings. And below them, Chart 32 is your relationship. Notice how, while technically also a Double 1st Cousin tree, it mimics the 3/4 Sibling chart, except there are 4 parents, not 3, in the generation above yours…which is to say, 2 mothers, instead of 1. So for normal Double 1st Cousins, the CR is indeed 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4. For you, it is 1/8 (1st Cousins) + 1/4 (Half Siblings) = 3/8. Your genetic relationship is thus half-way between Full Siblings (½ = 4/8) and Half Siblings (1/4 = 2/8), what is somewhat misleadingly called Three-Quarter Siblings…misleading because your CR is not 3/4, but 3/8.

10.15 Bottom line: To those who don’t know your Family Tree, you are 1st Cousins. But genetically, you are more closely related than Half Siblings, altho not quite as closely related as Full Siblings…specifically, 3 times more closely related than normal 1st Cousins, and 1½ times more closely related than normal Double 1st Cousins.  Pretty cool, sez  me.


10.16  Dear Stolf: I believe a while back you said that Teddy Roosevelt and FDR were 5th cousins. Have any other Presidents been related, apart form the Big 3? …from Veronica in Toronto.

10.17 Dear Veronica: Yeah, I think I said that about the Roosevelts…and if I didn’t, I was sure thinking it, by George. Now by the Big 3, I assume you mean the 2 Father/Son combos: John Adams/John Quincy Adams and Bush 41/Bush 43…and the Grandfather/Grandson: William Henry Harrison/Benjamin Harrison. Beyond that, well, funny you should ask…

10.18 There is currently a fad in the Media, egged on by genealogists with too much time on their hands, for what’s called “horizontal genealogy.” Thus you see where Nixon and Carter were 6th Cousins, Hoover and Bush 41 were 10th Cousins, Ford and Obama are 10th Cousins Once Removed, etc. All well and good, except there’s little chance of significant shared genetics beyond 3rd or 4th Cousins. I like it because, and only because, it reminds people that numbered Cousins are of  Your Generation, “horizontal,” descended from the Siblings of Grandparents…and not the descendants of your 1st Cousin, “vertical.”

10.19 As far as significant Presidential relationships…no Brothers or even 1st Cousins, ever.  About the only one of interest is James Madison and Zachary Taylor, who were 2nd Cousins. There are examples of 3rd Cousins Removed 3, 4 and 5 Times…a couple of 4th Cousins and 5th Cousins Removed Once, but that’s pretty much it. Unless you go for the fact that George Washington’s Half Aunt married James Madison’s Half Grand Uncle…and who knows, maybe you do. That’s according to Uncle Wiki, who also claims Woodrow Wilson’s 2nd wife was the Great Great Grand Niece of Thomas Jefferson.

10.20 But there is one other I like…you may have heard 2nd President John Adams and founding father Samuel Adams referred to today as “the cousins”…and at the time, they were sometimes called “The Adams Brothers.” Turns out they had Grandfathers who were Brothers, making them 2nd Cousins. I verified it, and put a chart together, presented in today’s Wicked Ballsy…Till next time, remember: No Removeds For You!

Wicked Ballsy

It has been said of Henry Adams, “His descendants have probably filled more high public offices in the United States and rendered greater public service than the descendants of any other man who ever landed on the coast of America.” As you can see, John Adams’ Grandfather Joseph and Samuel Adams’ Grandfather John were Brothers, the Sons of Henry’s Son Joseph. Just for kicks, I’ve included other male collaterals of the direct line ancestors who were also named John, Samuel, and Joseph.

But that’s just scratching the surface…of Henry’s 381 direct descendants down 4 generations that I counted…and it’s believed he had more than that…I found 29 Johns, 22 Samuels, and 15 Josephs…about half of those were in John and Samuel’s generation…and approximately half of those had the surname Adams. Still, that’s some work for whoever wrote out the place-cards for the family gatherings. Oh, yeah, and of the 381, only one….just one…had a middle name. That’s how it was done back then…well, until JQA came along…

And BTW…yes, it was not uncommon for 2 Siblings to be given the same name, since infant mortality was so high…re Samuel’s 2 Brothers named John in the bottom row…

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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