G4BB part 11: Say “2nd Uncle!”

Say “Second Uncle!”


11.1 The other day, I called up my brother and his wife answered. I said: “It’s your brother-in-law.” She repaid: “Yeah…y’know, they oughta change that law.” In fact, I believe she’s circulating a petition. Actually, I did call, but she didn’t say that…that’s just how my mind works. But imagine being able to say this: “May I introduce you to my sister Sue, and my good brother Ricky…”

11.2 That’s what you’d say over in France, where they don’t have in-laws. It’s beau-frère and belle-soeur for brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Across generations, they say beau-père and belle-mère…beau-fils and belle-fille. Has kind of a friendly, non-confrontational twang to it, nez pah? I suspect there are other such revelations to be discovered in the kinship vocabularies of other languages and cultures. For example, in German, the paternal line of direct ancestors runs as follows, bearing in mind that “ß” is the German ligature for “ss”…Vater, Großvater, Ur-Großvater, Ur-Ur-Großvater, Ur-Ur-Ur-Großvater, etc. (Er, er, er, and not for nothing, but as the experts say: In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more graphemes are joined as a single glyph…for those of you who glyph a damn.) Yeah, and in Dutch, Vater is Vader…interesting…

11.3 Trouble is, compiling such translations isn’t easy, short of flipping back and forth thru a dictionary, and even that can led to erroneous results. Websites seem to list just the most common terms…and finding a “Cousins Chart” in another language is like finding the Rosetta Stone wrapped in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Obviously, I’m not Googling it right, but I did let loose with a WOO HOO! when I found that diagram in Spanish (Chart 30 from last week.) But no worries…persistence is the essence of intelligence.

11.4 See, I’d been on the track of “2nd Uncle,” in English that is, for some time…and it took some time for the penny to drop, and for it to occur to me that it was borrowed from a foreign tongue. I’d find things like this…

Or this…

Then this…

Which is great, except I was fishing for something a little closer to home than Cyprus, no offense.

11.5 What I called last week the HS or Hispanic System was the mother-lode. They have an interesting way of dealing with Greats too, which I’ll explore at some point. For now, I’ve redone Chart 19 as Chart 34, using the “2nd Uncle” terminology, and extending it downward into “nephew” territory. I’m also including the bottom half of the original Chart 19 for comparison.

11.6 I should mention that I’m not really seriously suggesting that the English-speaking world adopt this format…better to try to add a new chess-piece to the chess-board, or a 5th suit to a standard deck of playing cards. On the other hand, as the 3 above citations demonstrate, it has made inroads here and there. So for the sake of argument…comparing the Hispanic and Anglo-American Systems, some things are better, others not. And much remains the same, which is to say, annoying complexities are shifted from one part of the Family Tree to another.


11.7 The primary improvement…and it’s a biggie…is the removal of Cousins Removed, which so many people view as confusing and illogical. With HS, the only individuals who are identified as your Cousins are those of Your Generation…everybody “ascending” is a kind of Uncle…”descending,” a kind of Nephew. It neatly eliminates the generational ambiguity of “1st Cousin Twice Removed,” who could be very old or very young compared to you. This alone makes it very appealing…and very natural-sounding, as you are a 2nd Nephew to your 2nd Uncle, etc.

11.8 And HS also simplifies the fundamental identification of those all-important Numbered Cousins. Instead of your 2nd Cousin being the Son of your First Cousin Once Removed Ascending…your 2nd Cousin is now the Son of your 2nd Uncle, and on along horizontally. For these key relationships, the terminology is crystal clear.

11.9 That being said, there is a shift of confusion…yes, your 2nd Cousin is now the son of a 2nd Something, and not of some kind of 1st Something, and that’s good. But “1st Cousin Once Removed” at least told you exactly whose 1st Cousin that person was…removed one generation from you, i.e. your Father’s. With HS, your Father’s 1st Cousin is your 2nd Uncle, his 2nd Cousin is your 3rd Uncle, his 3rd Cousin is your 4th Uncle, etc. The numbers no longer match…but then they didn’t match when your 2C was the son of your 1C 1R either, so it’s a trade-off.

11.10 Likewise, the Son of your 1st Cousin is now your 2nd Nephew, not your 1st Nephew, which again is confusing…too bad your 1st Cousin can’t be your 2nd Brother! And I’d be willing to wager that somewhere, they do just that!

11.11 There is one drawback to the HS…but given the way HS cleans up the Cousins mess, I’d say it’s worth living with. And that is: with the AAS, the “Removed” does prove to be a compact way of identifying collateral relatives many generations removed from you. For example, “2nd Cousin 6X Removed” succinctly pinpoints the 2nd Cousin of your Great Great Great Great Grandfather. (Remember, counting “Grand father” as 2 words, that direct ancestor is described by 6 words for 6X Removed.) With HS, “2nd Cousin 6X Removed” is replaced by “2nd Great Great Great Great Grand Uncle,” spreading that nasty…and easy to get wrong…repetition of “Greats” from the lineals to the collaterals. Not so bad when you say “4G” for “Great Great Great Great,” but not ideal either. That’s why I kind of like the German Ur-Ur-Ur-Ur- formulation…at least, it’s more fun to say…



11.12 Now a follow-up to last week’s demonstration of how John Adams and Samuel Adams were 2nd Cousins. Being an Anglo-Saxon “founding family,” the genealogy of the Adams of Boston is about as complete as is possible. There are still a few gaps, and information is less known…and more prone to misinterpretation…when dealing with records from “the Old Country.” But it’s interesting to learn, for example, that John Adams was descended from the legendary John Alden and Priscilla Mullins…their Daughter Ruth Alden Bass was the Mother of John Adams’ paternal Grandmother Hannah Bass. But just when I thought I could lay it all to rest, I chanced upon the claim that John Adams and his wife Abigail Smith were themselves 3rd Cousins!

11.13 First I checked with Uncle Wiki, but that wasn’t much help. The relationship is stated as fact, given a citation that didn’t seem to be relevant, and in fact there was some controversy. You know, when Uncle Wiki doesn’t seem to answer your question, one thing you can do it click on the tab at the top labeled “Discussion”…right next to “Article.” A lot of what you’ll find there  is Wikipedians being their anal fussbudget selves…boring.

11.14 But there was a mention…from 2 years ago…that historians believed John and Abigail were related in other ways besides 3rd Cousins…and a poster wondered which historians these were, and what those relationships could have been, as there was no elaboration and no references. This assertion has since been removed from the main article…that’s the main purpose of the Discussion page, I guess. But I wasn’t prepared to accept even that they were 3rd Cousins until I saw it with my own eyes…do you blame me?…so I was off to the races…

11.15 To be 3rd Cousins, they would need to have Great Grandparents who were siblings. On the web, biographies of Abigail Smith Adams…and biographies in general for that matter…typically don’t go back 3 generations. I was beginning to think I might be better off with a good old fashioned “book from the library.” But the John/Samuel quest was fun, so I formulated this plan of attack: I listed the birth-names of John Adams’ 8 Great Grandparents…these consisted of 1 Adams, and 7 other surnames, which is of course how families get boiled down. I then began rooting around in Abigail’s genealogical attic, looking for similar names.

11.16 I didn’t have far to go, hitting Bingo! with Boylston. The proof was in a book about Massachusetts families written in 1855, and available on another invaluable web resource, Google Books. Hence I was able to put together this tree. And it is here we discover why one of John Adams’ brothers, Peter Boylston Adams, was the first of old Henry Adams’ some-400 descendants to have a middle name…and where John’s son and future president John Quincy got his, too. I suppose it would be gilding the lily to throw in that Abigail’s cousin Dorothy Quincy was married to John Hancock, so I won’t.

11.17 But I will say this: John and Abigail being 3rd Cousins means John Quincy and his 5 Siblings were all Double 4th Cousins to each other, besides being Siblings. Their CR was thus 129/256, versus 128/256 = 1/2 for normal Sibs. Decimally, that’s .5078 versus .5000.

11.18 Next week, we’ll do some cyphering with the “Stolf Tabulation” and answer some more letters…till then, remember: You can’t write with dry ink…

Wicked Ballsy

I’m not saying that back in the day every comic strip was funny…but at least I understood them all. Today, much of the time, they go right over my head. Perhaps because I’m out of touch, but more likely because the humor is so infernally strained. And it is in that spirit that I offer this modest bit of genealogical spoofery. I realize that precisely what the yellow dot is supposed to represent is open to various interpretations…and you know what? That’s fine with me…ciao…

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

shameless 2nd plugs 3X removed, but they keep coming back..

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Other Daily blog at http://stolf.wordpress.com (Stolf’s Blog)

More bloggage at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com

Audio samples coming soon…or just check the podcasts…

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