G4BB pt 13: Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?


13.1  I have suggested  that an excellent way to become fluent in how Family Trees work and how relatives are interconnected is to work things out in your head, as opposed to on paper. Sure, eventually it gets so complicated that — but hold on, you might surprise yourself! The “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” game is perfect as mental gymnastics, and let me start with a small confession.

13.2  Yes, kinship fascinates me…and yes, I’ve studied up on it…but the truth is, it still doesn’t come easy. In fact, if I haven’t been thinking about it in a while, I have to limber up to get back in the swing…and here’s a question I used to use to do that (I don’t use it any more, as I know the answer by heart): How is your 1st Cousin Once Removed Ascending related to your 1st Cousin Once Removed Descending? And of course we’re assuming they are related, on the same side of the family.  

13.3  Let’s tear it apart…and to make sure we’re on the same page: the former, Abner, is your Father’s 1st Cousin…and the latter, Zeke, is your 1st Cousin’s Son. Starting at the bottom and working up, Zeke’s Father is your 1st Cousin. Your Father is a generation up from you, making your Father 2 generations removed from Zeke. And Abner, your Father’s 1C? Well, he can’t be any more removed than 2R, since he is the same generation as your Father.  And he can’t be anything other than a 1st Cousin, since that’s what he is in that generation. So it looks like 1st Cousin Twice Removed is it. But perhaps that just doesn’t seem right. Fortunately, we can double-check it, because in most cases there’s more than one way to skin the family cat.

13.4  We’ll go back down to Zeke. His Father is your 1C, so his Grandfather is your Uncle, which is to say, your Father’s Brother. And there’s the key…your Father and his Brother have the same set of 1st Cousins! From 1C Abner’s point of view, your Father and your Uncle are interchangeable…both are his 1C. So your Father’s 1C Abner is also Zeke’s Grandfather’s 1C…making him Zeke’s 1st Cousin Twice Removed…no muss, no fuss.

13.5  And this is an extremely important concept, that of interchangeability. Not all relatives are, obviously…from your point of view, your Father and your Uncle are very different…one’s your Father and the other isn’t. But from their 1st Cousin’s point of view, your Father and your Uncle are interchangeable…what’s true of one is true of the other, as both are merely 1st Cousins to their 1st Cousin.

13.6  It reminds me again of the Roosevelts. Franklin and Eleanor were 5C 1R…Franklin was Teddy’s 5th Cousin, and Eleanor was Teddy’s niece. So when you marry your 5th Cousin’s niece, what else do you marry? Well, you also marry your 5th Cousin’s daughter, which is to say, a different 5th Cousin, the brother of the “original” 5th Cousin. And indeed, Eleanor’s father Elliott was Teddy’s brother.

13.7  “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” can be played with cards…made out 2 identical decks, each card having a different relative. Then draw from the 2 decks…how is your Great Great Grandfather related to your Grand Uncle Twice Removed? OK, that was a trick question…there’s no such thing as a Removed Uncle…but that’s how it would work. Like anything else, it takes practice. But heck, if they can master a Rubik’s Cube, Family Trees ought to be a cinch!

13.8  And as I found out several years ago, this game is more than just an intellectual curiosity…there are valuable insights to be had. I started by thinking about straight cousin-to-cousin combinations…for example, assuming they are related, how is your 2nd cousin related to your 1st cousin? Needless to say, I had no ready answer, and perhaps you don’t either. But it was by thinking this thru that I came to understand the significance of what I call the fractal nature of a Family Tree, illustrated in Chart 40. 


13.9  Now “fractal” has been a buzz-word for several decades in math and computing circles. In a nutshell, it simply refers to this: small patterns repeating over and over on an ever larger scale. For example, Chart 40 took no time at all to put together, altho it looks at first rather complicated. I started with the simplest 3-square unit: “you”…white square…”sib” and “father”…the green squares. I then copied and pasted this unit to represent a duplicate unit: your Uncle (Father’s Brother) and his 2 Sons (“your 1C”)…the yellow squares. These I connected to “grandfather”…then all of this was copied and pasted to represent the same group of descendants, not from your Grandfather, but from his Brother, ultimately resulting in “your 2C”…the blue squares. Add “great grandfather,” then copy and paste the whole thing yet again for the pink squares. 31 relatives in  9 steps.

13.10  But here’s the insight: Looking at the bottom row, the left half (Chart 40a), there are 2 distinct groups of cousins…the white-green-yellow squares (you, sib, and your 1C) and the blue squares (your 2C). And here’s the kicker: everyone in one group is a 2nd Cousin to everyone in the other group! Spelled out: you are 2C to your 2C…your sib is 2C to your 2C…and your 1C is 2C to your 2C, in answer to the question posed in 13.8. Again it’s the principle of interchangeability…to any of the blue squares, the other blues squares are either his sib or his 1C…but the white-green-yellow group (“your” group) are collectively his 2C with no other differentiation among them. A Family Tree is a great way to “see it from the other fellow point of view”!

13.11   Now add in the right side of the bottom “cousin” row (Chart 40b). Again there are 2 groups: the pink squares…and the white-green-yellow-blue squares…and as before, to anyone in one group, anyone in the other group is a 3C…simple as that! Thus the general answer to the question of how your Ath Cousin is related to your Zth Cousin has 2 parts: (1) If A and Z are different numbers, then the answer is whichever is greater, A or Z…and here we can consider sibs to be 0th Cousins. (2) If A and Z are the same number, the answer could be any number from 0 to A.

13.12  For example: How is your 3C Abner related to your 3C Zeke? In Chart 40c, we see the answer could be sib, 1C or 2C. And in addition, the answer could also be 3C, if Abner and Zeke are descended from different Brothers of your Great Grandfather…in other words, if there were 3 groups of 3rd Cousins, instead of just the 2 groups shown on the chart. Anyway, happy Zoomin’! Time to slip on the old Mailbag. 

13.12.5 But before we do that…a quick clarification. I got into a friendly dust-up with a web pal a few years back on this point. When playing the “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” game, we are assuming there is only one relationship between the 2 individuals. That’s all. For example, your 3C Abner and your 3C Zeke may be both 2nd and 3rd Cousins to each other, altho just 3C to you. You might try sketching out a tree that shows how…but on the honor system this time, cuz I’m not gonna. 😉 😉


 13.13  Dear Stolf: I came across the term “cousin german,” with a small “g”. Apparently everybody has them, no matter where your people come hail from. Can you explain?…from Dobie in Upper Utopia.  

13.14  Jawohl, mein herr. Used in this context, the word “german” has several slightly different meanings. It comes from the Latin word germanus, meaning “of the same parents”…which itself is derived from germen, meaning seed or sprout. Thus it is related to such English words as germ and germinate, as well at germane, “closely connected.” And it’s here that brothers…as well as cousins…come into the picture.

13.15 “Brother german” or “brother-german” is an old-fashioned term meaning “full brother”…of the same parents…as opposed to half, step, or foster brother…or brother by marriage. It was also used in the broader sense of “my own brother,” contrasted with the brothers of others, or people in general being thought of as “my brothers”…and of course, as we have been assuming thru-out G4BB, this applies equally to sisters, and siblings in general. Brother-german is one of a trio of terms used most often in highly formal settings, such as wills and other legal proceedings: 2 individuals with the same mother are uterine siblings…with the same father, agnate or consanguine siblings…with the same 2 parents, siblings-german.

13.16  It’s not surprising that these terms are somewhat outdated, for they come from a time when blood-lines, while traceable thru both parents, were not of equal standing…that of the father being more important…hence consanguine or “same blood” for the father’s side. In fact, it may surprise you to learn, given our current way of thinking, that it wasn’t so long ago that people believed inherited traits were more strongly expressed thru males than females. Thus, people thought the children of brothers would take after each other, and their father’s line in general, much more than the children of sisters, or of a mixed pair of siblings. Is this really true, or did people merely convince themselves of it? Fascinating question.

13.17  And while there’s a politically correct sense in which a married woman taking her husband’s last name is considered a throwback to his “taking possession” of her, there was a much broader context which is lost today. And that was: she was joining a family, say the Smiths, becoming an “honorary” member of it…and as such would be instrumental in passing along the traits of the Smith blood-line. They certainly understood that the mother made contributions to the lineage, and might even improve it. But that was the thinking, what can I say?

13.18  The term “german” is used in a slightly different way in the phrase “cousin german” or “cousin-german.” Obviously, it cannot literally mean “of the same parents”…so it is instead in the extended sense of “full”…not half, step, foster, or by marriage. And it is telling that the Spanish words for brother and sister are from this linguistic root: hermano and hermana. What’s more, the Spanish term for 1st cousin is primo hermano, literally “brother cousin.” But confusingly enough, “full cousin” would be primo carnal, just as “full brother” would be hermano carnal.

13.19  BTW, remember the French calling their siblings-in-law “good brother” and “good sister” back in 11.2beau-frère and belle-soeur?  How about your “milk brother” and “milk sister”? That’s Spanish for foster siblings, raised by your parents but of no blood relation to you…hermano/hermana de leche. And to bring it full circle, the general location of today’s Germany was in the days of the Roman Empire called Germania…but in this case adapted from a Gallic word meaning neighbor, what the Gauls called people existing east of the Rhine. (Latin for Gaul was Gallia.) Interesting the way languages twist and turn and feed into each other, n’est-ce pas?

13.20  Next time, “Kinship in Action!” But remember the old German saying: All blood is the same color.

 Wicked Ballsy

Yeah…I know…you lepidopterists were going Hey! Hey! and I heard you…and here it is…a moth.

Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved



shameless plugs-german, -french, -swedish, and -lower slobbovian…

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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