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5 Worst Mistakes in Genealogy
As Bob and Doug McKenzie say on their “12 Days of Xmas” record…listen and don’t get stuck!
49.1 Mistake #1…2nd Cousins…Some people think the tomato is a fruit…some people think we never actually went to the Moon, altho at the same time, Elvis is living there now. This can’t be helped. All you can do is set a good example and hope for the best. As we move past the everyday kinship of parents, grandparents, uncles & aunts, siblings, and 1st cousins…we encounter 3 types of relationships that today are less important in our lives, hence less well understood: our 1st cousins’ offspring…our parent’s 1st cousins…and the offspring of our parents’ 1st cousins. Notice that the first is of the succeeding generation to ours…the second is of the preceding generation…and only the third is of our generation, on the same “level,” and the same distance from a common ancestor, that being 3 steps down from a great grandparent.
49.2 The key rule to remember is: “Numbered” cousins are of your generation…and numbered cousins removed are numbered cousins to someone in your direct line, just not to you! Thus 1st cousins are descended from your parents’ siblings…2nd cousins from your grandparents’ siblings, 3rd cousins from your great grandparents’ siblings, etc. They are all “numbered” cousins, not removed, because they are of your generation. Your parents’ cousins are once removed from you…your grandparents’ cousins, twice removed…etc. And just as you call your grandparent’s 1st cousin your “1st cousin twice removed,” from your grandparent’s 1st cousin’s point of view, you are his “1st cousin twice removed.” This explains why your own 1st cousin’s grandchild is your also 1st cousin twice removed…it works the same whether you are on the “younger” end (the other person is “ascending) or the “older” end (the other person is “descending”) of the relationship.
49.3 Yes, I know…dictionaries today have for the most part abrogated their mission to give the correct meaning of words, and now merely report what’s generally done, mistakes and all. But trust me, you’re never going to get anywhere in genealogy if you get this wrong…you’ll be pitied by the generous, and ridiculed by the rest. Plus no one will know what you’re talking about, because you yourself don’t know what you’re talking about.
49.4 Mistake #2…Great or Grand Uncle…Both are acceptable terms for your parent’s uncle…in fact, there are legal decisions that say they are interchangeable, for the purposes of interpreting wills, etc. But there is a disconnect…according to Google hits, “great uncle” is used 8 times as often as “grand uncle,” but “great nephew” is 1 2/3 times as common as “grand nephew.” More surprisingly, “great aunt” is 13 times as common as “grand aunt,” but “great niece” is twice as common as “grand niece.”
49.5 At any rate, many involved in genealogy prefer “grand” for the first generation uncle beyond your father, followed by “greats” for all the rest, the same way it’s done with grandparents and great grandparents. This means that far back in your family tree, brothers will have the same number of G’s-for-great…in other words, your 4G grandfather is the brother of your 4G grand uncle. Otherwise, your 4G grandfather’s brother would be your 5G uncle, and that 4 vs. 5 is bound to cause confusion, get it?
49.6 Mistake #3…Step versus Half…A dog is not a cat…and a half-brother is not a step-brother. Saying one when you mean the other is like saying “horse” when you mean “cow.” Steps are the relatives of your parent’s spouse who isn’t your parent. Typically, you aren’t related to your steps. Halfs are related to you…you share one parent, but not both. Thus halfs are consanguineal relations (thru blood), steps are affinal relations (thru marriage). Chart 168 shows half-sisters and step-sisters in both the traditional and Parental Tree diagrams.
49.7 But oddly enough, a step could be a half under the right circumstances. Say for example, Mike and Carol from The Brady Bunch had an affair while their respective spouses were still alive, and little Cindy was the result. She would then be a half-sister to Marcia and Jan, and also to Mike’s 3 boys. If the spouses then died, and Mike and Carol married, Cindy and the boys would be, by definition anyway, both half-siblings and step-siblings…altho in everyday life, probably just plain “siblings”
49.8 Mistake # 4…Multiple Relations… In the vast majority of cases, you and a relative are related in only one way…you are brother and sister, grandparent and grandchild, uncle and nephew, etc. You grow up assuming that, for example, since he’s your uncle, he can’t be your anything else. And for everyday kinship classification, that makes perfect sense. When there are the multiple relationships the closest one tends to “trump” the others in terms of how you describe your relationship…and this simplification is certainly practical. But while not thought of in everyday life, those “other” relationships are just as real.
49.9 And this isn’t some fussy academic technicality…the effect of those relationships is cumulative, which is to say, you add them together and the resulting total means 2 individuals are more closely related than just the one “primary” relationship would suggest. A typical example is double 1st cousins…that is, 1st cousins on their fathers’ side, because their fathers are brothers…and 1st cousins on their mothers side, because their mothers are sisters.
49.10 Now the Coefficient of Relationship between “single” 1st cousins is 1/8…the chances of 2 1st cousins sharing any given gene from their grandparents is 1 in 8. But with double cousins, since this 1/8 possibility exists independently on both sides of the family, there are 2 different sets of genes that can be shared, not just one set. So your chances naturally double. Thus the CR between double first cousins is 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4…and where the degree of relationship is important, in legal or medical matters for example, this becomes relevant.
49.11 Indeed, we all have a sense that the children resulting from a brother/sister union are more closely related than “normal” siblings…but perhaps you never really stopped to think why that is…cumulative kinship supplies the answer. And so as not to offend anyone, let’s take Cleopatra and the Ptolemy clan as an example.
49.12 Geez Stolf, can’t you do any better than that? I know…I told Cool Daddy he could do a chart…I should have known better…here, how about this…
49.13 OK then…Cleopatra VII is “our” Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra…and you might notice that her mother is only “V”…that’s because our Cleo had an older sister also named Cleopatra, which historians consider Cleopatra VI. I might also mention that nobody really knows who Cleo and her siblings’ mother was exactly…it’s assumed it was her father’s wife, but given the way the Egyptian royals carried on, that’s only an assumption. Further, it is also assumed that Cleo’s parents were brother and sister…altho that might have been full or half…but they could have been merely some manner, simple or complicated, of “cousin.”
49.14 But assuming the parents are siblings, Cleo and her sister Berenice are not only siblings, they are also double 1st cousins…you can verify this by applying the “Doubling Rule” from 46.11…
Cleo’s father is the brother of Berenice’s mother = 1st cousins
Cleo’s mother is the sister of Berenice’s father = 1st cousins
This gives the sisters a CR of 1/4…but the fact that there are only 2 individuals involved as parents, as opposed to 4 individuals with non-interbred double 1st cousins, means there’s another CR of ½ (siblings)…for a total of 3/4. The chances of such “super-sibs” sharing any one gene from their grandparents is 3/4, since there simply aren’t that many grandparents, or different sets of grandparent’s genes, to “go around”…dupes are inevitable, and in the case of harmful recessive genes, those bad traits will express themselves, with unpleasant results.
49.15 And it’s very likely the CR was even higher, based on whatever other ways their parents might have related to each other…after all, the interbreeding didn’t start with them! The thing that stumps people is this: can Cleo’s mother really also be her aunt? If her mother is her father’s sister, then absolutely. Likewise, Cleo’s father is her uncle, being her mother’s brother. In Chart 171, the 3 diagrams start with a “normal” aunt and morph it into a “mother/aunt.”
49.16 Mistake #5…What’s a Generation?…Confusion results if you don’t realize that the genealogical meaning of “generation” is different from the everyday meaning. Your generation in the common sense refers to your “contemporaries”…those who are about the same age as you. These can be grouped together into larger “formal” generations…The Baby Boomers, the WWII “Greatest” Generation, the Jazz Agers of the Roaring Twenties, etc.
49.17 But in genealogy, a generation refers to all individuals who are descended by the same number of steps from a common ancestor…and the difference is, they need not be “about the same age.” A good example is Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. They were about the same age, he being almost 3 years older than she was. But they belonged to different generations of their family, he being her father’s 5th cousin, and thus her 5th cousin once removed. Yes, it goes back to the “numbered” non-removed cousins…they, along with your siblings, are your genealogical generation, no matter what your chronological ages may be. And that’s how, genealogically, a person can belong to 2 generations at once.
49.18 As we can see in Chart 172, X is the result of a “cross-generational” union…that of 2nd cousins once removed. X is a member of his own generation, one down from his mother. But he is also a member of his mother’s generation, since both he and his mother are one step down from a pair of 2nd cousins, who of course are of the same generation. Weird, I know, but that’s how it works. Next week, we hit the old feedbag…sorry, mailbag. Happy New Year, dear friends!
Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved
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