G4BB 87: “Quarter Cousins” Both Exist and Don’t Exist…Woo Hoo!


“Quarter Cousins” Both Exist and                                     Don’t Exist…Woo Hoo!                                              

87.1  There is an eternal struggle…in genealogy and in life generally…between Accurate and Picky. Accurate will say: “Well, actually so-and-so is thus-and-such.” Picky will respond: “Yeah, OK, technically.” And Accurate will say: “No, not technically…really.”  My take is that there is no need for this conflict…we are dealing with 2 different things…2 different ways in which kinship terms are used. Call one “Geni” for Genealogical…call the other “Pop” for Popular…or colloquial…common-place…every-day.

87.2  Geni exists so that speakers of English can communicate with one another and understand what they’re talking about. Each Geni term has a precise meaning and that’s that. What would be the point otherwise? Pop is what people say in their day-to-day-lives…talking about real families and real relationships. Pop can hue exactly to Geni…or it can diverge widely…here are 2 examples…

87.3  Quite a while ago, while researching the use of “Ascending/Descending” to distinguish the 2 “ends” of a 1st cousin once removed relationship, I came across a blogger who said that in their family, they always used the terms “Augmented” and “Diminished”…taken from types of musical chords. And over the years, the term “Diminished” had jokingly devolved into “Demented.” Now that’s one fun family, I don’t care who you are…

87.4  And just recently, I read of a person “Abe” whose father “Zeke” had 2 families…Zeke had a bunch of siblings thru his father and mother…but Zeke’s father also had a second wife, and a lot a children with her as well. Now Zeke was always very precise about this…his full siblings were his son Abe’s uncles and aunts…whereas his half-siblings were Abe’s half-uncles and half-aunts. He considered his half-relations “not my real family”…and with respect to Abe, Zeke’s point was: “They are not your real family either…which is why we call them half-‘s.” And indeed, while begrudgingly acknowledged as relatives, there was not a lot of connection between these 2 groups of Zeke’s father’s children. Abe concluded by saying that Zeke would have made a great family historian, because of his attention to these kind of details.

87.5   Well, sure…for Zeke, there was no difference between Geni and Pop usage…relationships are what they are…and he valued the closer relationships more than the more distant ones. You might not agree, were you in his situation, but that is the essence of Pop…each family, and each person within that family, is free to describe …and value…relationships as they choose.

87.6  In Chart 302 I have listed the most common “translations” between Genealogical and Popular usage. Bear in mind, these are not errors…they are simply abbreviations (as grand uncle is shortened to just uncle)…approximations (as your father’s 1st cousin being your “uncle” is similar to your father’s brother being your actual uncle, just one step “sideways” along the family tree)…or matters of curtesy or affection (as calling your wife’s  mother “Mom.”) One I’ve not included on this list is calling your 1st cousin’s son your “2nd cousin” instead of 1st cousin once removed. This is indeed an error…it is certainly not an abbreviation or a curtesy…and it fails also as an approximation since a true 2nd cousin is of your generation and a 1C1R descending is not.

87.7  Looking at Chart 303, you might say that all 3 “shapes” look about the same…all triangular, after all. But they are not, owing to the differences in generations between the 2 related individuals. This is why in Spanish, 1C1R (middle diagram) is called “2nd nephew”…and no one would claim that your nephew and your 1st cousin are “approximately the same thing”…no more than you would say that of your son and your brother…that difference in generations makes all the difference.

87.8  Now there are 2 groups of querulous people running loose. There are the snooty genealogists who think, again from The Andy Griffith Show, that Aunt Bee is nuts for calling both a father and his son her nephews. Then there are the indignant “normal folk” who think that 2nd cousin once removed ascending is a lot of fussy nonsense…cousins are cousins, that’s all, case closed. Thank goodness most people don’t fall into these 2 categories. Most people, if they had a half-brother, would probably introduce them, completely unselfconsciously, as their brother…while on the other hand, they would fascinated, as I was, to discover that their grandmother had a half-brother they knew nothing about. Not a brother, but a half-brother…because in my case, after her mother died in childbirth, her father remarried…that much I knew…but then had a son with my grandmother’s step-mother…that I didn’t know…but it’s all part of the family story, you see?

87.9  Thus we come to this cranky individual I found on the net…who wants it known that there simply is no such thing as a half-relative. And as you might expect, this erroneous conclusion is based upon a series of premises that are themselves completely wrong at every turn. The full screed is available here…as is the large number of replies he got, most con, but a few pro. And I must say it’s a wonderful thing we can all express our opinions, in public…and not be hit by a volley of stones the next time we walk out of our door, as can happen in some uncivilized parts of the world. The comments range from sublime to ridiculous…I’m not sure anyone went so far as to call this fellow a buffoon…justified as it might be…since I honestly didn’t read every one all the way thru. Perhaps you’d like to….um, buffoon him, I mean.

87.10  But let’s take him on…my standard bicolor “typewriter ribbon” format…he’s black italics, I’m red…and remember, I’m always right 😉 😉 …BTW, emphasis (in bold) is his, unless I state otherwise…

87.11  There is No Such Thing as a Half-Cousin! One of my pet peeves is a term that I see online over and over: someone claiming to be a “half first cousin” or a “half second cousin once removed” or something similar. Sorry folks, but there is no such thing as a “half first cousin.” This is a startling proclamation, when you think abut it…you might as well say there is no such thing as tomatoes, Buicks, or tranquilizers. Oh really now? Hmmmm…interesting. No Buicks, eh? Except there’s one parked just outside actually…

87.12  I know that lots of families use that term to refer to various relatives, but there simply is no such thing in the U.S. NOTE: I will describe references used in the U.S. It is possible that relations are described differently in other countries and especially in languages other than English. Am I understanding this right? There could  be half-1st cousins elsewhere, just not here? They can have them, but we can’t? You don’t mean to say “I Hate America” is behind all this? Naaah, that’s just too weird.

87.13  Many people think that a “half first cousin” is someone who shares one grandparent with you but not both of them. For instance, my great-grandfather was married twice. He had several children by his first wife. The wife then died in childbirth and great-grandfather later remarried and had more children by his second wife. Sounds familiar…I am descended from great-grandfather and his first wife. I recently met a man who is descended from great-grandfather and his second wife. Some people would think that this other man and I are half-second cousins. “Half” apparently refers to a mistaken belief that we only share half the relationship because of our different great-grandmothers. In fact, we are second cousins. Period.  Emphasis mine…so let’s take a look at this so far…

87.14  “…that we only share half the relationship…” He calls this a “mistaken belief” when it is a simple genetic fact. Same 2 great-grandparents, we share 1/32 of our genes as 2nd cousins…same great grandfather, different great grandmothers, we share 1/64 of our genes…as…well, call it what you will…but the relationship is halved. In the first case, the 2 descedants both got their genetic heritage from families A and B…in the second, one from families A and B, the other from families A and C. Not the same thing. Period and double-period.

87.15  In the United States, the standard reference for defining family relationships is Black’s Law Dictionary. It is primarily a legal reference and is used by courts, lawyers, genealogical organizations, and many others. Completely wrong…in courts of law, case law determines the outcome. In determining what terms mean in a legal sense, Black’s is a general starting point, not the deciding factor. And genealogical organizations all follow the accepted conventions, of which half-relatives is one.

87.16  Black’s Law Dictionary defines first cousins as:“The children of one’s aunt or uncle.” Note that it says “aunt OR uncle,” not both. All that is required is to share one aunt or one uncle, not both. OK, in the first place, he is misreading the use of the word “or”…that is, “aunt or uncle” here means “parent’s siblings,” which of course could be your parent’s brother or your parent’s sister. It certainly doesn’t mean you don’t have to be the child of the same uncle and aunt union to be 1st cousins…for in fact, only one of those is presumed to be your blood relative anyway. Your father’s brother could have children with many women…all the offspring are your 1st cousins, regardless of whom the mothers are, simply because that uncle is your father’s brother.

87.17  But in the second place, he is begging the question big-time. Now these days the phrase “begging the question” is commonly misused, intended to mean “raises the question” or “causes a person to ask.” What it actually means is to pre-suppose your conclusion as part of your argument. The classic case…and I mean no disrespect, but it is what it is, folks…is when some one says that everything in a religious text is true…and how do we know this? Because the text itself says so! Or when a parent says: I’m the boss in this house and everything I say goes. The child asks why…and the parent responds: Because I said so, and I’m the boss in this house! “Begging the question” is akin to “circular reasoning,” and while the examples I gave are pretty transparent, it can sometimes be very subtle and tough to tease out precisely where this mistake is occurring in a complicated argument. Which is why it’s such a crucial logical concept…and one we ought not to blur with an alternate colloquial meaning…keeping in mind what I said before, that I’m always right… 😉 😉

87.18   Here however, his begging the question is pretty obvious…he wishes to ultimately prove there is no such thing as, say, a half-uncle…therefore, in his mind, “uncle” in Black’s must mean both uncle and half-uncle, since he claims there is no distinction. But he hasn’t proven that yet! At this stage of his argument, “uncle” simply means brother of your parent, leading to a 1st cousin…half-uncles and half-1st cousins aren’t addressed. Presumably, if such things as half-‘s truly exist, your father’s half-brother’s son is going to turn out to be your half-1st cousin…but this particular definition in Black’s says nothing about that one way or another. If there were no half-uncles, he’d be on solid ground…but as I said, that is precisely what remains to be proven…he is assuming to be true what he is trying to prove…he is begging the question.

87.19  Black’s Law Dictionary defines second cousins as: “Persons who are related to each other by descending from the same great-grandfather or great-grandmother.” Note that it says “the same great-grandfather OR great-grandmother,” it does not say BOTH great-grandparents. Second cousins need to share only one great-grandparent. If they do share both great-grandparents, the relationship doesn’t change; they are still second cousins. More faulty reasoning…this time it’s apples & oranges. The difference in these 2 definitions being, one applies to direct ancestors (grandparents of whatever degree) while the other refers to collateral ancestors (father’s brother, or taking it further back, grandfather’s brother, etc.) Isn’t it obvious that between your uncle and aunt, you’re only a blood relative to one…but between your great grandfather and great grandmother, you’re related to both? Yes, Black’s is getting a little fuzzy between these 2 definitions, but then…big surprise!…that’s why it isn’t definitive, as anyone involved in jurisprudence will tell you.

87.20  And the reason Black’s is losing focus here is because of something I’ve written about many times: our laws are derived from British Common Law, which goes back far enough in time that relations were reckoned unilineally…in our case, thru the lines of the fathers only…that’s patrilineally…and further back than that in European antiquity, matrilineally. You and your brother were brothers because you shared the same father…your mothers were irrelevant…and in fact, if you shared the same mother and different fathers, you were not legally blood relatives! As our system of kinship evolved into a bilineal system, you were related, for legal purposes, to both your father’s  family and your mother’s. Thus came into being the legal concept of “half-blood”…and as several posters pointed out, laws in Western society do address this, sometimes making distinctions between full and half-blood, but more frequently declaring that there shall be no distinction between them, for the purposes of the specific law in question.

87.21  As you might expect, Black’s defines “half-blood” too, altho this fellow didn’t read that far. Not being a legal historian, I don’t know what the legal theory is behind the often found stipulation that a law be applied to full and half-blood relations equally. Is it thought of as fairness in some respect? Is it simply to avoid kinship entanglements becoming too complicated, which can easily happen? Or is it harkening back to a tradition of kinship reckoning that is no longer current? I honestly can’t say…but I can unequivocally say that Mr. Pet Peeve doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

87.22  Sadly, even some genealogy software perpetuates this myth concerning half-cousins. I have seen programs that automatically calculate family relationships and provide an answer of “half-cousins” or “half second cousins” or something similar. However, the standard references used in genealogy all disagree. No, my friend, what they all disagree with is YOU. To be blunt, such programs are wrong. What’s in your database? And that’s it? The entire argument? Pretty thin. And those responding take him apart, every which way to Sunday. As I said, most are con, a few are pro…but even then…might I quote just one of them…

87.23  Linda said…Reunion software for Mac uses the “half-cousin” designation. I’m glad you set us straight on this.  First, Linda, who are you calling “us”? Second, Linda, be careful not to be “set straight” too easily, or you’ll find yourself ping-ponging between rival “experts” until you literally don’t know which way is up. Strange that we can have half-sisters or half-brothers, but no half-cousins.  Yes, it certainly is strange, isn’t it?…chuckle, chuckle…even his “friends” make the argument against him. Thank you!  No, thank YOU, Linda…and I’d be proud to call you a half-3rd cousin twice removed-in law…

87.24  Right about now tho, perhaps you’re wondering what happened to the “quarter cousins” I promised. Well, see, there’s the trouble….they exist…and they don’t! LOL

87.25  Sorry…here’s the connection. One of the posters to the above quoted the definition of “half-cousin” from  the Oxford English Dictionary. Now bear in mind, the OED is concerned more with British English than American English…and the older the edition, the more this is true. It is an awesome work of scholarship, but must, at this time and in this place, be taken with a grain of salt. Thus is it not surprising to find “half-cousin” defined as a 2nd cousin…and also, as it says, “sometimes as a 1st cousin once removed.” And true enough, while genealogists in the UK sensibly use the standard definitions, in popular parlance “half-cousin” can still refer to your 2nd cousin, but this is not universal over there…

87.26  How far does this informal system of fractional cousins extend? Dunno…I’ve found relatively few examples of the use of quarter cousin on the internet, but they do exist…some in old books, others from contemporary bloggers talking about real relatives.  But so far, no definitive explanation has surfaced as to which relationship it’s supposed to refer to. So we’ll pick this up next week…hope to be with you then…cuz’…

Wicked Ballsy

I do miss those old bicolor typewriter ribbons…and here’s a belated shout-out to whoever it was who came up with the idea of replacing the red half with a white erasure ribbon…pure genius, sez me…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

shameless plugs, drawn, quartered, and not by half…

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

More bloggage at  http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com

Updated Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com/2011/02/resume.html

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