Monday, November 10, 2014

Dispelling the Hierarchy of Cousins

The Roots of the Leaves in the Trees Series- Episode 1

GENE 101: Intro to DIY Genealogy

For those of you paying close attention to my life, you’ll already be aware of the obsession I have in all things genealogy, whether my own or someone else’s, often at the expense of my writing time. (See me procrastinate during NaNoWriMo?) My obsession shouldn't be surprising: I love puzzles and I love research and I love history, so voila: genealogy

My first challenge with genealogy is still one I face daily. How many ways can I misspell genealogy? An embarrassing number of ways, to be honest with you, and my favorite misspelling happens to be gene-o-logy

Moving past my inability to spell the word correctly, I dive down the rabbit hole of my family tree daily. Sometimes I only spend minutes to tweak a birth-date or marriage date, or just to sync my online tree with my offline tree. Other, I spend whole afternoons, well into the wee small hours of long past time I should’ve been in bed, ferreting out the small details of a distant branch, linking that branch to George Washington or El Cid, or to the plumber up the street, Nick…Nick…Something Greek. I have over eight thousand relatives to keep track of now, as if I didn't already have enough cousins that I can’t name right off the top of my head. And the number grows with each of my visits.

But another challenge I face daily with the study of gene-a-logy is what title to give these blood relations. Mom and Dad, simple. Grandma and Grandpa, still simple. My Aunt's kids are my 1st cousins. Not rocket science. My mom’s cousin is my second cousin. Simple.

Wait. My mom’s cousin? Is she my second cousin or is she my first cousin once removed? Now I have a problem. I spent forty years of my life KNOWING my mom’s cousin Lucy IS my SECOND cousin. I spent the last few months puzzled at the online tree stating in black-and-white, Lucy is your first cousin once removed. Not only that but my mom’s uncle Jasper apparently is NOT my Great Uncle, he is my Grand Uncle.

That sound you just heard? My brain cracked itself open like the egg in that “say no to drugs” commercial from the ‘80s and fried.

But, this is a puzzle I have to solve, so on we go.

For those of you who had this figured out already, I applaud you and I ask you not to laugh at me. 

For those of you in the same boat as me, let me help you row this boat a little closer to shore. Of course, maybe by the time I’m done, you’ll be begging to pull the little stopper at the bottom of the boat so we can surrender our souls to Davy Jones Locker.. 

I’ll start with the easy part. Grand Uncle vs. Great Uncle Jasper.

Well my mom’s mother Lena is my maternal grandmother, right. Lena’s mother Jessie would then be my great-grandmother. 

Parents, then Grandparents, then Great-Grandparents. Check.

Uncles, then Grand Uncles, then Great-Grand Uncles. Check.

It makes sense then that Grandmother Lena’s brother Jasper is my Grand Uncle.

Again, for those of you who had this figured out already, STOP LAUGHING AT ME. I've been calling Jasper my Great Uncle my whole life. This is a tough habit to break.

Now comes the fun part. Cousins. 

We don’t call them Cousins, then Grandcousins, then Great-Grandcousins, so on and so forth. Cousins are instead assigned degrees, like the Master Masons of Free & Accepted Masonry. Okay, it’s not an exact similarity, but it’s just as shrouded in mystery to me, so it’s the analogy I’m going with. These degrees are based solely on where the link actually happens.

First Cousins:
The relationship to me of my Parents' Siblings' offspring.
One step up. Sibling. One step down.

  • Once removed: the child of my first cousin.
  • Twice removed: the grandchild of my first cousin
  • Thrice removed: the great-grandchild of my first cousin, etc.

Second cousins.
The relationship to me of my Grandparents’ Siblings’ Grandchildren.
Two steps up. Sibling. Two steps down.

  • Once removed:  the child of my second cousin
  • Twice removed: the grandchild of my second cousin
  • Thrice removed: the great-grandchild of my second cousin, etc.

Third Cousins.
The relationship to me of my Great-Grandparents’ Siblings' Great-Grandchildren.
Three steps up. Sibling. Three steps down.

  • Once removed: the child of my third cousin
  • Twice removed: the grandchild of my third cousin, etc.

Fourth Cousins.
The relationship to me of my Great-Great Grandparents’ Siblings’ Great-Great-Grandchildren.
Four steps up. Sibling. Four steps down.

  • Once removed: the child of my fourth cousin
  • Twice removed: the grandchild of my fourth cousin

There's a few more steps in-between this that I could go into, but I will stop here because I’m running out of frying power in my brain skillet. And my only real goal behind this post was to be able to explain this someday to my nieces and nephew. Or maybe even my cat, if I can keep her attention long enough to listen.

But, I do have a cheat sheet available for those of you who would like to noodle through this. Feel free to share and distribute this as you want. It’s not fancy, but it might help you out. 

Of course, it might also be what sends you to the Funny Farm, so download at your own risk.

My Roots of the Leaves in the Trees series addresses challenges the amateur or hobbyist DIY genealogists face when attempting to map out their family trees. It stems from a passion I have to solve puzzles, compile research, and bring history back to life. The more we know of our past, the better we can understand ourselves and the struggles of others. 

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