Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cousins, Explained.

Husband and I had a fantastic evening hosting two of my cousins from my father's German-American side:  Dale and Roger.  Dale, we had met before, though only recently...but Roger was brand-new!  All three of us are gay, and all three of us are into genealogy and family history/-ies.  Our shared background is traced back to two brothers who were part of a larger group of four brothers in all who emigrated from Germany in the late 1800s.  Roger and I both descend from the youngest boy (of 12!) who arrived  last in 1885, and Dale descends from one of a pair of twins who arrived in 1881. The oldest (the one with the ZZ Top beard) is the brother who established the initial beachhead in 1869.


In addition to sharing the fun photo, I thought this might be an excellent excuse to share a very hard-learned genealogical lesson that continues to elude many people:  the art of cousin relationships.

Cousins are relatives who share a common ancestor.  1st cousins share grandparents; they are, in other words, the children of a common ancestor's children and, as such, are two degrees away from the shared ancestor.  2nd cousins share great-grandparents, 3rd cousins share great-great-grandparents, and so on.  As long as the generational relationship stays symmetrical -- i.e., the same degree away from the shared ancestor -- things remain relatively straightforward.  The confusion comes into play when the cousins' generational relationship is skewed or asymmetrical.

For instance, Roger and I share Ferdinand as a common ancestor. Ferdinand is Roger's grandfather but my great-great-grandfather. Roger's mother and my great-grandmother are siblings (separated by many years, of course).  Roger and my great-grandmother's son (my grandfather) are 1st cousins.  Roger and my grandfather's son (my father) are still 1st cousin, but are "once removed"...that is my father is one generation removed from the last shared, symmetrical cousin relationship.  Add me into the mix, and the last shared, symmetrical cousin relationship is still 1st cousins, but now I'm two generations or degrees removed...hence Roger and I are 1st cousins, twice removed.

Dale, on the other hand, descends from Ferdinand's brother Fridolin.  To figure out how Dale relates to Roger and me, we need to step back one generation to locate our shared ancestor -- i.e., Ferdinand and Fridolin's parents, Franz and Maria.  (For alliteration's sake, let's stick with father Franz.)

Dale is Franz' great-great-grandson (via Fridolin).  Roger is Franz' great-grandson (via Ferdinand).  And I am Franz' great-great-great-grandson (via Ferdinand).  How's that for some asymmetry? The closest shared, symmetrical relationship Dale and Roger have is the "great-grandchild" generation.  As mentioned before, great-grandchildren are 2nd cousins.  Dale, however, is a generation younger/removed from this shared, symmetrical generation, so he and Roger are therefore 2nd cousins, once removed.  The closest shared, symmetrical relationship Dale and I have is the "great-great-grandchild" generation.  Great-great-grandchildren are 3rd cousins; however, because I am a generation younger/removed, Dale and I are 3rd cousins, once removed.

Clear as mud?  If so, check out the handy explanation on this website.  There are many other explanatory charts, but some of them (for me anyway) end up confusing more than helping.

Happy hunting!