Just How Exactly Am I Related To You?

My dad sent me an email yesterday morning. In his email, he told me to go and check out the personal Facebook page of some random guy and he told me the guy’s full name that is listed as his profile name. I didn’t know who this guy was, but as I read on, my father explained the connection I have to him.

The guy in question uses a common shortened version of his first name (Matt rather than Matthew), and he lists a middle name as well which may or may not be his own, but the surname that he uses is not the one that he was born with. This is possibly his stage name…

Parts of his personal Facebook page are public and all of these posts had something to do with the band that he plays in. So I checked out his band’s Facebook page and got to listen to one of their songs that they uploaded the music video of. Being a hard rock/heavy metal style of band, I really liked what I heard, and knowing that I had some sort of connection to him, I was kind of excited that a distant “relative” of mine was doing something that I once did, and would love to do again.

So how is he related to me?

While I was on my way to see a customer of mine yesterday, I called my dad to have a talk as I do most days when I’m out on the road. Of course, during the conversation he asked me whether I had seen his email about this random dude on Facebook. Only, as my introduction suggests, he’s not so random. My dad’s not the best at working out the nomenclature of relationships on one’s family tree, so of course he asked me to work it out.

“Do you remember you met him as a little boy when we visited England in 1988? We met him at your cousin’s house. Your cousins Vanessa and James are his sister and brother.”

“Half sister and brother, Dad. His mother is also the mother of my cousins, but technically he’s not related to me by blood. He’d be my half-cousin…”

Half-cousin? Is that even a thing?

Blood Lines

My father’s brother – my Uncle Eric – before he died was married and had two children, my cousins Vanessa and James. After my uncle died, his widow, my aunt through marriage, married another man, and they had a son. This son of theirs is the half-brother to my cousins of course. It’s not that hard to follow, and I’m sure you are not that confused, but the conversation that I had with my father made me think about what we call those members of our extended families, especially when you look at the lines of connection on one’s family tree.

“I saw the photos of your trip up to Noosa for the wedding,” my dad continued. “It’s funny, but when I look at those people in the photos that you call family, I’m not really related to them.”

My dad can be as random as I am sometimes. Actually, that’s probably where I developed my randomness, after all, the apple generally doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“Actually Dad, you’re not related to them. Well not by blood. And nor am I related (by blood) to anyone in any of those photos but my own kids. I’m only related to them by marriage. But when you look at (my wife’s) family, her sister, my sister-in-law is the aunty of my boys, and no matter what, she would always remain the aunt to those boys, related by blood. That’s just how that works.”

I went on to explain that in our extended family on my wife’s side, we have a branch of my children’s family tree that I often have to think about the nomenclature when thinking of our connections. These include my wife’s two siblings and their partners and the children of her sister, the nomenclature of those relationships is easy, but it also extends to my wife’s six cousins and their partners, and the children born to two of those couples as we are close to all of them.

It’s easy with her sister and her husband’s children in relation to anyone in our household. Our kids and their kids are cousins. My wife and I are the aunt and uncle respectively to their children, and to our own children, my wife’s sister and her husband are their aunt and uncle respectively. And of course, when any of the adults mentioned within those two families is thinking about their relationship to the kids, depending on the gender of that child, that child is the niece or nephew to that adult.

family tree cousins
Our basic family tree at one level only

Gender Confusion

I really haven’t told you much that you wouldn’t have already known. Well, at least I would think that would be the case, but then again, I remember back to when my mother’s youngest sister had her first child, a daughter, it confused the hell out of my brother;

“You know Aunty Hazel’s baby girl, am I her aunty or uncle?” my brother asked me.

“Um, you’d be her cousin. And even if she was your niece, with her being a girl and all, you’d be her uncle because you are a man. You can never be anyone’s aunty”

I kid you not. That, with creative license on my actual response twenty years later, is pretty much the conversation we had, almost word for word.

Extended Family

The nine cousins in my wife’s generation of offspring (see the family tree below), the children of three of the sisters of my mother-in-law and her siblings, are all very close. The nine cousins come from three families, each comprising of two daughters and one son, with the sons being the eldest child in one, the middle child in another, and the youngest child in my wife’s own nuclear family. Although we see my sister-in-law’s family the most, and our children and her children are as close as cousins can be, this group of six first cousins loves and interacts with the children of my wife’s two cousins (their second cousins) just as much.

I have always referred to my wife’s cousins in the jocular sense as my cousin(s)-in-law. And, if we’re getting technical, I guess that’s right. In all of the families, when speaking to our own respective children, we refer to the parent’s cousin (or cousin-in-law) as Aunt X or Uncle Y. It just makes sense. To our boys, they don’t really see the difference in the relationship between their mother’s sister and her husband, or their mother’s cousin and that person’s husband or wife. But what is their actual relationship?

family tree second cousins
Green is my mother-in-law and her sisters (plus one missing), red are all that have married into that family and have no bloodline connections to my wife, yellow is my wife’s generation including her siblings and cousins, and the orange level shows our kids, their cousins, their second cousins, and the babies that are on the way are shaded.

A Great Genealogy Website to Explain More

In researching this subject, I came across this website called Genealogy and found a great article they called Cousins, Removes and Other Such Stuff. The interesting thing that I found out is that when it comes to my wife’s relationship with her cousin’s children, the nomenclature for that line in the family tree is… well, they have a special relationship nomenclature.

Our kids and my wife’s cousin’s kids are second cousins according to the experts, but to her cousins’ kids, my wife is nothing more than a 0c1r, otherwise known as first cousin, once removed. It’s a weird nomenclature, but it’s a nomenclature all the same.

While looking for some pictures to use in this post, I stumbled upon this really cool info-graphic showing the relationship nomenclature

Family tree showing the relationship of each person to the orange person, including cousins and gene share
Family tree showing the relationship of each person to the orange person, including cousins and gene share (Wikimedia Commons)

We Are Family

Whether you’re a Creationist and believe the word of the books that follow Abrahamic texts, or if you’re one who believes in evolution, it is fair to say, that for both systems of belief, at one point we all had common ancestors. That pretty much makes us all cousins to one another, however many times removed we’d like to count.

I’m sure that, since social media has become entrenched within our society, people are finding out their connections to friends and to strangers that become friends through online interactions ha produced weird situations where they’ve discovered mutual relatives. I’m sure that there are plenty of stories of people befriending someone and finding out that they have one or two mutual friends on Facebook who turn out to be extended family to both, linking these two, otherwise strangers to each other. Possibly as distant cousin, many times removes, sometimes, maybe even closer than they might have thought.

Who knows about degrees of separation you are from having a mutual friend who is the cousin of your third cousin, once removed, and that gives you both a common ancestry in that you share your great-great-grandparents. I expect discoveries like this happen all the time. And I’m sure that many of these also go unnoticed.

Have you ever thought about what the technical term is for a distant relative? Do you call cousins of your parents aunts and uncles? Have you traced your family tree? Have you ever found out that you were a distant relation to a friend, either in real life or on social media?

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