Sisters, Cousins, and Cousins of Cousins
Over the weekend we had a shower for my niece who is about to have a baby girl. It was a low-key event, just for the aunties and cousins. First cousins, that is.
In my family we talk about first, second, and third cousins, and cousins once removed, twice removed, and so on. Some people think it is strange that we even know these distinctions or care about them. I don’t think anyone really cares; we love all of the people, and the “removed” part is only in generations, not in affection.
Mama Cousins and Baby Cousins
Part of the reason for these distinctions is the closeness and longevity of the family and church group I grew up with, and my dad before me, and my grandparents who were raised in this same congregation. For example, three sisters came from Scotland by ship—maybe Wilbur and Orville hadn’t grown up yet—and these three sisters had eight children, two children, and one child respectively. They formed a large clan of cousins who scrambled to find mates from outside the family pool and still today comprise a lot of the congregation. But my family tree started in Scotland and England, too, arriving by ship, settling in Canada and working westward when the train tracks were put in. My grandmother was one of five, but her mother was one of eleven children and they were a force to be reckoned with in the local fellowship, as I hear it. So there you have another clan. Some of them married into the sisters triad and then people who weren’t cousins yet became cousins of cousins and it all got quite complicated. This is why it’s best never to speak ill of anyone at our church: you are probably talking to their cousin. In the succeeding generations it became more tangled than any two-dimensional chart could explain, which is why it’s useful to know who is who. My dad’s first cousin Jim is my first cousin once removed and Jim’s children are my second cousins. Their children are my second cousins once removed but are my children’s third cousins. Yes, we have third and fourth cousins. Many people call this category “kissin’ cousins” but that’s just too simple for us.
Another confusing aspect of this web is the repeated use of names. For instance, my grandmother’s grandmother Emily had a sister Isabel and the two sisters married two brothers (not theirs, of course) Joseph and Robert. Emily and Joseph had a daughter and named her Isabel after her sister, and Robert and Isabel had a daughter and named her Emily after Isabel’s sister. I myself have a daughter named Emily after my great-great grandmother who came from Scotland. Which is why we have family trees and why genealogists go nuts.
Now, on my husband’s side of the family there are more cousins than we can count. His mother was one of nine and his dad was one of twelve children. Tech Guy had 72 first cousins when we got married, and those are the ones we knew about. There was more wanderlust in those families and we only keep in touch with a few of them. I couldn’t believe it when we got married that Tech Guy didn’t know the names of all his first cousins! First cousins! But that size of a family tree is why people call them “kissin’ cousins”. Anything else is just too much work.
Last night after the happy arrival of the new heir to England’s throne, Tech Guy came home having learned that the Mountbatten-Windsors know their cousins thirteen times removed. Now, that’s just persnickety.