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Who's Your Cousin - Relationships by Joyce M. Tice
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The postcard at left was sent to Lena Hakes, first cousin of my grandfather Lee Tice, from another cousin named Myra. Postmark 1908
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Who's Your Cousin?

Article by Joyce M. Tice

There was a time when I thought the question "Who's Your Cousin" was a simple one. That was before I got into genealogy. In the simplest terms a cousin is one who has the same grandparents as yourself. A second cousin is one who has the same great grandparents. The term "removed" is used when the generations don't line up evenly. So, your mother's first cousin is your own first cousin once removed - or one generation removed. The child of your first cousin is also your first cousin once removed.  There are charts to help you define such relationships when it gets complicated. For earlier generations the term cousin is used so loosely that it sometimes seems it applies to anyone with any kind of a relationship. My own quest to track down a "cousinship" indicates that possibly if you search long enough, you'll find something that actually does constitute a connection, however remote.

In our time I think most of us would refer to the spouse of a cousin as just that - "my cousin's husband" rather than "my cousin." In earlier times the relationships often came with the marriage so that the relatives of your spouse became your own and you would call your cousin's spouse your cousin. The only exception I have seen in this was a few years back when I was visiting the ex-wife of a cousin. She introduced me to her friends as her cousin only because she was at that post divorce state where she just did not want to talk about anything related to it. She pointed out ahead of time that she would introduce me in that way even though we did not consider ourselves cousins even while she was married to my cousin. I refer to her somewhat jokingly as my ex-cousin-in-law or something of that nature. In fact that brings up the use of in law to refer to the relatives of our spouse. In earlier times that term was used less frequently and one might refer to a brother in law simply as a brother. In some families people do call their parents in law by whatever designation their spouse would use. In others one calls the parents in law by their first names. All this is leading up to the solution I have found for a long standing "cousinship" mystery.

An Old Mystery Solved - The Nature of Extended Family Relationships

In September 1880 my great great grandfather, Joseph W. Holly embarked on a trip from the Columbia Cross Roads train depot to the Wisconsin home of his brother William. His diary records that he spent the first night of his journey in Elmira with "cousin Ahina Knapp." Now Ahina is the closest thing I can come to in deciphering this handwriting, and the use of nicknames in that era was at least as complex as the nicknames by which we call people today. I have spent countless hours in the years since I first discovered the diary in trying to determine how any Knapp could be a cousin of any kind to Joe Holly. I believe I have finally solved the mystery and it is a very circuitous journey I have taken to the solution as well as a very great stretch of the bonds of kinship by definitions we would use today.

To understand this we have to back up a couple of generations. Joe's mother was Sally McWhorter, daughter of Margaret Carr and Gilbert McWhorter. Grandmother Margaret Carr married as a second husband one William Owen. William had a sister Esther Owen who married James Gordon. Their daughter Rachel Gordon married Annanais Knapp. I believe that this Annanais Knapp is the individual Joe calls cousin in the diary entry. [Annanais Richmond, who lived in the house next to mine a century ago, was called by the nickname "Nais." pronounced NyeUs. So the difficult name in the diary could just as well be Anais. When I find the original diary again, I'll check it to see.] If we say that Rachel Gordon and Sally McWhorter are "step" cousins based on Sally's relationship to her step-father William Owen, then Rachel is step cousin once removed to Joe, and Annanais is a step cousin once removed by marriage. Hm. I do have other entries in Joe's diary where he calls relatives of his wife, Mary Wood, by the relationship she would use - Example: Aunt Abby for Mary's aunt. So, the extension of such relationships in the event of marriage was commonly used. Families operate differently in such situations but I don't think most people today call their spouse's relatives by the relationship title. I never called my husband's uncle by that name and he never called my aunts and uncles by anything but their first name.

A similar example is derived from the Pomeroy-Paine Civil War era photo album I have been working with of late from the Troy area. It indicates that not even death severs the relationship to a family united by marriage. Charles C. Paine was married for many years to Charlotte Eliza Pomeroy. After nearly 20 or so years of marriage, she died with no surviving children,  and Charles married Lucy Bothwell. Lucy and Charles had several children and one of the children labeled the photos in the album using relationship titles even though they were not exactly accurate. She referred to the siblings of her father's first wife as aunts and uncles and their children as cousins even though no genetic relationship existed. Apparently the family continued to function as such even though the first marriage had ended by death and the second marriage had occurred and children born of it.

I have seen many other examples in diaries of the use of such relationship designations in ties that we would consider too distant or too removed to acknowledge. When you are doing your research, keep this in mind and try to figure out all such "step" relationships or relationships by marriage as these. Look outside the standard relationships to those on the extremities. Try to consider who might have been in the household of a relative one might visit to whom one might extend the kinship bond.  I often hear people today complaining that they'll never be able to sort out genealogy with all the multiple marriages and step relationships that we encounter in today's society. It has never been any different.

Update from Joyce April 2004. Another instance of this confusion of relationships has just surfaced in my Sullivan-Rutland Genealogy Project. For years the puzzle of some of the "grandsons" of Levi Robbins listed in  his obituary as pall bearers has "driven me to distraction." Finally after many years I have identified most of them as husbands of grand-daughters. Once again we are reminded to look beyond the definitions of relationship that we use in the present to the much broader definitions used in earlier times.
Subj:  Cousins
Date:  01/26/2004 5:01:46 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: (Donald Stanton)
To: (Joyce Tice)

Hi Joyce - Enjoyed you short piece on the cousin subject.  Made me think about our family. My Grandmother in essence had 2 families, so that my mother's half-siblings were old enough to be her parents.  Their children were then the same age as my mother. These real cousins were always my
"Aunts" and "Uncles", which to this day drives my poor wife nuts!

Also growing up in Sylvania, older single persons were commonly referred to as "Aunt Hattie", etc.

The basic issue to me is that families were very important back then, as nearly everybody needed all the help they could get.  Relationships were kept close and endeared.  This may seem a bit strange today as most of us are extremely independant and do not need to rely on family and close friends.


Subj:  Greetings from Florida
Date:  02/22/2004 12:07:55 PM Eastern Standard Time
From:  MSA440
To:  JoyceTice

Hi Joyce.

Wrote this yesterday after attending the Tioga Co Picnic in Lakeland FL and meeting two of our CAMPBELL COUSINS from there.....Wondered if I might post it on Tri-Counties?


            "Kissin' Cousins?"

I met a new "cousin" at reunion today
Who says we're not really related in any big way
For her own great-grandmother had married her brother
And their kids, we find, married
Into another family of hers and mine!
Their kids were orphaned and fostered by more
Of the cousins who lived in the farmhouse next door.
And the minister's family took pity on five
Of their kids who had barely been kept alive
On apples and corn from the orchard and field
Our original ancestors' harvest did yield.
And these little ones were reared in the usual way
Of the churchgoing folk with each churchgoing day.
But they "bundled" together and procreated more
And the generations now seemed to count up to four.
So this new cousin defines us for all folks to know
That we might have been called "cousins" long, long ago,
But, in fact, we must be remembered one from the other
As great-grand step-cousins of their father & mother!

ML Dewey Adams

Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 26 JAN 2004
By Joyce M. Tice
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