27 May 2014

Who's Your Cousin?

The subject of cousins comes up often in a special local history collection and archives in which there are budding family historians just beginning a formal investigation of their ancestry.  This fine article taken from the Genealogical.com Tips e-newsletter.  

"The Labyrinth of Cousinhood--Identifying Degrees of Relationships Through Multiple Generations," by Denise R. Larson

French-Canadian Genealogy Research  
While paging through a tome about the history of the Madawaska Territory in Maine and Canada, aka British North America, I encountered several references to Pierre Duperré, a woodsman, pioneer, and all-around good guy. Aha! thought I, a hero ancestor of mine. But before I could pencil him into the family lineage, I had to link him to the Duperré branch on my family tree. Little did I know about the tangle of genealogical relationships in which I would become ensnared.

Evidently there's more than one way to calculate cousinhood. There are rectangular-graph cousin and kinship charts. There's a canon law relationship chart shaped like a diamond, and there's a mathematical formula for figuring out degrees of cousinship.

Beyond degrees of cousinship and removal, there are considerations of the double cousin, the half cousin, the step-cousin, and the cousin-in-law. It was sounding more and more like the seating arrangement for a family Christmas dinner.

I followed my Duperré line back to the same generation as Pierre Duperré in the late eighteenth century and found my direct ancestors in Kamouraska, Canada, Pierre's hometown, which was a good sign. The problem was that my ancestors were a bunch of homebodies who stayed in Kamouraska, along the south shore of the St. Lawrence, for a few more generations before moving to the south shore of the St. John. That eliminated Pierre, who established his family along the Madawaska, as a direct ancestor.

Tracing Pierre's pedigree led me to our ancestor in common, but I needed a chart to figure out to what degree we were related, i.e., our consanguinity. A graph-type chart with an increasing number of "greats" along the x and y axes is called a "cousin table" or an ancestral, progenitor, or relationship chart. The director ancestor who appears in both persons' charts is placed at the junction of the axes. One person follows the x axis, the other follows the y axis, each stopping at the position the ancestor plays in his or her line, e.g., great-grandfather. Following the row or column from the ancestor's position to the junction of the two gives the degree of relationship, e.g., first cousin, and the degree of removal, e.g., once removed.

The mathematical method calls for counting the number of "greats" and "grands" assigned to the ancestor in common, with each great or grand counting as a 1. The smaller of the two numbers is the degree of cousinship. Pierre's great-grandfather (for a count of 2) was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (for a count of 8). Pierre was my second cousin, 2 being the smaller number.

The degree of removal is calculated by subtracting the lesser from the greater number: 8 minus 2 equals 6. Pierre was six times removed.

Pierre as my second cousin six times removed was confirmed by an ancestral chart with x and y axes. Cyndi's List provides illustrations of several relationship charts at http://www.cyndislist.com/cousins/.

Disappointingly, I can't claim good citizen Pierre Duperré as a direct ancestor, but I can call him Cousin Pierre. It's nice to have a local hero in the family.

Close relationships of the regulated kind

The conquest of Canada by the British Empire in 1759 created a cultural island of French Catholicism in a sea of English Protestantism. This was exacerbated by the arrival of 40,000 United Empire Loyalists at the end of the American Revolution. The silver lining of the situation, genealogically speaking, was that a clergyman of the Catholic Church undertook the heroic task of cataloging the pedigrees of the people of Quebec province and some Acadians so that men and women of marriageable age could avoid unions of too close a degree of consanguinity (the limits of which were set by the Church), yet still marry within their ethnicity and religion.

The genealogical dictionary produced by the Rev. Cyprien Tanguay (1819-1902) also served to collect and preserve parish registers and civil records. Occasionally it was cited in court cases to settle claims to estates. Tanguay's Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes is still an esteemed genealogical resource for French-Canadian families from 1617 to 1760. The seven-volume reference work is available for free use online through the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Quebec at http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/dicoGenealogie/.

For more resources about French Canada, see Genealogy at a Glance: French-Canadian Genealogy Research, by Denise R. Larson.

For further reading about consanguinity and the pitfalls of claiming a hero as one's own:

Kinship: It's All Relative, Enlarged Second Edition, by Jackie Smith Arnold, includes explanations, descriptions, and methods of calculating degrees of relationship. There also are chapters on legal issues, such as marriage, names, and wills.

For a lighter look at genealogical entanglements there is The Sunny Side of Genealogy, by Fonda D. Baselt, and Laverne Galeener-Moore's sassy yet insightful Collecting Dead Relatives and Further Undertakings of A Dead Relative Collector.

Source: Genealogy Pointers (5-6-14) from Genealogical.com [tips@genealogical.com]

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