Saturday, August 4, 2012

When is your great-uncle not really your great-uncle?

Yesterday we talked about the three most common ways to determine kinship (consanguinity) between two people. Today we will look at some terms used in this process that seem to give people trouble.

Most people refer to their father's uncle as their great-uncle. This term is in common usage but technically incorrect. The correct designation is granduncle. The proper progression is uncle, granduncle, great-granduncle, second great-granduncle, third great-granduncle and so forth. It follows the same pattern as father, grandfather, great-grandfather, second great-grandfather and third great-grandfather. It also works in the reverse. You have a niece, grandniece, great-grandniece and second great-grand niece which follows the descendant pattern of son, grandson, great-grandson, second great-grandson.

A couple of other interesting terms you might see are cross cousins, parallel cousins and double cousins. Cross cousins are the children of a brother and a sister. Parallel cousins are the children of two brothers or of two sisters. When two siblings in one family marry two siblings in another family their children will be double first cousins.

An in-law relationship forms when an outsider marries into the family. The outsider is an in-law to the family members, except to the one he/she married. The outsider also refers to the family as in-laws (again, except to the one he/she married). There is no blood relationship between the two people. The only in-law relationships are mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law and daughter-in-law. Although I affectionately refer to my first cousin's husband as my cousin-in-law, the correct designation is the "husband of first cousin." Of course the person marrying into the family could actually be related but not a close relationship (at least let's hope not).

A half-relationship is when two people share either a mother or father but not both. You can have half-brothers and sisters. If your half-brother has a child then that child would be your half-nephew or half-niece. If the half-nephew has a child then that child would be your half-grandnephew. You can also go the other way with half-uncles, half-granduncles, half-cousins etc.

In genealogy we do not use the term "step." My stepdaughter is correctly referred to as the husband's daughter or daughter of the husband. You can also have husband's grandson (grandson of the husband) as well as something as strange as half-second cousin twice removed of the husband. In very early documents you might see the term in-law used for a step relationship. It can get very confusing and you usually have to use more than one document to figure out what the actual relationship was.

It get's more interesting when you have two people who are related to each other in more than one way. This was (and in some cases still is) prevalent in secluded rural areas where there weren't too many people to choose from to marry and it was/is of course prevalent in royal families. When recording the kinship of two people you should list all the different ways they are related but the way that puts them the closest is the one of record.

When you are looking at old records one thing you need to look out for are the terms junior and senior. They didn't necessarily mean a father-son relationship. It was a way to distinguish two men in the same community with the same name. Most of the time they were related but it could easily be uncle and nephew or two cousins. The older one would be called senior. Many times the younger one would take the title senior when the older one died. Analyze your dates carefully to determine which person the document actually refers to.

There was a time in history when these designations were very important in deciding who inherited what title (along with money and land) as well as who could marry whom. Even though we are not as concerned about these things now (at least not in the United States) charting consanguinity relationships still has a place in modern genealogy.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

1 comment:

  1. Although grand uncle is correct, I refer great uncle because it makes ne feel great.

    Bil Munsil
    Mesa AZ
    Semi-pro genealogist
    (I usually do it for free but occasionally I get paid for it:))