01 January 2009

Degrees of Separation

Family can mean close or distant relationships, ranging far and wide in kinship degrees, but also in geographic and emotional terms. The closing of another year made me think fondly of my extended family. I began to take stock. The extent of the connections soon troubled my left brain where math skills reside in most people. It was my impression I had a quite small family. Two siblings. Three children. Let me tell you, they start to add up and no-one was more surprised than me.

I have one grandchild and therefore it’s easy to remember the name and the birthday. The significant others of my children count, so including myself that’s nine.

Then there are the five nephews and three nieces by blood. By marriage, there are more: four nephews and three nieces. Most of the nieces and nephews are regularly having children and I will even count those who lack red hair. That comes to fifteen plus another nine.

And I had five first cousins. My first cousins had eight children who are my first cousins once removed, and they soldier on producing children too. The cousin tally for three generations looks like nineteen. We are up to about 56 people by now and the rest gets fuzzy.

My father had siblings; my mother none. But both also had cousins of their own. I’d have to haul out some boxes and files or charts to find them although I know they’re there because we write to each other even if they are the children of my mother’s cousins. I’m starting to lose it here. Did I count my parents? Did I count myself? Nevertheless, I am connected to all these people in theory, but also to many of them in real time.

Entering the outlaw field, there have been some ten sisters-in-law and eight brothers-in-law (sequential partners have transpired, you understand). That’s allowing for traditional liaisons and decently sustained periods of cohabitation.

Each of those cousins and in-laws has cousins unrelated to me and they don’t count, but still, there’s a connection. Looks to me like we are nudging the concept of six degrees of separation. There has to be a board game.

Some curiosa from my family connections:
• Sense of humour is not necessarily inherited or equitably distributed.
• Ditto regarding the ability to play the piano.
• Multiple university degrees do not guarantee earning a living.
• Grandparents in Florida trailer parks cleverly avoid overnight guests.
• Putting a touch of vaseline in your nostrils will help prevent painful cracking from dry winter air.
• If you can pronounce Musqodoboit you are a native of Nova Scotia.
• If Charles Stewart had rightfully become King Charles III, the U.S. would be a province of Canada.
• When you hit a moose with a car, only the moose survives.
• If you blog, the cousins will come.

The last week of 2008 brought me genealogy news on very different levels. When I first jotted down that last point, I couldn’t have been more prescient. Two hitherto unknown cousins, both deeply into family history (on different lines of mine), contacted me. What a thrilling Christmas present!

I meant to close this post by saying, “At any moment someone will have another baby. Somewhere in this horde, I confidently expect one future genealogist.” And I’ll let it stand, despite the other news. Two of my connections became grandparents for the first time. Their son informed them that the baby was registered with a brand new surname unrelated to the parents or grandparents or anyone at all. Actually, the name was chosen from a botanical species. How’s that for wiping out family history? Anyone ever heard of this happening before?


Miriam Robbins said...

What a wonderful Christmas present!

Anonymous said...

Here's a cheat on the pronunciation from one of the very distant cousins.

The first two syllables sound like "musket" and the last two like "daub it". So "muss-ke-daub-it".

Pictou, Stewiacke, Tatamagouche also tend to gives non-Nova Scotians away. :)

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

It's a good thing you're around to record the latest birth or that future genealogist might be facing a brick wall!

BDM said...

Heather's right on. Took me a while because I don't see my NS-born sin-in-law that often who has a cabin there :-)