I was paging through old Friday Five questions at the new site I found, trying to get a feel for the kind of stuff they usually ask, and trying to decide if this was a site I was going to continue to use. One of the questions I found was “How many cousins do you have?”, and to my alarm I found the answer to that is I don’t know. I mean, I do know, if I stop to reckon it all up, but at the same time I don’t know whom to count as a cousin. Do I count the nieces and nephews of my stepfather? Do I count the nieces and nephews of the woman I call the ex-stepwitch, who, through a miracle of modern asshattery, actually managed to remarry into another branch of my family after divorcing my father? Do I stop at first cousins? Because, if I don’t, the number might well become astronomical and beyond the ability of my limited mind to calculate.
My family is large and German, two adjectives that might as well be the same thing. I mean, my maternal grandfather’s family was at least half British, and my maternal grandmother was at least one-quarter Welsh (I think), but the majority of both sides of my family are German. And, in German immigrant fashion, they went cuh-razy with the reproduction thing. My parents were showing great restraint in only having two children.
Let me lay it out for you like this: My paternal grandparents ended up with seven living children. Those seven children all have at least one child of their own, and in most cases, more. From my father’s side of the family alone, I have sixteen first cousins. Five of those cousins already have six kids of their own, between them – these children are my first cousins, once removed.
My maternal grandparents had four children. One of my aunts has no biological children, but has two step-children from her marriage. For the sake of simplicity, I won’t count them into the bloodline. This leaves me with only six first cousins from my mother. Only two of them have children, giving me four first cousins, once removed.
This brings me to a grand total of 22 first cousins and 8 first cousins, once removed. . . 30 people I can biologically claim as “first” cousins. But, if I start adding in my step-cousins, both from my stepfather and then from aunts and uncles remarrying, the number grows quite a bit. If I count in cousins that I’ve gotten through my own marriage, the number grows again. And, to be fair, the number of “first cousins, once removed” should also include the first cousins of my father and mother, but I don’t know how many of those there are, because I’ve never met most of them. I don’t even know their names. I know they are out there, but I don’t know who they are.
My father has, many times, told me that I am related to nearly everyone in my hometown, one way or another. He’s not joking, either. Of course, that statement is not as true as it once was – people die, move away, and people move in from other places – but there are a number of families in that area who don’t share my name, but who are related to me, somehow.
I guess the real question is: who is your family, really? I realize that at some point, your family are those that you have agreed to acknowledge as your family. By blood, my stepfather has no claims as a member of my family, and yet he is. By law, if nothing else. But also by agreement and love. But, that is too obvious. I have friends who I consider family, for the same reason. These are people who have no biological claim on me, but who I am more connected to than some of those who are tied to me because we share some of the same genetic material. And the flip side of that question is: when do people stop being members of your family? When does the degree of kinship get so thin as to be inconsequential? If I were to go to Germany tomorrow, and find some odd fifth cousin who never knew I existed, is that a family member? We would probably have nothing in common. Is that person more a member of my family than Vicki or Mackers, with whom I share history, jokes, memories, but not blood? I don’t think so, but there are people out there who would say otherwise.
What do you say? How large is your family, and do you count those who are not related to you by blood in its numbers?
Note: I got clarification on the cousin relationship from Geneaology.com