Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cousin Confusion

Dick Eastman disturbed a hornet's nest with a blog posting "There is no such thing as a half-cousin"

One of my pet peeves is a term that I see online over and over: someone claiming to be a "half first cousin" or a "half second cousin once removed" or something similar. Sorry folks, but there is no such thing as a "half first cousin."
He is careful to restrict his argument to US usage only, citing Black's Law Dictionary which defines first cousins as: "The children of one's aunt or uncle." 

Dick goes on to point out that "it says "aunt OR uncle," not both. All that is required is to share one aunt or one uncle, not both."

With this definition you could be first cousin to someone with whom you have no bloodline relationship. Your mother's sister marries a man who becomes your uncle. She dies and he remarries and has children. They are your first cousins!

Dick's article has drawn more than 50 comments.

One references an article by Elizabeth Shown Mills which analyzes kinship and includes a glossary of terms where one finds: "Half Relationships: Those that stem from a half-sibling kinship. For every lateral or collateral relationship a "half" equivalent exists. For example:
Half-aunt/uncle: The half-sibling of one's parent.
Half-first cousin: The child of a half-aunt or half-uncle."

Another references the Oxford English Dictionary: "Half-cousin is defined as "The child of one's father's or mother's cousin; a second cousin. Sometimes applied to the child of one's own cousin, or to the cousin of one's father or mother."

This definition implies a half-cousin is the same as a second-cousin.

Respected genetic genealogist Ann Turner comments that "The distinction between full and half cousin is certainly meaningful in the genetic context. Now that autosomal DNA testing is available, it's useful to know that full first cousins share 12.5% of their DNA, while half first cousins share 6.25%."

Obviously there's confusion. Best to check on the convention being used if unsure.

Like many commenters I'll continue to use half-first cousin for a relative who shares one grandparent.


Persephone said...

The American usage always confused the stuffing out of me, because as far as I can see, they just add a number whenever one moves up and down a generation. (So what I would call a "first cousin once removed" is simply a second cousin in the States.) Personally, I like the "removed" as a signal of a difference in generations between two given people. It appeals to my sense of order.

As for "half-cousins", yes, please if I'm doing family history, because I know immediately if only one parent is connected! In social situations, it's probably politer to ignore this, but I still refer to my half-nieces and half-nephews as such if I think someone is going to be confused.

Ellen Thorne Morris said...

Always thought a first cousin was a person who shared one biological grandparent. Never heard the term half-cousin until recently. If my sibling married and died, and the spouse remarried, I would not consider the children of this second marriage my relatives, although I might enter their names on a family group sheet or genealogy program to help others searching the name of the spouse.

M.C. Moran said...

I'm sure "half-cousin" makes sense as a concept in genetic genealogy, but otherwise seems overly precise/restrictive to me. Like the above commenter, I think of a cousin as someone who shares a grandparent (but not necessarily both grandparents).