The average person has first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and so on. Furthermore, there are cousins once removed, cousins twice removed, cousins thrice removed, etc. If you are like me, once you get past second cousins or cousins once removed you have no idea who these people are, or were. But even if you have long since lost track, where the relationship actually exists there is, or was, a personality to fill each slot.

It’s a fascinating exercise to ponder the number of cousins one might have. Exact calculations are difficult because everyone’s situation is different, but if you could come up with a uniform scenario then maybe . . . Suppose every marriage was perfect and lasted a lifetime during which each couple always had exactly two children at exactly age twenty (fraternal twins) and only by their spouse. Furthermore, suppose the couples are always exactly the same age and everybody lives to be exactly 75 years old. In other words, these are the kind of improbable people that government programs are tailored to fit. With all the irregularities removed, calculating cousinhood for this uniform population becomes a possibility. I attempted this and came up with a set of numbers organized in the form of a matrix with the cousin number (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) across the top and the number of times removed (once, twice, thrice, etc.) down the side. The full matrix is included as Exhibit A for those who like to gaze at such things. I’ll just summarize a few interesting points here for your amusement. The total number of cousins gets quite large very quickly as the numbers increase in value. By the time we reach two digits (10th cousin 10 times removed) we find over a billion cousins in just that slot, and the cumulative number of cousins up to that level is substantially larger. It’s interesting to note these figures would only carry us back about two hundred years (about as far as United States history goes). Remember also that these figures are for two children per couple. The actual historical average in the U.S. is higher, and in many other countries the averages are significantly higher. On the other hand, there will always be cousins that stay single, childless couples, and those who die young.

Cousinhood Matrix

Cousinhood Matrix - Click for Larger Image

Each individual will have over one million cousins about their same age, and someone could easily have as many as 20 million cousins alive at any one time out to the 10th cousin number. At the time that George H. W. Bush was elected President of the United States, Burke’s Peerage in Britain determined that Bush was the 13th cousin twice removed from Queen Elizabeth, according to Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director. Actually, this is not surprising since by extrapolating a little on my cousin matrix, I calculate that the Queen would have 268,435,456 cousins in that same slot. Almost anybody of British extraction could make a similar claim.

Now, here’s something fun to consider. If you are married and you and your spouse have similar ethnic backgrounds, the probability that you are married to a fairly close (10th or less) cousin is pretty good. If your spouse is of a different race, you will still be cousins but at a higher number. At some level, everyone there is, or ever was, is your cousin. Cousinhood includes even those who happen to hold specialized titles such as father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, etc., and variations on those obtained by adding “grands” and “greats.” How can that be? Well, let me explain . . . If your spouse is really your cousin at some number, then your children are your cousins at the same number, but once removed, and vice versa. For example, if first cousins marry (that is legal in some states) then their children are also their first cousins once removed. And since children of first cousins are second cousins to each other, then the children of this couple are second cousins as well as brother and sister. All the other special relationships can be explained as cousins in a similar way.

Are you still with me? Now let’s really go to “fast backward.” Imagine a meter before you like the odometer in your car. This meter shows the “COUSIN LEVEL,” meaning both the cousin number and the times removed. The reading gets rapidly larger. On the right, the last rotor whirls about as fast as it can go and still be readable. The spread of cousinhood resulting from the rising cousin level is reflected in the following events. Human beings join the chimps and apes in cousinhood . . . then orangutans and lemurs. Next we join the other higher mammals! The meter is picking up speed. The first rotor is just a blur and the second is too! Cousinhood descends through lower mammals, joins birds and warm blooded dinosaurs, then reptiles. Now the meter is really singing! Vertebrates join non-vertebrates. Listen to that meter scream! The animal kingdom joins the vegetable kingdom; lichen, slime mold, protozoa, bacteria . . . and then . . . CLANK! . . . the meter comes to an abrupt halt at some immense number. Life is cousinhood. To the best of our knowledge, life has begun only once on this planet. We are all cousins under the Sun.

R. L. Mason

On the road in Alaska


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Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Cousinhood No Comments