Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Kissing Cousins: It Happened


Recently, a subscriber to the Our Black Ancestry Facebook group generated a lengthy discussion when she posted the following question, “Is anyone finding cousins marrying cousins in their tree? Or one set of family & another set intermarrying & being connected in other ways?” The lengthy dialogue that followed was definitely an indication that “kissing cousins” occurred much more often than what people think. I thought of ten reasons why this can happen. If you have other reasons, feel free to share in the comment section.

1)     Back in the day, rural communities became populated from couples having large families. After several generations and numerous marriages (or relations) between others in the same community, many people ended up being related, knowingly or unknowingly, as time passed. Many of the following generations even were double related. To me, it seems like it was an unavoidable phenomenon.

2)     Adding to no. 1, travel back then is not like travel today. Therefore, long distance relationships were more difficult then, especially if the family didn’t have a good car (or a healthy horse). This added to the likelihood of consanguineous marriages.

3)     I grew up hearing some people say that if a person is beyond a 3rd cousin, then the blood is not there anymore. That was absolutely false, and DNA technology is proving that. I find it fascinating that DNA can detect if two people are related.  If these marriages between “distant” cousins were occurring often in the area, then I think that it may have become a norm, in a sense. Nonetheless, some people still didn’t play that; they considered it as “incest”. Grandma and/or Grandpa had to meet your date and ask them that famous question, “Who yo people?” That was to ensure that their grandchild wasn’t marrying their cousin. According to a family elder, before my maternal grandmother married my grandfather, she started “courting” a man named Ben Dean of Coldwater, Mississippi. When my great-grandfather got a wind to this burgeoning courtship, he stopped it immediately, informing my grandmother that she and Ben were cousins. I have since figured out that Ben Dean’s maternal grandfather, Sam Milam, and my grandmother’s paternal grandmother, Lucy Milam Davis, were first cousins.

4)     In addition to no. 3, people’s definition of cousinships was often inaccurate. For example, someone who was deemed as a 4th cousin, as far as they knew, may have really been a 2nd cousin-once removed. Therefore, that person may have been considered “safe” to marry without much objection in families where distant-cousin marriages weren’t a big issue. For me, I didn’t start understanding cousinships until I started doing genealogy research. Presently, most people erroneously think that their parent’s first cousin is their second cousin. However, a parent’s first cousin is one’s first cousin-once removed. The term “removed” in cousinships is still largely misunderstood. Also, your child and your first cousin’s child are second cousins to each other. Most people would consider the two to be 3rd cousins. This is a good diagram that further explains cousinships.

5)     Family quarrels and broken relationships among earlier generations could easily result in future generations not even knowing that they are related. A deceased family elder shared how one of my great-great-grandfather’s brothers, Uncle Sampson Davis, changed his religion, angering members of his family who were Baptist. Uncle Sampson decided to move to the next town, where he married and had a large family. Sadly, he severed ties with his angry siblings. Generations later, better transportation evolved, allowing for more frequent interactions between people in both towns. Consequently, several of Uncle Sampson’s descendants married (or had relations with) several of his siblings’ descendants. They did not know that they are related because of religion issues several generations back.

6)     People may have been influenced by the actions of other groups of people, such as the Scotch-Irish, who often married people as close as first cousins to "keep it in the clan."

7)     For African Americans (descendants of enslaved people in America), the chances that we may be distantly related to people we know, whose family roots may hail from different states, are amplified by the fact that many families were permanently separated during slavery. Sadly, many of these broken links will never be traced genealogically. While as a member of the Atlanta chapter of AAHGS (Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society), I interacted with another member that I later discovered through DNA technology is a fairly close maternal relative. For more about that, read An X-chromosome Match Provides Needed Clues.

8)     Not possessing much knowledge about your family history can easily result in the possibility of marrying (or having relations with) a close or distant cousin.

9)    The non-disclosure of the paternity of a family member could result in two people, who are unknowingly related, marrying (or having relations).

10)   Last but not least, some people fell head over heels in love with a “distant” cousin, especially in situations where they didn’t know beforehand that their “ray of sunshine” was a cousin. The attraction and love were so strong, that it overshadowed the fact that they were cousins but not first or second cousins. Cupid hit them hard. Believe it or not, one can’t simply turn off an attraction to someone at the snap of a finger. We can only wish that it was that simple.

If someone starts to research their family tree, and both their mother and father’s families were from the same small community in the South, chances are pretty good that they might figure out that their parents are “distant” cousins (or close cousins). I have seen this numerous times. It happened. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, in my opinion. It makes for an interesting family tree and great conversation. “Great-granddaddy is my 2nd cousin-twice removed” would capture some attention, I imagine.

27 comments:

  1. I truly enjoyed this blog. This describes my family all across the board. What I found is that right after slavery when blacks were settling and establishing neighborhoods a lot of them married cousins as a way of survival. An elderly cousin of mine said the first time she left the county was going off to college because blacks didn't travel far as they were scared of Klansmen. Good read!!!

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  2. Whoa! do I got those "kissing cousins" or what we call Double Kin! Even my Uncle Cuzzin Richard Nobles! We really called him that. He was married to Mom's sister but he was Daddie's 1st Cousin! Thanks Mel!

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  3. I have to say that with both my parents being from Calhoun Falls, Abbeville Co, SC, it surprised me that DNA testing has shown that they weren't even distantly related. We do have a number of "double cousins" to varying degrees, and in one case this was discovered through autosomal DNA testing. I'll bet midwives also played a role in making sure engaged couples were not closely related. Great post, Melvin.

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    1. Interesting! Not all distant relatives will be DNA-detected. A kinship could still be there. I often wonder if you and I are distantly related since several maternal ancestors were originally from Abbeville County.

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  4. I have so many kissing cousin relationships on my tree, I have lost count. I am often amazed that people from small rural communities did not know they were kin.

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  5. very informative! i cleared up a lot for me.

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  6. I have so many kissing cousins that my tree is becoming more like a branch! If the community will stop denying it then we can all move forward in reality together!

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    1. I agree. Some things that have been so secretive is really not a big deal, in my opinion. It happened. And it happened often. Learn and grow from it.

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  7. Thanks for "the ray of sunshine". There were such relationships on both sides of the family-Caribbean and Southern American-slavery's impact was more widespread than we care to admit.

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  8. I really enjoyed your post. This has been a discussion in my family. So the "Who yo people?" is something I've heard a lot at family reunions. Most of the cousins I saw I never would have thought we were related.

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  9. This was a great blog Melvin! I have seen multiple kin relationships in my family lines. Because of it, we combined two of our family reunions. The same relatives were coming to both. In speaking with one of my older relatives, her mother told them to go migrate somewhere else to avoid further mixing. I have a relative on my maternal line who knowingly married their first cousin. That sent up a wave of emotions through the family. Great article.

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  10. Melvin, that was a great blog!! Very informative, I now understand the removed, because I was confused about that and I would say 2nd and 3rd cousins like you explained, but now I understand. Thank you

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  11. VA has was notorious in the intermarriages. First cousins, by law, are permitted to marry even to this day. I am double and in one case triple kin to some cousins.

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  12. Great info! I work at a pregnancy center and my concern today is that women who are having babies with the same guy and do not know each other, could likely have their kids meet at a party, college, or just across town. We tend to think that because we have different last names, we cannot be related. One of the reasons I research is to make my family aware of who we are related. I like your, "Who yo people" question. LOL. Keep informing us...giving food for thought!

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  13. Melvin...do you have any Collier relatives here in Baltimore? I grew up with some back in the sixties and my aunt is married to one.

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  14. Fantastic article! I have several complicated 'love knots' on the paternal side of my family and have seen telltale DNA signs on the maternal side as well. There are a couple of spots on my ancestry.com family tree that look a tangled mess! While searching for family I've noticed that many families - during and immediately after slavery - changed their surnames. That action alone may have masked family ties as well. And for those who had moved away from family members who could identify relatives...well, I guess love won that battle.

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  15. Mel had to laugh when I read this blog post, reminded me of my oldest living Cousin who is 93, she said in our family it was "Don't Marry no body from MS" We all kin LOL! and doing research it definitely is the Truth!

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  17. My uncle and his second wife are double cousins and they were told that they were kin but like you said you just can't turn off your feelings. At first it was kind of a little embarrassing because when I was living Texas, they were constantly talking about people from Louisiana shackin up with their cousins and I was apprehensive about sharing that kind of information with them, but now It doesn't bother me anymore but at the same time we all live in the same city and their families do not attend any of our family functions and I know it has to be for that reason. Sad

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  18. I have a few double cousins, It was talked about often. The Barbee's and Harden's inter mingled, and were sent up from Shelby Co. (Tennessee?)
    College Hill. (Mississippi ) to find young people. Some still married after they got to Michigan. Most of the ones that knew the whole story are gone now. I have a few tells, they always said Mom and Dad were related.

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  19. I have an uncle who is brother in law to his uncle and double cousin to a cousin because of inter marriage. When I was younger a young man walked me home in a small town and then told me we couldn't go on the date we had arranged because he and my grandmother were cousins.

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