James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Apr 10 12:13:37 UTC 2003

In a message dated 4/9/2003 11:27:44 PM Eastern Standard Time,
nee1 at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU writes:

> a picture of a young man holding a small infant and it said,
> infant's name, held by his 17-year-old great-cousin. There was no
> further information. Can any one tell me what this might mean?

probably "first cousin once removed".  If the son of one's niece or nephew is
a "great nephew", then by analogy one might refer to the child of a first
cousin as a "great cousin".  Note that it is quite likely for a first cousin
of a 17-year-old to be of an age to have an infant child.

As far as I know, this is a nonce expression, perpetrated by a caption writer
who didn't have time to ask and couldn't remember the usual term.  Not
everybody is a competent geneologist.  I once saw in a lawyer's office a
chart showing the various degrees of cousinship, implying that either the
lawyer or his clients needed help with the subject.

My family was insistent that the child of one's first cousin was a "second
cousin" and that someone who shared a great-grandparent but not a grandparent
was your "third cousin".  It took me years to break this habit and accept the
conventional usages of that lawyer's chart.

I once met a woman, born circa 1910, who said she was a "fourth cousin" of
Abraham Lincoln.  I think it more likely that she was a first cousin four
times removed of Lincoln.  Her given middle name was Wilson and her surname
was Whitehouse.  She somehow avoided running for office, but this heritage
may have been reflected in her profession---she was a "governess".

             - James A. Landau

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