“Hello, are you my cousin?”

In 1855, one of my great-great-great-grandfathers, one of my great-great-great-grandmothers and one of my great-great-grandfathers arrived in Sydney from England. They and several other children (born in England and Australia) eventually settled in a small town on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Later, various members of the family moved to various other places, but the extended family is clustered around two rivers in mid-northern NSW. Various family members have researched the family history. I have some information from my grandmother and two distant relatives. but haven’t got seriously involved.

Today after church, the drinks were being served by a woman whose name tag showed that surname (which is not the same as mine, because I’m not a direct male descendant). I said “Are you related to the [name] family of [town] and [town]?” She said “No. There’s only me and my husband. You’re the second person to ask me today. The man over there asked me.” I’d seen the man with the same surname on his tag, and vaguely assumed that they were related. I asked him the same thing, and he said that he’d come from England as a boy with his father. I assume that he asked the woman “Are you related to [some given name] [that surname]”, not about the two towns I did.

I know I’ve got hundreds of  relatives on that side of the family, but with each generation fewer of them have that surname. I know some of the associated surnames (the married names of the daughters and some of the grand-daughters), but I’ll spot that surname first. There are several major businesses by that name, which we are not related to.

For a long time, I thought that those were my first ancestors to arrive in Australia, but last year I was looking at some information about the other side of my family, and found that one couple came in 1847. Apart from the fact that they had a daughter who became one of my great-great-grandmothers, we know nothing more about them.

Whatever else they might have done, none of my ancestors were convicts.


Happy birthday to yous

Three members of my extended family celebrate their birthday today. They are not genetically related to each other (there is one ‘in-law’ between each of them) and only one is genetically related to me. The first, chronologically, is my brother-in-law, my oldest sister’s husband. The second is his sister-in-law – not either of the two who are my sisters, but his brother’s wife. There is no term in English for my relationship to her; she is ‘my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law’. I have met her occasionally, and am Facebook friends with her, but it is perfectly possible never to meet one’s brother-in-law’s sister-in-law. I have not met my youngest sister’s husband’s brother’s wife (and they live in the same part of the same city as me). The third is my niece, my second sister’s daughter. She is that brother-in-law’s wife’s niece, niece-in-law or maybe just niece; he is her aunt’s husband, uncle-in-law or just uncle. (She calls him ‘Uncle [name]’ just as she calls me ‘Uncle [name]’.) There is no term in English for her relationship with that other relative: they are ‘uncle-in-law’s sister-in-law’ and ‘brother-in-law’s niece-in-law’ respectively. Maybe some languages have a kinship term for ‘female relative one generation older (other than mother or aunt’ (or simply use the word ‘aunt’) and ‘female relative one generation younger, other than daughter or niece’ (or simply use the word ‘niece’). These three members of my extended family have been in the same place twice, as far as I know: my oldest nephew’s and my oldest niece’s weddings (the son and daughter, the cousins and the nephew- and niece-in-law of those three people). My nephew’s wedding was a few days before those people’s collective birthday, so the next day many of the same people gathered again for his birthday. We got those three birthday people together for, as far as I know, the only photo of the three of them (though they might all be in an ‘extended family’ wedding photo).

So, my oldest nephew and niece are married (to other people, of course!). I usually refer to my niece’s husband as my nephew-in-law, because I have a less close relationship with him, but I usually refer to my nephew’s wife as my niece, because I have a closer relationship with her. But it does cause confusion. Sixteen months ago I told a colleague that my nephew and niece had just had a baby. She asked for clarification!

How far does one’s ‘extended family’ extend? I know who my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law’s [second] cousin’s step-mother is, but I wouldn’t call her ‘family’. (By the way, I’ve got two or three sets of brothers-in-law: my sisters’ husbands (three sisters, one husband each), who are ‘my Australian brothers-in-law’, my wife’s brothers (one wife, two brothers), who are ‘my Korean brothers-in-law’, and maybe my wife’s sisters’ husbands (one wife, three sisters, one husband each).