Thursday, March 01, 2007

Cousins Marryin' Cousins

I realized today that I had a small part of trying to illustrate how complicated kinships here are, right here on the farm.

My herd sires, Leonard and Beacon are half-brothers sharing a sire.

BossyToe and Bridey are half-sisters sharing Leonard as their sire.

BossyToe and two of the Triplets are half-sisters and the Triplets are BossyToe's aunties since BossyToe's mom was also the Triplets' mom's daughter. Violette's sire is obviously Beacon, so she is merely BossyToe's auntie.

It is about at this point that my head starts pounding. What do you call a sister/aunt anyway?

It does get confusing when I try to explain how Friend Scott is related to everyone. So, in interest of brevity, I just refer to everyone as "cousin". It's so much easier than saying "great-aunt once removed bar sinister with ice cream on top." And it certainly stops the headache I get from trying to actually track back to get that term.

You would think it would be pretty easy for me since I come from a family with multiple generations of DAR and SAR members carrying up to 20 bars on their DAR pins. I spent many hours in the South Carolina State Archives as a college student doing research for my mother. By the time I hit twenty, I was swinging through the branches of my family tree like a agile little genealogy monkey. But it is much harder here.

Betsy likes to say that it's "line-breeding" when it works and "in-breeding" when it doesn't. This is a fairly familiar concept in livestock husbandry. "Line-breeding" involves breeding related livestock to extract the best physical/temperamental traits from a particular line of animals. "In-breeding" is when that goes horribly awry and you end up with a kid with one eye in the middle of its forehead.

It is a bit tricky honestly discussing in-breeding in these small Appalachian communities. It is a pervasive negative stereotype. People automatically assume incest is prevalent. It happens here, but no more so than in any other insular hyper-religious community. More common is intermarriage between cousins. Scott's parents were first cousins who did not discover their family relationship until after they married. Since the Appalachian folk have a history of moving around, this is quite common. And the gene pool was a great deal smaller in days gone by. As recently as 20 years ago, some of the folk here lived their entire lives without ever visiting the closest town only 20 miles away.

So Scott has many double cousins.

I think the lesson of line-breeding here applies in many cases. Those huge, lovely sloe-eyes that you see once in a while that always seem to be laughing. Their amazing determination and resourcefulness. I can't say they have bred much for temperament here...they are all as stubborn, thin-skinned and feisty as their Scots/Irish ancestors. But most of the time they are the soul of kindness.

But when you start to see those pretty's usually a sign that it's time to change the herd sire. It's not going to get much prettier than that, and it could get a good deal uglier.


  1. Hayden said...
    LOL! ;-)
    Anne Johnson said...
    My grandparents were second cousins. My sister married her third cousin. My aunt and uncle were third cousins. And that's called Appalachia, and that's why all us rugged Scots Irish can wear those bars on our DAR ribbons!
    Anne Johnson said...
    PS - left a few more comments in other posts.
    chumly said...
    People forget, horses sometimes were hard to get and there were no cars to travel in, many a year ago.
    Rosie said...
    Very true, Chumly. This community was very self-sufficient up to about 40 years ago. You didn't really need to go to town unless there was some special need. There were traveling tinkers who also pulled teeth. The "horse doctors" sometimes also served as obstetricians. Most folks grew their own food. People didn't leave unless it was to go work in the cotton mills during the winter. I saw similarly small gene pools in England when I lived there.
    bonnie said...
    I have a pretty good-sized extended family. My folks are pretty good at keeping track of the actual relationships, but they took me off to Hawaii - to grow up and so I just think of anyone past the aunt/uncle/cousin remove as a calabash cousin!

    Somebody did a really nice little definition of "calabash cousin" on wikipedia - Calabash cousin link

    (hope that link works, if not copy & paste this:

    family ties are very complicated & very important out there, but everybody understands "calabash cousin" - makes life simpler!
    Jbeeky said...
    Completely unrelated- my favorite goat yogurt is now less available! They said that the baby goats need the milk now? Bah!
    BBC said...
    "genealogy monkey."

    LOL..... How true.

    I used to know a few first cousins that I would have gladly married. All unions are a crap shoot when it comes to genes anyway.

    Getting a good education is more important than worrying about what genes are in a person.
    BBC said...
    I'm sure you know the joke.

    She's a virgin? Your right son, if she isn't good enough for family, she isn't good enough for us.


Post a Comment