Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rewriting History and Political Correctness

It seems to be a rapidly accelerating trend these days to want to erase history or to reinterpret history in the light of current societal “norms”. Especially with the rapid pace of change, the liberal bias in the media, or the echo chambers of FaceBook, Twitter, and other social media, the number of instances of this almost boggles the mind as you try to keep up with it. Let me give just a few examples of the many in the recent news.

One of the most blatant is the current efforts to remove the statues or rename the streets of anything that recognizes slavery in the early centuries of this country. What started with the tearing down of statues of individuals such as Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis was quickly extended to anyone who had anything to do with slavery. Even men such as George Washington were not excused because they owned slaves. A CNN commentator recently stated, “I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue. They all need to come down.” (*1)

While it is true that George Washington owned slaves, and had since an early age, this commentator conveniently ignores the complexity of the issue in the late 1700s, 160 years before the Civil War. Not only is the commentator trying to project current attitudes toward slavery back into history, but he has obviously not studied the attitude of George Washington. (See *2 for what seems to me is a fair and detailed analysis of the situation.)

An even more recent example is something that I just read on Fox News this week that was headlined as “Americans who practice yoga contribute to white supremacy.” (*3). Really? Yoga began about 5000 years ago in the country we now call India. It really didn’t get a start in the US until about 40 years ago (*4). But now I’m supposed to believe that those who practice it are white supremacists? While those quoted in this article are correct that yoga is an example of “cultural appropriation,” those who engage in the practice of yoga are merely recognizing that those who “invented” it had some good ideas and that there are benefits to it. Why is “cultural appropriation” suddenly a bad thing? And why is that suddenly an example of white supremacy?

I could go on and on with other examples. But the above two are sufficient to make my point.

Change is seldom easy. But it is usually looking at new things in light of current thinking. I remember being 15 when the Beatles made their first appearance on US television (The Ed Sullivan Show). My parents, along with many in their generation, looked on them with a bit of disdain – these long-haired guys from England. But if you look back at them now (*5), you see four guys with buttoned up suits, white shirts and ties, playing music that had understandable lyrics and fairly sophisticated guitar chords. They are pretty tame by current standards, but they had hair which covered part of their ears and that was not acceptable to many in my parents’ generation.

But now, rather than looking at new things through the lens of current thinking, we have begun a trend of looking at items in our history through the lens of current, usually “progressive” thinking and condemning those things in our history that do not measure up to our current progressive ways of viewing the world.

While I do not think there’s anything wrong with re-examining our past and learning from prior mistakes (every generation makes mistakes), to label anything that does not match as evil and to try and erase this history does not make any sense to me.

Study our history? Definitely
Celebrate our advances? Yes
Learn from our mistakes and try to not repeat them? A good idea
Believe that my personal way of thinking is the standard? Don’t be so foolish
Erase anything that does not “measure up”? A recipe for future disaster


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Reflections on Michigan State

The news the past few days has been filled with stories of Larry Nassar, the now disgraced gymnastics doctor for Michigan State and USA Women’s Gymnastics. Although he has now been sentenced to 40-175 years for his actions over the past 20 years, people are also questioning how this went on for so long and whether the culture of Michigan State athletics is partly responsible. Although it’s been over 45 years since I attended MSU, I’d like to relate a couple of personal stories from my time there that may shed some light on that culture – from long before Larry Nassar and the others who have been in the news such as the now resigned President Simon or the athletic director or even Tom Izzo, the long-time basketball coach.

As I’ve posted before, I took an extra heavy course load during my undergraduate years so that I was able to receive my BS in only 3 years (1966-1969). However, I remained at MSU for two additional years and received two master’s degrees. In the fall of 1969, I had a graduate assistantship in the Computer Science department that not only gave me an income, but enabled me to qualify for in-state tuition ($13/credit hour instead of $31/credit hour). My assistantship had me in charge of the “help desk” for CPS101, the intro to computing course that was essentially a FORTRAN programming class.

As background for the below stories, I should explain that MSU in those days ran on a quarter rather than a semester basis, so classes were 10 weeks in length. The fall quarter started in September and was over before the Christmas holidays. CPS101, like all other 101 courses on campus, had no prerequisites and tended to be pretty basic in content. Anyone who was enrolled in the colleges of Engineering or Natural Science would have it as a required course, and it was open to students from all other colleges on campus. With such a large demand, it was one of the courses that was taught in multiple sections, with a professor giving the lectures to a TV studio audience which was simultaneously broadcast to other campus locations. The lectures were then replayed in the afternoon and again in the evening. Since there was only one professor for all those sections, the individual sections were staffed by graduate assistants to answer questions, collect homework, and monitor any tests.

There was also a central help facility, in a large corner room on an upper floor of the Computer Science building. This help facility was overseen by a graduate assistant (in this case myself), but was primarily staffed by upper level CPS students (juniors and seniors). We had access to all the grades and attendance reports for all the sections so could answer questions about these to any students who came to see us. The room was divided into several small cubicles, each containing a small desk and a couple of chairs. The cubicles were divided by partitions which consisted of metal walls about 3’ high topped by large pieces of frosted glass to about the 5’ level. There was a central waiting area where students could line up for a first-come-first-served queue to see one of the help desk assistants who were on duty. I had a corner cubicle and was available for any problems that the undergraduate assistants couldn’t handle and I also kept track of the hours that each of the assistants worked.

With that as a background, let me relate two incidents that happened that fall, both of which have some bearing on the current MSU situation in the news.

I’ll Do Anything

One afternoon a female student came in looking for help. The next person available was in the small cubicle next to mine. As I noted above, with only a glass-topped metal partition, one could hear clearly what was going on in the small cubicles around you. The undergraduate assistant in that cubicle was someone whom I had known for a couple of years as he and I were the same age and had taken some classes together, but he was now a senior while I had graduated the previous spring. He had gotten married during the past summer and he and his new wife were both scheduled to graduate in the spring.

As I recall, the female student was a freshman, but like many new freshmen was having trouble adapting to the self-directed nature of college without parental guidance, so her grades were suffering. It was just after the 5-week midterms and she was failing. But she thought that she might be able to use her “feminine charms” to her advantage. So, after asking how she was doing, she made a plea to the undergraduate assistant.

I’ll never forget the words that I heard over the top of the partition – “I’ll do anything to get a passing grade in this class, and I do mean anything! [emphasis hers]” While there were no sexual words used, it was very obvious what she meant. However, the assistant had a lot of integrity, and I suspect that his being married helped him answer that the thing that she had to do was study really hard and if she got an A in her work the rest of the quarter, then she might be able to get a C in the class. That was not what she wanted to hear and she left shortly thereafter. The rather flustered assistant came into my cubicle with a very red face to talk to me after she left, knowing that I had heard what had transpired.

My point in relating this story is not to diminish any of the current events relating to Larry Nassar or any of the other stories about sexual assault charges against other MSU athletes. Rather, it is to show that a culture of sexuality is not new at MSU. I do not condone any of the actions taken by those to take advantage of other students. But we must be careful to understand both sides of any reported stories.

I’ll Talk To Coach

The other story involves a student who came to see me in my corner cubicle instead of one of the undergraduate assistants. He was a large African-American student and he had a similar-sized friend with him. I did not know him at the time, but in investigations after he left the room I discovered that he was one of the co-captains of the MSU football team and his friend was also on the team.

I asked for his name and student ID so I could look up his grades thus far in the quarter. It was very apparent that he had not been attending class thus far and had grades of zero on all the assignments, all the quizzes and on the mid-term exam. Being over 5 weeks into the quarter, the option of getting A’s for the remainder of the quarter would not be an option like with the student in the prior example. It was too late to drop the class (which had to be done in the first two weeks), and too late to get anything other than an F in the class, not matter how much he might improve.

I was sitting down and he and his friend chose to stand, so they were towering over me. I’m not a small person and there were several undergraduate assistants in other cubicles, so I was not physically afraid, but I definitely had the sense that he was trying to intimidate me. I explained to him that there was no way that he could avoid getting an F in the class and that it was too late for him to drop it.

He explained that because it was football season, that he was taking a minimum number of credits (you had to take 12 credits to be a full-time student), so he couldn’t drop it or he would lose his eligibility to play the remainder of the football season. Also, if he got an F his GPA would fall below a 2.00 and he would then not be eligible to play in any bowl game (which would be in January after the fall quarter grades came out). I told him that I was sorry for that, but that he should have considered the consequences a month before and either dropped the class or started attending class and doing the homework.

He then simply stated to me, “I’ll talk to coach,” and he and his friend left. I thought at the time that I had just signed an “athletic death warrant” for a member of the football team, but I had to do what was right. But as I followed the football team for the next several weeks, he continued to play, his name disappeared from the CPS101 class lists, and he suffered no consequences.

I suspect that the coach “pulled some strings”, got his name removed from the class list, and got him signed up for some no-requirements athletics 101 course where he got a good grade just by being in the class.

So, how does this relate to the current crisis at MSU? It’s been obvious to me that even as far back as the late 1960s that the athletes in the big-name sports programs at our universities get to operate by different rules. They get accepted into universities when their academic abilities would not qualify them for enrollment, they receive special treatment, personal tutors, or even get to break the rules as this one football player did in CPS101.

While the above example is only about academics and not about dismissal of sexual conduct, it is not at all surprising to me that not only does the university have a different set of standards for its star athletes vs. others, but that they are quite willing to be complicit in protecting those athletes and ensuring that there are no/limited consequences for any improper activities of those athletes. They are blinded by the goal of having a nationally ranked team.

While it’s been over 40 years since I have even visited the MSU campus, it still pains me to see the name of this university being dragged through the mud because of these recent incidents. But the only thing that’s surprising to me is that it’s taken this long for actions to be taken and investigations to be made.

I am still not convinced that real change will happen or that the needed culture shift will take place – either at MSU or at the many other universities where this problem exists. But I hope that it will.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Genealogy Story – An Unexpected Connection

Yesterday afternoon as I awoke from my nap, I was sitting on the couch with my leg up and so decided to turn on the TV. I was doing some channel surfing to see what was on and had not gotten very far when I discovered that our local PBS station had a travel show. It immediately caught my eye because this particular show was about visiting two cities in Belgium – Bruges and Brussels. Most of my international travels were business-related but when I had gotten stranded in Europe because of 9/11/2001, these were the two cities I had spent some time in while waiting for flights back to the US to resume. I have written about them here - http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2017/09/remembering-911-stranded-in-europe.html.

I had missed the first part of the documentary on Bruges, including I suspect the canals around the city and the Belfry, which I had climbed on that day. But the part then being shown was of the Church of Our Lady (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Our_Lady,_Bruges), which we had also walked through on that day. The camera panned around the church, then stopped at two burial tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter Mary. I quickly jotted down the name of Charles. The rest of the documentary took the high-speed train to Brussels (which I had taken), then looked at many interesting sights in that city which I had also had the opportunity to see.

Knowing that most of the royal families in Europe were connected to each other, either by blood or by marriage, I traced the family tree of Charles the Bold, starting in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_the_Bold). He lived from 1433 to 1477 and his family line went back through many of the king of various parts of France. 300 years earlier, his great*8 grandfather was Philip II of France (1165-1223). Philip was the son of Louis VII and Adela of Champagne. But Adela was a name that looked familiar to me and I left the male line I had been following to look at hers.
Sure enough, I found that Adela was the daughter of Theobald II (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobald_II,_Count_of_Champagne). And I had written about Theobald earlier as he was part of the family tree of the French line of the de Pierrepont family (http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2017/03/genealogy-story-william-conqueror-and.html) through his illegitimate son, Hugh. This meant that Theobald II was the great*10 grandfather of Charles the Bold, but that he is also an ancestor of the French line of the de Pierrepont family.

What a great connection! Because I know that my distant French cousins (some of whom I am friends with on Facebook), are descended from Theobald II.  And to now realize that when I was touring around Bruges on that day in September, 2001, I had viewed the tomb of a distant cousin (11th cousin, several times removed) of these French cousins.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Genealogy Story – The Shot Heard Round the World

Some of my recent genealogy stories prompted my cousin, Stephen Rezendes, to send me a link which had some interesting information about his grandfather, my great-uncle Joe Hartwell. Uncle Joe was the husband of my father’s Aunt Irene, i.e. my paternal grandmother’s sister. I have previously reported about how my father had many happy memories of growing up when he was able to spend the summer in Roxbury with them. I also have fond memories of them as it was my Aunt Irene who introduced me to one of her hobbies – collecting rocks and minerals, especially those native to that part of the country. A “Herkimer Diamond” that she gave me to start my own collection remains one of those treasures and still occupies a place of honor in the display cabinet outside of my office at home.

But enough of reminiscing. I’ve divided this post into 3 parts: a genealogy of the Hartwell family; a little refresher of an important event in our nation’s history; and then the part that the Hartwell family played in it.

Hartwell Family

The Hartwell (sometimes spelled as Heartwell/Hartwel/Heartwel) family, like so many in my family tree, came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Great Migration of 1620-1640. Fairly soon after arrival, the initial family member, William, moved about 15 miles west of Boston and settled in the town of Concord, MA. The best records available at the time indicate that he had settled in Concord no later than 1636, and that he was made a freeman of the colony by 1642.

It was not until after the Revolutionary War that the family line of which my great-uncle was a part moved from Concord to western CT – first to New Milford, then a few miles east to Roxbury. Here is the family line from William (1613) to my great-uncle Joe – note the rather consistent (boring?) use of the same first names for that entire 300-year period.

·       William (1613-1690)
·       Samuel (1645-1725)
·       Samuel (1666-1744)
·       Joseph (1698-1786)
·       Joseph (1728-1818), moved to New Milford, CT
·       Joseph (1766-1845)
·       William (1802-1890)
·       Oliver Sherman (1828-1923), moved to Roxbury, CT
·       Joseph (1863-1947)
·       Joseph (1900-1991), married Irene Levy in 1923

A History Refresher

As I’ve reported earlier (http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2017/12/founder-fathers-of-united-states.html), the beginning of the United States was a much more drawn-out process that we often remember it as. Nonetheless, there were some significant events as part of this process. One of these took place during the month of April 1775 (http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/battles-of-lexington-and-concord). Many of us, at least those of us of my age, recall the story of Paul Revere’s famous ride to Lexington and Concord. It was the initial encounter between the British and American troops that some point to as the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

However, it was not that initial skirmish that marks the true beginning, but the events just a bit north of Concord  where the regrouped American troops, known as minutemen, made the decision to take on what, at the time, was the largest and mightiest army in the world – the British army. The British were holding a small bridge just to the north of Concord when they were attacked by the Americans, and, unbelievably, the Americans won the battle.

It was this battle that was memorialized many years later in a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. And this was the “shot heard round the world”.

Concord Hymn – Ralph Waldo Emerson – 7/4/1837

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.

Intersection of History and Genealogy

The link that my cousin sent me was to a webpage maintained by the National Park Service and is about what is known as the Hartwell Tavern – a structure still existing that stands about 1000’ to the north of what at the time was the Old North Bridge that crossed the Concord River (https://www.nps.gov/mima/hartwell-tavern.htm). This tavern was owned by Ephraim Hartwell, the great*4 uncle of my great-uncle Joe. And as you can see from this story, the tavern and the Hartwell family figure prominently in getting the notification about presence of the British troops to the minutemen who lived in the area.

Some people help to write history, others sometimes just find themselves as accidental participants. So it’s always exciting to me to find that there are individuals on my family tree who have figured so prominently in the history of this country.

Thanks to my cousin for enlightening me about this chapter of history.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Genealogy Story – Loyalists in my Family Tree

When the Revolutionary War broke out in the 1770s, it was not an instantaneous event where suddenly all the colonists took up arms. As I noted in (*1), the resentment against the actions of the British because of things like the Stamp Act and the Intolerable Acts had been growing for several years. Nonetheless, the forming of a colonial army in 1775 and the signing and publication of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 required people to take sides.

But this was not a trivial decision to make. There were many benefits to being a member of the British empire. As noted in (*2), “It’s not an easy decision. Not only will your way of life be drastically affected, but whomever you choose to side with will make you instant enemies.”

The population of the colonies at this time was about 2.5 million, with about .5 million being black slaves, primarily located in the southern colonies although there were some in the northern colonies as well. According to (*3), about 15-20% of the white colonists, or 300,000-400,000 were loyalists. There were some black loyalists as well, as one of the tactics of the British was to offer freedom to some of the slaves on the condition that they fight on the side of the British (*4). With these rather significant numbers, I wondered if there were loyalists in my family tree.

Since I have no roots in the southern colonies, nor to my knowledge did any of my ancestors have any slaves, I have none in that classification, despite the individual in (*4) having a last name that is similar to my mother’s Pierpont ancestors.

Nearly all of my ancestors on my mother’s side were in Connecticut at the time, having been there for over 100 years already. Since they had all come to America during the Great Migration of the 1620-1640 period and were primarily of Puritan background, they also had their roots in being in opposition to oppression by the British, so they overwhelmingly were on the side of the American patriots. In fact, not only were some of the leading opponents related to my family, as noted in (*1), but one relative, William Leete, an early governor of Connecticut had shown his opposition as early as the 1660s (*5). I have been unable to find any loyalists among those ancestors, although it’s possible that there were some who opposed taking it to the level of armed resistance during the early stages of the war.

My Russell ancestors had only come to this country a generation earlier in 1750 in the Hudson River valley. As I blogged earlier, my great*5 grandfather, John Russell, was a member of the NY militia and served during the Revolutionary War. So there were no British sympathizers there either. But I still needed to check my wife’s ancestry.

My wife’s mother has two primary lines of ancestry in her lineage. My wife’s maternal grandmother is descended from German immigrants from the 1860s, so they were not in America at the time of the Revolutionary War. And my wife’s maternal grandfather is descended from the same group of individuals in CT and MA as I am (which is why my wife and I are distant cousins - *6) so they were similarly on the side of the Patriots.

But my wife’s father’s ancestors are a different story. As I have documented before (*7), the VanDeCar family were originally Dutch settlers in New Holland in the 1630s. So they did not necessarily have the same attitude toward the British as did the Puritans. And their feelings would have also have been influenced by the takeover of New Holland by the British in the early 1660s. So, what side would they choose?

It appears that most of them chose to side with the patriots. The list of individuals serving in the NY militia includes no fewer than eight men in the Albany militia with the Van Der Kar/Vandekar last name (*8). However, there was one individual, Ruloffe Van De Karr (with many alternate spellings), my wife’s great*5 grandfather, who decided to fight on the side of the British.

Ruloffe was a member of Jessup’s Raiders, a group operating in New York that had loyalty to the British (*9). However, when the war ended a few years later and the British were not the victors, these individuals all migrated to Canada which was still part of the British empire. The British made partial reparations to these men for the land, etc. which they had lost. Roloffe was awarded 360 pounds, 16.3 shillings for his loyalty. The VanDeCar family remained in Canada until around 1840, when they returned to the US, not to New York where their patriot relatives still lived, but to frontier of the newly formed state of Michigan.

It’s easy to look back at history and make decisions in retrospect. But while history is being made, it’s not always as easy. Those who chose to remain loyal to the British probably thought that they were making the right decision at the time. But when things did not go as they thought, it proved very disruptive to their lives. My wife’s ancestors being in Michigan is a direct result of one of those types of decisions.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Genealogy Story – The Russell Wives

I am the 9th generation in a line of Russell males descended from my great*6 grandfather, Robert Russell, who came to this country from Scotland around 1750, and I’ve blogged extensively about most of the men in this line. In this post, I’d like to look at the wives of each of these men, what their family names were and where they came from.

Some of these individuals were married more than once, so this list contains information on the 13 women whom these Russell men married.

1 – Robert Russell (abt. 1730-1811)
Mary Kipp (1734-1808)
Robert married Mary Kipp in 1754 (*1). She was a descendant of several generations of Kipp ancestors who had been in NY since 1635. Kipp was an anglicized version of de Kype. This family name had originated in France, but they then moved to Amsterdam which is why they were immigrants into New Holland during the time the Dutch settled there.

2 – John Russell (1756-1833)
Abigail (?) (1754-1798)
John’s family tree is documented in (*2), and Abigail’s grave is in Hitchcock Hill Burying Ground, but her maiden name is unknown.

Anna Wixon (1769-1848)
When Abigail died in 1798, John married again and had seven more children with Anna. Anna was descended from an English family who came to America during the Great Migration in 1620-1640.

3 – Caleb Russell (1775-1830)
Parmea Smith (1780-1872)
Parmea was the daughter of Edward Smith and Demeous [Worden] (*1). Edward was a Revolutionary War veteran. Because this is a rather common name I have not been able to trace the ancestral line of the Smith family, however it is likely English.

4 – Silas Russell (1803-1886)
Hester Disbrow (1807-1898)
The Disbrow family, like many of the others in this list, came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Great Migration in 1620-1640.

5 – Walter Russell (1852-1895)
Lois Ann Cook (1855-1883)
While I know that Lois was the daughter of Morgan Lewis Cook and Sally [Barton] (*3), I have been unable to trace the Cook family line back any farther.

Cornelia Sutphin(?) (1858-1897)
Because her marriage to Silas occurred after the 1880 census and she died before the 1900 census, nothing more is known about her.

6 – Louis Russell (1871-1946)
Anna Pauline Merchant (1871-1903)
Anna was believed to have been born to a French father and an Irish mother. However, I have not been able to verify this through any of my research.

Helen Waldron [Madigan] [Lewis] (1868-1945)
Helen was the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who came to this county because of the potato famine in the 1840s.

7 – Erskine Russell (1894-1970)
Vera Levy (1895-1963)
My grandmother Vera was of Jewish ancestry (*4). Her great-grandfather, Louis Levy came to the US from England in 1851. The family lived in Brooklyn, NY, which is where Vera was born. She married my grandfather in 1914, but they divorced in 1928.

Elizabeth Evans (1885-1970)
My grandfather remarried in 1933. Elizabeth had been born in England and came to the US in 1923 (*5).

8 – Vernon Russell (1920-2006)
Sylvia Pierpont (1924-2012)
The Pierpont family came to America as part of the Great Migration (1620-1640), but their family line can be traced back to Normandy over 1000 years ago.

9 – Alan Russell (1948-)
Donna VanDeCar (1947-)
The VanDeCar family is of Dutch origins (*6). They came to America about 1630 and settled in New Holland. But the family name only dates from the 1660s, when the English took over the Hudson River valley and required all the residents to adopt the English patronymic naming convention. So the family has deep roots in America, but not the typical English ones like many others in my family.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Cousins – Counting the Gs

Many people are confused about how to name the relationship between two individuals. We hear terms like 3rd cousin, twice removed – but what does that mean and how do we determine it. I wrote an earlier version of this with examples from my own family tree (http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2015/05/genealogy-story-counting-gs.html), but I’d like to make it even simpler. Note that in the below the sentences in italics are an example and are not part of the simple steps. The four steps in bold are all that you need in most cases.

Step 1 – find the common ancestor

This is just what it sounds like. Find the individual in the family tree who is the common ancestor to the two people involved.

As an example, let’s call the two people Bob and Sally and their common ancestor’s name is Alexander.

Step 2 – count the Gs in each relationship to the common ancestor

For each person, determine the relationship between them and the common ancestor. Count the number of “G”s in each of these relationships.

Again, for example, let’s say that Alexander is Bob’s great-great-grandfather (or great*2 grandfather for short), and that Alexander is Sally’s great-great-great-great-grandfather (or great*4 grandfather for short). Thus, our two numbers are 3 and 5 respectively, one for each “great” and one for the “grand”.

Step 3 – determine the difference, this is the “removed” part

In our example, the difference between 3 and 5 is 2, so that means that we will have a “twice removed” in our answer.

Step 4 – what’s the smaller number, this is our degree of cousin-ness

In our example, 3 is the smaller number. So, in our example, Bob and Sally are 3rd cousins, twice removed.

In most cases, that’s it, you’re done. However, if one/both of the relationship numbers from step 2 was zero, then we have more work to do.

Special Cases – what to do if either/both of the numbers is zero

One of the beauties in English is that the word “cousin” is both gender-neutral and reflexive, i.e. if you are my cousin, then I am also your cousin. But when we have a zero in the above steps, the term “zero-eth cousin” is not a meaningful term. So we’ll need to introduce other words to describe the relationship.

Case A – BOTH relationship numbers are zero

Let’s first consider the case where both of the relationships to the common ancestor result in a zero. For example, Alexander is the father of Bob and the father of Sally. One could say that Bob is Sally’s brother and Sally is Bob’s sister. But the words brother/sister are neither gender-neutral nor reflexive.

Fortunately, we do have an appropriate gender-neutral, reflexive term to use in this case. The word is “sibling”. So, Bob and Sally would be siblings in this case. (Also note that I’m not going to discuss here things like half-siblings, or step-siblings.)

Case B – One of the numbers is zero, the other is one

Let’s say that Alexander is Bob’s father, but Alexander is Sally’s grandfather. So our relationship numbers are zero and 1. We could be tempted to say that they are siblings once removed. That would be technically correct, but it’s not typically how we would describe this relationship between them. Rather, we would say that Bob is Sally’s uncle and Sally is Bob’s niece. But the problem is that the words uncle/aunt and niece/nephew are neither gender-neutral nor reflexive. And there is no word that I am aware of in the English language that can be used in place of these words. So we’re left with these messy words to use. But since most people are used to using them, that’s fine.

Case C – One of the numbers is zero, the other is larger than one

Here we need to add back in the great/grand “G-words” that we used back in step 2. But since we’ve already accounted for one of the “G”s in the terms uncle/aunt/niece/nephew, we add back in one less G-word than the larger of the two numbers.

Thus, if Alexander is Bob’s great-great-grandfather and Alexander is Sally’s father (e.g. their relationship numbers are 3 and zero respectively), this makes Sally Bob’s great aunt and Bob Sally’s great nephew. If the difference is even larger, say 6 and zero, then use great*5 aunt/uncle and great*5 nephew/niece.

(I’m not going to get involved in whether the proper term is “great nephew” or “grandnephew”, if you want to see more, look at this reference – https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2015/02/25/great-versus-grand/).

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sibling Tribute

It’s early morning on the first day of 2018. The rest of the family are still upstairs sleeping. In a few hours we will be having our family Christmas. (We have a tradition of celebrating on New Year’s Day since that has always allowed us to celebrate with other families on 12/25 – first with the extended Russell family in CT when our children were younger, then allowing our children to celebrate with their spouse’s families when they got married.) But since I went to bed early last night so I got a few hours in before getting up at midnight to watch the ball drop in Times Square, I am up early this morning. As I look back over 2017, I thought of what I’m grateful for and one thing that came to mind is my appreciation for each of my siblings. So I thought I’d say a few words about each of them.


Since we were only 16 months apart in age growing up, one might have thought that we would be pretty close. But that was not the case. She was always the pretty one, had lots of friends and was very social and I was the “nerd” (although that term had not come into use back then). It wasn’t until I was older that I began to appreciate her.

She only went to college for a year, then during a summer job discovered that she had a real talent for business and organization and that more education wasn’t really needed to advance in that area. She spent the bulk of her working career as the business manager for the Cobb School, a Montessori school in CT. “Business Manager” may be a misleading term since, as with many smaller schools, one gets involved in many different areas. So she applied her considerable talent in helping them in many ways.

She is now retired and is getting to enjoy life with her partner, Dave, who has his own considerable gifts in making others feel very welcome and who enjoys taking Beth to local restaurants. Dave has an extensive family from a prior marriage and Beth has two children and this past year became a grandmother to twins – something that she is constantly beaming about!


Chuck was the only one of my siblings who spent time in the military – serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam war. He didn’t fly a plane, but was in intelligence and spent time listening to Radio Hanoi recording anything that might give clues to what the North Vietnamese were doing/planning. He then graduated from the University of Connecticut in engineering. While there he met his wife, Joanne, who was getting her PhD.

They served together for many years at Manchester Community College, my brother in managing the computer network as well as teaching, and Joanne first in teaching, then in administration. Chuck recently retired and joined Joanne in NY where she is the Vice-president for Academic Affairs and Provost for Kingsborough Community College, a member of the SUNY network located right down the street from Coney Island. They have two daughters, one of whom will be getting married in 2018.


Dawn’s interest during college was special education. During one summer break she got a job in that area in California and my parents were brave enough to let her fly across the country for the summer. But the California air must have gotten to her, as she went back there after graduation and has lived there ever since.

Her first husband, Mike, was killed in a tragic accident in early 2000. She married again to her current husband, George, who has been the love of her life since then. Like Beth, Dawn has considerable skills in organization and has been using those skills in many ways. She recently retired and is now able to spend more time with George, who has been battling with a serious health issue for the past few years.

She and George have four children between them – all daughters, and all married. But their social media postings most often have pictures of their twin grand-daughters, with whom they spend much time.


My youngest brother, Edd, is the only one of us who is not retired, and is also the only one who has no children. But he and his wife, Ingrid, have many other things to keep them occupied. Edd was trained in forestry at the University of New Hampshire. He met Ingrid, who is trained as a nurse, when they were both serving in Haiti in missionary work. After a number of years together there, they spent much time in CA where Edd was a soil scientist with the US government. But their desire was always to get back into missions.

For the past six years they have been in Thailand where they minister together in church planting. They are currently in Nong Khai in the Isaan region of NE Thailand. I was fortunate to be able to visit with them when they were first in Thailand and doing their language training in Bangkok. And since I have a love for the Thai people myself, I follow their work there with great interest. The investment that they are making into the lives of the people – particularly with the many young people who they show an interest in – will bear much fruit.

I am very proud of all my siblings – both with what they have accomplished and what they continue to be involved in. While our parents have passed on, they instilled in each of us a love for others and a love for family. Thus, we continue to be close and interested in each other’s lives. May 2018 be yet another year with many ways for us to celebrate each other.