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August 12, 2008

Maintainting Kinship

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm writing this from the Oregon Coast; regular blogging resumes on the 14th.

Some cousins from my mother's side of the family decided it was time for a get-together, so some of us are doing just that.

My mother had two brothers and the three of them produced a total of six children within a span of three years (the younger brother sired two more later on). Two of those six cousins lived in Seattle, so my sister and I saw them maybe half a dozen times a year. The bunch living near Portland, OR were harder to connect with, so we saw them once every two years or so (there wasn't an Interstate system in those days, and the drive took five hours).

Upon reaching adulthood, most scattered. Me to the Army and then Philadelphia, etc., My sister to Sweden and Alaska for a while, the cousins to San Diego, Alaska, and elsewhere. Most of us are back in Washington state, but the only times I saw the out-of-towners in the last 30 years were at weddings and funerals.

Anyway, the reunion is going well for the six of us and spouses who managed to make the trip. There is talk of doing it again.

Funny how families can drift apart. Life itself -- jobs, children, whatever else -- can narrow kinship horizons. And geography can do the rest. I hereby publicly admit that I know nothing of the whereabouts of children of first-cousins on both sides of my family. Moreover, it would take serious digging to track down those on my father's side.

This is conflicting. It's probably a good thing to keep track of family, but I don't do a very good job of it. And those cousins I lost track of, well, as far as I know, they've made no effort to locate me.

C'est la vie.



posted by Donald at August 12, 2008


A few years ago my first cousinage (is there such a word?) were in: Scotland (3), England (1), N Ireland (1), USA (1), Canada (1), South Africa (1), Australia (1), France (1). More recently we've lost Aus, Canada and NI, grown by 2 in England and added 1 in NZ. My remote cousinage is mainly in North America, with a few in Aus and Kenya.

Posted by: dearieme on August 12, 2008 1:43 PM

I grew up with everyone on both sides of my immediate family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, numerous cousins, all living within 15 miles of each other. A few of us, like me, went to different states to college, but we've since moved back to the same area we grew up in. I took a huge pay-cut so I could live near family. We still have huge family reunions, even though we all live close by.

Posted by: JasonM on August 12, 2008 2:33 PM

I had tremendous crushes on two of my cousins, one male one female, growing up. Maybe fixation is a better word than crush. I wonder if they were aware of the strength of feeling I invested in them? There was some return of affection from the girl (older than me) but the boy (also older) was a god who couldn't be bothered with a pesky young squirt. Anyway, we all grew up and went our separate ways. But I still think about them. Even dream about them if the truth be told. Ah well.

Posted by: ricpic on August 12, 2008 3:34 PM

Jason, I envy you. My immediate family was military, and we lost contact with both branches of the extended family over the course of repeated moves. I remember with an aching fondness how much I loved our big family get togethers, and am startled to realize the last one happened in 1970.

Sigh. Families can be such a burden. But oh when you don't have one any more. Then, oh then...

Posted by: PatrickH on August 12, 2008 4:23 PM

Well, Don, if you want your family to stick together you need to be Italian or Jewish. Then the parents guilt trip the kids into never moving because "It'll kill your poor mother!!"

Posted by: Days of Broken Arrows on August 12, 2008 5:06 PM

Donald, the best way to keep up with a large, extended family is with computerized family tree programs. I use Reunion, which is for Mac only, but there are others out there. I found the program easy to use and quite fun. Also, it is generally quite revelatory to discover how your ancestors are connected.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 12, 2008 7:30 PM


My crushes on my "cousinage" (love the term, dearieme; I'm using it from now on) were of a wonderfully compelling and memorable sort. There was an intimacy immediately present because of the family relation (I always connected immediately and strongly with my cousins) and then, if the magic happened, it could flourish into something even more intimate. I had a couple of "kissing cousin" things going in my masher pervy youth, and to this day the names Margot M-- and Julie H-- can make my heart flutter. I still harbour a vague desire to call them up (48 years later!) and see how they're doing.

Kissing cousins. Oh the deep romantic and erotic power of those words. Sigh. Isn't the word "cousin" itself soft and feminine and sexy and slinky and intimate? Doesn't it sound like something secret and wonderful all by itself? "Cousin". Sigh.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 12, 2008 7:51 PM

I have 15 first cousins, all but one on my father's side, and I haven't seen most of them in well over a decade. It's questionable whether I'd even recognize a few of them if they were standing in front of me. Weird, I guess, but it's just the way things are.

Posted by: Peter on August 12, 2008 10:49 PM

I have about 30 first cousins (not counting the children of first cousins, who are "first cousins once removed"). I'm close to many of those on my father's side of the family, because the siblings were very close to each other, a real team with the attitude of "us against the world". We go to each other's weddings, christenings, graduations, and so forth. We have family reunions in Saskatchewan, where my father and his sibs grew up.

French Canadians can be very clannish, as much as Jews or Italians, though not so strongly today as in the past. Perhaps it's because we're all related to each other even if we're not "family": all FCs of Quebec origins descended from a group of 10,000 people, and there are about 7 million of us in North America now (I think; it's difficult to get good stats).

Posted by: alias clio on August 13, 2008 1:55 PM

You're FC, Clio? For some reason, I find that surprising. Just adds to your mystery--which is good for a Muse, I should think.

My father's side is English and ? (a Barnardo's Home Child issued from an English mother--she's the source of the H in my nick) and Franco-American via New Hampshire. I like to think we're somehow related to Jack Kerouac via that route, but that's probably just smokey-blowy.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 13, 2008 7:02 PM

Diaspora FC's who went west is what we are. My mother was of Polish descent, and my French, though decent, is not perfect, esp. now because I haven't had to use it much for several years. So I belong to the despised assimiles. French-speaking Quebecers would disown me.

Posted by: alias clio on August 14, 2008 12:38 PM

Don't even have to use French in your job, do you? You know the joke about bilingualism in the Public Service: bureaucrat finishes his six month French training, steps out the door and says, "Well, that's the last French I'll ever have to speak!"

Posted by: PatrickH on August 14, 2008 1:58 PM

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