It’s Raining Cousins


Over time the data that I collected grew from a small tree that my father had scratched out for me on a piece of notepaper to a fairly large database of hopefully well documented names and events. As of the summer of 2006, my genealogy database consisted of 2,145 individuals. This number may seem rather low to some. I know of some “genealogists” out there who have databases that consist of 10,000 or more individuals. Yet I have found that these very large databases containing thousands and thousands of individuals normally tend to offer very little in terms of useful information as they generally contain almost no documentation (i.e. sources or notes) and tend to be little more than a very large catalog of names. Therefore, I have concentrated my efforts on the quality of the data and not the quantity.

Out of the total number of individuals in the database ~700 are blood-relatives of my mother and ~600 are blood-relatives of my father; with the remaining 800 or so related to us only through marriage or not all. There are some that I believe may be related but I have not yet been able to confirm or deny a connection to. The majority of the individuals in the database (70%) were born before the 20th century and more than half were born in the 19th century.

In regards to surnames, the top four in the database are Dobbs (273), DeBacker (131), Gaume (123), and Prothro (119); although that is not counting the variant spellings that exists for three of these surnames. In terms of multiple people with the same surname and given names – and this serves as an illustration as to why this research can sometimes be so frustrating and confusing – the most popular name throughout the database appears to be “John”. In the Dobbs family – and this is over the course of several generations – there is John (11), William (8), and Martin (5). For the Gaume family – and this is only in one or two generations – there is Charles (4), Frank (4) and Joseph (4).

Of those 2,145 individuals, only 173 are my direct ancestors. My parents, my grandparents, my 8 great-grandparents, and 16 gg-grandparents are all accounted for, but I am missing information for nearly half of my 32 ggg-grandparents. Going back about three hundred years or so, nine generations back, I have accounted for only 28 of my 512 8th great-grandparents and I have no delusions at all of ever being able to account for all of my 1,024 9th great-grandparents.

It should be noted that throughout the book, when discussing a particular individual, I will describe their relationship to myself or to other individuals under discussion – as in “She was the great grand-daughter of so-and-so” or “He was my great grandfather’s grandfather”. For the most part I stick to describing the individual’s relationship to me and have limited it mainly to my direct ancestors even though I do provide, in most cases, details that I have collected regarding the siblings of my direct ancestors. In some cases, I have referred to someone as my “gg-grandfather” and in other cases, I may use an ordinal term like “5th great-grandfather”. I use the first method as shorthand for “great, great-grandfather” and the later is meant to be read as “great, great, great, great, great-grandfather”. In doing it this way, I have tried to be consistent in limiting the shorthand method to no more than four “g”s and for anything over four to use the ordinal notation.

One thing to keep in mind that when we say “great, great, great, etc.” that we are talking about the number of generations that separate two individuals and that we must count both the number of “greats” and add one for the “grand” to determine the number of generations. For example, my grandmother and I are separated by one generation – my mother’s generation. Therefore, if we were talking about one of my 11th great-grandfather (for example, Hermes Van Coppenolle), we would say that he and I are separated by 12 generations.

It seems that the majority of the individuals that I have researched and attempted to document are either descendants of a common ancestor (cousins) or spouses of those cousins. Cousins are two people who have a common ancestor but who are not related as a sibling (brother/sister), a direct ancestor (parents/grandparents), direct descendent (grandchildren, etc.), a sibling of a direct ancestor (aunts/uncles), or descendent of a sibling (nieces/nephews). Cousinship is measured in “Degrees of Consanguinity” – how closely related two people are who are of a common bloodline. Usually when speaking of one’s cousins, we are referring to the children of one’s aunt or uncle, but this relationship specifically refers to one’s first cousins because the common ancestor is one generation removed – that is one or more grandparents are the common ancestor.

Throughout history and in different cultures “Degrees of Consanguinity” have been used to determine the legality of a sexual interrelationship (i.e. marriage) and establish a line below which those relationships are prohibited. For a number of centuries the Catholic church had in place a ban on marriage within the fourth degree of relationship (third cousins and below). The term “kissing cousins” was used to describe cousins who by law could marry in that they were no more closely related than the degree of fourth cousin. In looking at my direct ancestors I have found one instance of “kissing cousins” and that is on my father’s side where my 6th great grandfather, Hermes Van Coppenolle (1682-1752), and my 6th great grandmother, Marie Dejonge (1681-1760) who were married in 1708 and were 4th cousins. Their common ancestor was Hermes Van Coppenolle (b. 1510) and he was their ggg-grandfather.

When we speak of fourth cousins, fifth cousins, etc. we are talking about individuals of the same generation who share a common ancestor, but are not part of any of the other relationships mentioned previously. Second cousins are individuals who only share one or more great-grandparents as common ancestors and so on. For example, 7th cousins would be two individuals, in the same generation, that only share a common 6th great-grandparent. If two individuals are related as cousins but they do not reside in the same generation they are said to be “removed” by a one or more generations – as in “third cousins twice removed”. This type of relationship can be described by example:

· Alice’s grandmother had a first cousin named Burt.

· Burt & Alice’s grandmother shared the same grandparents.

· Alice’s mother’s great-grandparents were Burt’s grandparents.

· Therefore, Alice’s mother & Burt were “first cousins once removed” and Alice & Burt were “first cousins twice removed”.

· Burt had a son named Bob.

· Therefore, Bob & Alice’s grandmother were “first cousins once removed”, Bob & Alice’s mother were second cousins (they share the same great-grandparents) and Bob & Alice were “second cousins once removed.”

At first, this may sound a little confusing. A simple way of looking at is that if we know that Bob and Alice share a common ancestor and that they are only cousins (not brother/sister, aunt/uncle, etc.) then we call them “cousins”. Since Bob is closer to that common ancestor (his great-grandparent) and because that is 2 generations difference, we say that Bob and Alice are “second cousins”. Since Alice is 3 generations removed from the common ancestor (her great, great-grandparent) we then find the difference between Bob’s generation and Alice’s generation (3 – 2 = 1) and say that they are “second cousins once removed”. To make things even simpler, what we do is to make sure that when buying a genealogy software package that it comes with a “relationship calculator” and we let the computer do all the hard work for us.

After I first published my data on the internet in 1994, it took over a year before I was contacted by anyone. In 1996, a first cousin of my father contacted me from Wichita, Kansas. Her father was my grandfather’s youngest brother. She had a wealth of information on the DeBacker family and had managed to trace the family back to their home city in Belgium.

Within a few months after being contacted by my dad’s cousin ( that is to say my first cousin once removed), cousins both near and distant began to virtually drop into my email from the proverbial family tree and each email exchange provided new pieces to the puzzle of my family’s history.

The year 1999 was a banner year for my genealogy research. A first cousin of mine, whom I had never met, found my web site on her very first night on the internet and sent me an email to let me know how excited she was when she found the information that I had published regarding our DeBacker family.

A cousin on my maternal great-grandfather’s side (2nd cousin twice removed), contacted me from Louisville, Kentucky with information regarding my mother’s grandfather, E. J. Kollros and was able provide the name of the town in Baden (Germany) that they emigrated from.

Late in 1999, I received an email from someone who was researching the Gaume family - the family of my paternal grandfather’s mother. At first, we were not sure if we were related, but we both knew that our families had first settled in Louisville, Ohio after coming over from France. For a number of months we worked together with others through the medium of an on-line forum devoted to researching French families that had settled in Stark County, Ohio. The result of this was a tremendous windfall of information regarding a branch of my father’s family that I previously had little or no knowledge of. As it turned out she and I were related – we are third cousins twice removed; not only that, we also determined that we are “double cousins”.

“Double Cousins” are the result of when a pair of siblings from one family each forms a union with a pair of siblings from another family – two brothers from one family each marrying a sister from another family. Her ancestor, Josephine Faiver, was the sister of my ancestor, Elise Faiver, and her ancestor, Louis Gaume, was the brother of my ancestor, Francis Gaume.

Not all of my contacts came from people finding my web site. On one occasion, I was browsing the message boards on the and I came across the following message:

Looking for the descendants of James Monroe DOBBS (1902-1956). Daughters by first wife were Jo CARLIN and Pat DEBACKER. James’ second wife was Helen MEWHINNEY, and they were married in Fort Worth in 1937. James Monroe DOBBS’ mother was Helen SPIEGEL. Would also like to know when and where she died. Any help appreciated. Thanks. Shelly

When I saw this message, my jaw dropped. There were only about ten people in the world that this message could be for and I was one of them. I answered this message introducing myself as the eldest grandson of James Monroe Dobbs. The inquirer turned out to be a cousin (2nd cousin once removed) on my maternal grandfather’s side and the e-mail exchange that followed provided me a wealth of information on a side of my family for which I previously had very little information. The inquirer and her great aunt had traced this side of my family back to the 1680’s as Quaker’s settling in Pennsylvania and then migrating down into South Carolina and Georgia.