Tangled Webs

by Laura

Genealogy can have some pretty tangled cross-relationships. As I continue to research the various trees that are part of my life, I’ve come across some close family members who have inter-married; sisters married to brothers, comes to mind. Mostly, one finds cousins of one degree or another in a small geographical area with a limited gene-pool, who find each other and marry. This is “endogamy”: Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such a basis as being unsuitable for marriage or for other close personal relationships.”

The ruling classes of pert ne’er everywhere have always done this, but, for illustrative purposes, Queen Victoria has to be the poster child of this. She is known as the “Mother (or Grandmother) of Europe” for a reason: her descendants have occupied or now occupy the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. For the royals, it’a all about consolidating power. In lesser nobles, it’s more about land and money.

But other groups may have more practical and immediate needs.  For colonists, it would be ethnicity as well as class and social mores that drove their choices. Colonial America was a pretty isolated place. In the very early days, you either chose a spouse from whomever came across in one of the first few ships, married from the indigenous people, or went back “home”, an arduous trip at best, and found a spouse. None of these were the best of alternatives within the historical context of the 17th century.  For the Irish, the group in which I am most interested, it would be religious beliefs. But, unlike some groups, the Irish Catholics were persnickety about marrying too close. The Catholic Church banned marrying anyone closer than third cousins. A young couple had to publish, publicly, their intentions to marry three weeks in a row so anyone having any sort of objection could make their objection known, regardless of the mature of this objection: potential bigamy, family connection, or other sort of unsuitability. When the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland broke away from Rome, they kept the practice. You’ll find these sorts of documents in Parish registers and they can be very helpful when doing research.

Of course, genealogists who work with family trees of Orthodox Jews have long dealt with endogamy as do other families of specific religious and ethnic groups, especially in geographically isolated areas. This can be very interesting research as the DNA ultimately gets tangled in addition to the paper trail. But when pursuing a particular family, it can also aid in pinning them down. For example, there are maps available for Irish surnames that pinpoints them geographically. These aren’t laser-accurate  in that you can’t point to a name and declare, “Grandaddy came from there!”, but it can give you a ballpark when searching in online records; at least, it’s helped me.

In any case, to move from the ridiculous to the sublime, one thing that has stuck in my head as I have slogged through some pretty tangled family webs lately, is an old song that Ray Stevens once did that is relevant to all of this. I just gotta share if, for no other reason, it’s good to giggle in the midst of pulling your hair out:

Many, many years ago when I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red
My father fell in love with her and soon they too were wed

This made my dad my son-in-law and really changed my life
For now my daughter was my mother, ’cause she was my father’s wife
And to complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy

My little baby then became a brother-in-law to dad
And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad
For if he were my uncle, then that also made him brother
Of the widow’s grownup daughter, who was of course my step-mother

Father’s wife then had a son who kept them on the run
And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter’s son
My wife is now my mother’s mother and it makes me blue
Because although she is my wife, she’s my grandmother too

Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I’m her grandchild
And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild
‘Cause now I have become the strangest ‘case you ever saw
As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa, I’m my own grandpa
It sounds funny, I know but it really is so
I’m my own grandpa

Read more:  Ray Stevens – I’m My Own Grandpa Lyrics | MetroLyrics