We are probably cousins… just a few times removed!


Columnist Randal B. Thatcher


We are probably cousins…

just a few times removed!



A rather remarkable thing transpired recently that still has me marveling…

My wife and I had gathered at the home of friends, together with still other friends, for dinner. The conversation around this particular table was not unlike the dinner conversation around most any other table: “How were your Holidays?” “Have you seen that movie everyone’s talking about?” “Are there any more biscuits?”

But then, one fellow suddenly took his cellphone from his pocket, placing it on the table in front of him with conspicuous deliberation, and asking the rest of us to do the same.

That every person at that table was in possession of their own small cellular device is not so remarkable in this digital age. We all had one. And, as instructed, we got them out.

He then asked us to download a particular app onto our smartphones, called, Family Tree.

A few minutes later we each had the app open and active on our respective phones, and with the benefit of that ubiquitous WiFi signal that permeates the atmosphere of most every home these days, he instructed us to activate a menu item, called, Relatives Around Me.

On command, eight pocket-sized computers all began doing their thing: scanning, analyzing, number-crunching, while accessing multiple databases from any number of massive mainframes located who-knows-where in the world.

With growing anticipation, we watched and waited, as all eight of those little modern marvels continued to silently compute, deciphering in mere minutes what, 20 years ago, would’ve required many months of painstaking research in musty libraries; and what, 30 years ago, would’ve been next to impossible.

And then, as text began to appear, like magic, upon each of those small glowing screens around the table, that truly remarkable thing—that incredible, nearly unbelievable thing—began to come into focus…

Every single person at that table was related to each other—every one!

The woman next to me had relatives that came to America from Somerset, England—the very town my Dad’s family line comes from.

Another fellow’s ancestors had immigrated from the same town of Aalborg, Denmark, that my Mother’s great-great grandparents had come from.

We were all cousins. All of us! Distant cousins, to be sure—mostly nine times removed—putting the familial link somewhere back around the early to mid-1600s. But some of us were only six or seven times removed, meaning the branches of our respective trees had intersected as recently as the mid-1700s.

We all laughed in utter astonishment, marveling at this revelation: that our little dinner party, among casual friends, was actually a de facto family reunion!

Did it change the way we suddenly perceived one another? Did we recognize that we were, in quantifiable fact, literally family, in a far more real and tangible sense that we could’ve ever imagined when we’d first sat down together? And, did it bother me, just a little, to be staring at the irrefutable evidence that I was even a distant relative of my own lawfully wedded wife?

The natural extrapolation, for me, has been inescapable: If eight individuals around a relatively random table can all be proven to be directly related to one another, then would that not be generally true of a gathering of a hundred people? Or a thousand? Or a hundred thousand?

And might this realization change the way I view virtually any other person I may chance to meet; that we are, in all likelihood, actual relatives—a literal Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Man?

Perhaps this notion of a “Family of Man” resonates with you, as it always has with me. If so, we now live in an age where there is digitally accessible proof of the reality of this great, sprawling, extended family we all belong to, a broad and complex network of intersecting lines and branches that will eventually connect every single one of us.

I have served jocular notice each summer to a local family—distantly related to my wife—that they may see me at their extended family’s annual mutton feast. Up until now, it’s been merely a jest. But I begin to consider how I might be eligible to crash literally any family celebration I should chance to encounter, whether wedding feast, funeral luncheon, graduation or retirement party.

And, should I overhear someone asking, “Who is that guy over there, gorging himself on our wedding cake?” I can reply with the utmost sincerity, “Why, don’t you recognize me? I am your cousin!”


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