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A cousin is a cousin is a cousin. Or are they?

When one is adopted at an early age, one tends to think of the people that raised you into adulthood as your parents. Any nieces and nephews of your parents are automatically assumed to be your cousins. Just like any normal blood related family would, correct?

Such is the case with myself and my sister. Both of us were born in the Philippines. She in Quezon City in February of 1968, and me in Manila in March of 1967. Both of us knew, from the time we were old enough to understand, that we were adopted. Heck we both have our respective adoption and US Naturalization documents in our possession as proof. Our parents, both born in Miami, Florida, were living in a quonset hut at the Sangley Point US Naval Station, where Dad was serving with the US Coast Guard when they adopted my sister and I on June 27, 1968.

Seeing as our adoptive parents were the only parents we knew, it was only natural for us to assume that their respective families were our family as well. Just like any other person would, we considered our parents' nephews and nieces as our cousins. We didn't know anything else. Adoption, to my sister and I, meant that someone cared enough to bring us into their family and share us with the rest of the blood kin, instead of not having any children at all because she was unable to have them herself biologically.

Now comes the genealogy aspect of things. Back in May of 2007, I began what has become close to a near obsession for me; tracing the roots of the only family I have known. A project that began for me as a way to prove that certain notable figures of American History and Literature, were indeed in the family tree, that Dad and his mother stated, with a certainty, were on his side of the family. So far, I have yet to find the proof of this for Dad's side.

On my mother's side, however, that is a completely different story. At least it is for one particularly well known Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. Admittedly, General Lee is a very distant cousin of my mother's, a twenty-second cousin 9x removed, with the line tracing back to an Aubrey de Vere born about 1062 in England as the common ancestor. General Lee married another distant cousin of my mother's, Mary Randolph Custis, great-granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Custis. Martha Dandridge Custis is well known to most as the wife of the first President of the United States, George Washington. Prior to her marriage to President Washington, Martha Dandridge had been married to Daniel Parke Custis. They had a son, John Parke Custis, who married Eleanor Calvert. John and Eleanor had a son, George Washington Parke Custis, who married Mary Fitzhugh. George and Mary had Mary Randolph Custis. Mary Randolph Custis, who was born October 1, 1806, is calculated to be my mother's twenty-fifth cousin 6x removed, with the lineage tracing back to, once again, Aubrey De Vere born about 1062 in England. I suppose I should note that Aubrey De Vere was the grandfather of Robert De Vere, who was one of the Sureties for the Magna Charta of 1215.

A little closer in the relationship tree on my mother's side, born ten years after Mary Randolph Custis, in 1816, in Davidson County, Tennessee, the world witnessed the birth of Newman Haynes "Old Man" Clanton. Most of you are probably more familiar with a couple of his sons, Joseph Issac and William Harrison Clanton, better known as Ike and Billy Clanton of the October 26, 1881 OK Corral gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona. Billy died that day, while Ike survived. "Old Man" Clanton had died earlier that year on the morning of August 13, in Guadalupe Canyon, Animas Valley, New Mexico. Some say that he was killed by some Mexicans, while others say it was done by the Earp Brothers. Regardless, of who did it, an eyewitness, who was one of the two lone survivors of the shooting, saw "Old Man" Clanton get shot and fall face first into the breakfast fire and died where he lay. Ike Clanton would die six years later, on June 1, 1887 on the James "Pegleg" Wilson Ranch near Eagle Creek, Graham County, Arizona, from a shooting for resisting arrest. Ike and Billy Clanton are calculated to be my mother's fifth cousins 3x removed, the lineage tracing back to an Edward Creighton Clanton, who was born about 1659 in Surry County (present day Sussex County) of the Virginia Colony. Most, if not all, Clanton researchers can trace their roots to John Clanton, who was born about 1609 or 1610 in England and sailed aboard the ship "Abraham" from London, England to the Virginia Colony in 1635.

This brings me to the present Clanton cousins still alive today. Several of whom I have met online doing my research of the Clanton line, and a few whom I have had the pleasure of meeting most recently via Facebook. One of these newfound cousins from Missouri started calling me "Cousin" in some of her posts to me on Facebook. I, in turn, would do the same thing. This, of course started, after we had compared notes and discovered that we did indeed have documentation of a common ancestor. Some of that documentation that we had received separately from the same researchers we had been consulting with on our own respective initiative, others we had from different sources. Yet, there it was, documented proof of newfound cousins.

Now comes the meat of the story. My sister, having accepted the Facebook friend request from this Clanton cousin, actually objected to our publically calling each other "Cousin"!!!!!!!! My sister, who had no interest in my project, sent me a message and basically began calling me a loon and chastising me for calling someone I had not met in person cousin and asked for me to provide proof of the relationship. I, of course, was happy to comply. So I sent her a pdf of the lineage I had done so far from the immigrant, John Clanton, to the present generation, which included her children, as well as a relationship chart for her and the person she was chastising me about. Included with the lineage, was every source I found or had been given to me, proving each and every name, date, etc. that would prove my findings.

My sister was not satisfied. By her logic, she feels that even though I have provided her proof of the Missouri Clanton as a cousin of our adoptive mother, my sister says and I quote, "I cannot rightfully call her 'cousin' due to the fact that we (you and I) are not blood related. We are only related on a piece of paper," and, "it upsets me that you would call a woman that you've never met 'cousin'." Then she does a complete one eighty and says that she acknowledges our adoptive parents' nephews and nieces, and that she acknowledges their children as cousins, even though there is no blood relationship to them. My rebuttal to my sister was to ask that even though I have not met the children of the cousins she acknowledged, does that mean that I do not have the right to call them cousin as well, and how is it that one says we cannot be related to someone except via a piece of paper, signed per a legal Filipino court proceeding in 1968, yet still acknowledges a familial relationship to someone who is not blood related? To date, I still have not received a reply to my rebuttal.

For several days after the exchange with my sister, I struggled with my decision of whether or not to continue my project, which I hope to one day, give to my nephews. For two years I have put a lot of my energy into working on this project; I had begun to doubt the validity of my research and began to think I had wasted two years of my life. I was almost in tears to think that I was doing something that had no meaning, all because I had let my sister get under my skin and question my right to call someone within my adoptive family "Cousin."

However, I came to my senses after telling some of my friends my dilemma. They reminded me that I wasn't doing the research just for myself, but for my two nephews. That they enjoyed seeing the light in my eyes, and the sheer excitement I had whenever I would tell them of something new I had discovered. They are even encouraging me to publish a book or two of my findings, once I have gone as far as I can in my research, to benefit other genealogists.

Thanks to the support of my friends I've come to realize, again, that no matter if you were born to the people who raised you, or were lucky enough to be adopted by a couple who lovingly raised you as their own biological child, their family is your family. No matter if they are a distant cousin, or even an immediate cousin, they are still your cousin. Don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. Be proud of your relationship, and never let someone else tell you that you cannot call them cousin when you have the proof to back you up. For in the long run, sometimes all you have is your family.

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Comment by Claude P Perry II on September 14, 2009 at 6:27pm
Thank you all for your comments and sharing your opinions and stories of your adopted relatives. My apologies to all of you for not responding sooner. However I had internet issues which kept me from accessing this site.

To Judy-- You and I were on the same page. I have several copies of this tucked away in various places for safe keeping. I had actually planned on using this entire article as my introduction for when I go to publish my findings after I had written this up. Thanks for reading my mind on this. As for my sister calling me brother, she does it all the time. Has done so for as long as I can remember

Kathleen-- send me your line via email if you like and I'll see what I can do to help you connect the dots to Robert E. Lee.

Terrence-- Depending on how old your adopted relatives are may make a difference in your decision to tell them or not. Those that are adopted may need to know one day should the need ever arise, such as organ donation, blood transfusion, medical history, etc. However I'm not going to coerce you into doing something that you are not comfortable with.
Comment by Sue Gray on July 26, 2009 at 6:36am
you are so right about this. Sometimes people are related by the heart. I too have found distant cousins...3rd and 4th and some of them are the in-laws. My favourite one is the wife of my 3rd cousin, who is doing all the research on the families, and she is definitely, if nothing else, a cousin of the heart. We keep in constant touch and not about family research. Family is very important, whether it be biological or otherwise and don't let anyone tell you anything different.
Comment by Kathleen Turnquist on July 17, 2009 at 11:14pm
This is really interesting to me because my Grandmother Edna (Hendrickson) Woodburn has family members who say we are related to Robert E. Lee. I however have never been able to prove it. Her Grandfather John Hendrickson was said to have a picture taken with Robert E. Lee but no one knows what happened to it. They were supposedly both in the Civil War. I just don't know what (probably grandmother) goes back to him. I have the Hendrickson line back a long long way but not all the grandmothers along the way.

Kathy
Comment by Sabrina Kaye Wimmer Caston on July 10, 2009 at 5:40pm
Claude, I am so glad you did not abandon your research. I have four nieces and three nephews that are adopted as well as being married to a wonderful man who is also adopted. I have even had to deal with the issue of step children through our union and what it boils down to is family is family...period. My love for all my nieces and nephews as well as my step children does not differ just because they are not "my blood". They are my family and I would go to hell and back for them just as I would "blood" relatives. Keep up the good work.
Comment by Ron Vincent on July 9, 2009 at 3:51pm
Claude,
I've been doing family research for 40 years. I've obtained enough for 2 books (self-published). I've never met a genealogist who wasn't eager to call another researcher "cousin." God bless your sister. She has personal issues I hope she manages in time. Her children and grandchildren will bless the day you made your decision to do record their family history even though your sister may not agree. I've met very few who don't cherish the research others have done on their ancestors, adopted or otherwise, regardless of nationality or ethnicity.
One of my sons-in-law is from the Philippines. I have one from Mexico and another from Chile so we're a mixed family. One of my daughters-in-law has no idea who her father is. Her mom doesn't know either. So she does research on her mother's line. She has it back several generations now. We work with what we're given and we're all proud of anything we can find that brings us together.
I always considered adopted kids doubly blessed because they have twice the lineage. An adopted friend of mine has all 4 of his parents researched back 8 or 10 generations. Lucky guy! Thank you for posting your story. We're all behind you.
Ron V.
Comment by Candy Hulbert Ditkowski on July 9, 2009 at 8:31am
Good for you! Absolutely, keep going on your research - this is YOUR FAMILY! My husband was also adopted as an infant, and his adoptive parents & extended family are all he has ever known or cares to know about. They are his parents, aunts, uncles, and yes...his cousins.
Comment by Charles Ano on July 9, 2009 at 1:45am
When I 1st started, I entered the names of my sister in laws adoptive parents and my mom said your not supposed to do that cause it's GENEalogy, it's about the biology. I told her, then I'm doing family history! I told her that's absurd for me not to include them, that's the only grandparents my niece knows and my sister in law (no ex), met her birth mother once and doesn't keep in touch, so why should I chase those people down? I'm gonna put who my niece knows and that I know about and it's her business to pursue the biological aspect if she so wishes. She still has the same questions any biological kid would have, Aunt Nancy is related how? etc....

If anyone has a problem with how I do things, I just tell them, it's my time & effort and I'll do things my way. And if that person has no problem calling you cousin, why should your sister.

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