September 16, 2021

Eric Douglas: Family is what you make it, especially during the holidays

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By Eric Douglas From Metro Kananwha

Holiday parties have the potential to bring us into contact with more of our extended family than we ever knew we had. And maybe wanted to know.

I hear this sort of conversation all the time.

“How are we related again?”

“Oh, we’re sixth cousins, once removed on our mother’s side.”

This usually elicits a blank look from the asker, not knowing if the “cousin” is serious or not and just what that means.

I recently stumbled across a chart that can make it easier to figure these things out. It was created by Alice J. Ramsay in 1987, but it seems to take a lot of the guess work out of the process. There is even a colorized version that indicates your percentage of genetic connection to the relative. (

According to this chart: first, second, third, fourth and fifth cousins are all from the same generation. You’re first cousins with your aunt/uncle’s child. You are first cousins, once removed with your first cousin’s child. Once removed means one generation removed. Interesting (to me, at least) is that the “once removed” designation works both ways. It can mean the relative is the generation before you, or after you.

You are second cousins with someone who is your great aunt/uncle’s grandchild, but you are a first cousin, once removed from your great aunt/uncle’s child.

Yep, still clear as mud.

When I lived in California, nearly 20 years ago, it wasn’t possible to come in for Thanksgiving and Christmas. A family I worked with invited us to their house for Thanksgiving. They called it “taking in strays.” It was a nice feeling to know there were people out there to make us feel welcome when we were so far away from home.

I often feel like I have an extended family, far outside of my birth family. There are friends I consider brothers and sisters where there is no genetic connection and there are several people that I refer to as “Mom” and “Dad,” even though I am fortunate to still have both of my parents with me. Many of my friends growing up referred to my parents the same way.

There are lots of people who either don’t have family or are far away from their families this time of year. That makes the holidays hard. If you happen to know someone who can’t be with family right now, think about taking in a stray.

At least they won’t have to figure out what sort of cousin they are.

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit
or contact him at [email protected]

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