Thursday, 28 August 2014


No cousin is an Island, intire of itselfe; every cousin is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy cousins or of thine owne were; any cousins death diminishes me, because I am involved in Cousinkinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thy cousin.                            
 (by William Donne , John’s cousin)

All of us have two parents. They in turn also have two parents. Our grandparents have two parents as our great grandparents did before them. If we look at our family trees   going back in time we have 4 grandparents we have 8 great grandparents we have 16 great great grandparents, 32 great great great grandparents etc. When we go back 40 or 50 generations we have, roughly, one trillion ancestors…… But how is this possible? That is more people than have ever lived. Where do we find the trillion ancestors we need to fill the spots in our family tree? This can only be done if they are filled by family members who are already in our tree. This can only happen through cousin marriage.

Cousins have been marrying each other for ever. In fact if you go far back enough we are all cousins so it’s impossible to avoid marrying a cousin even if you wanted to. My parents both share a Mayflower ancestor. They are 9th cousins once removed. They might also be 12th cousins, 7th cousins twice removed and 20th cousins 5 times removed as well only these connections just haven’t been made. This is true for all of us. We are all cousins with each other many times over.
Because of cousin marriage family trees are not really like trees at all. If our family tree was a living tree it would be a confused mess. Some leaves would have two branches. Branches would connect then disconnect again. It wouldn’t be structurally sound. It would collapse immediately. The term ‘Pedigree collapse’, coined by Robert C. Gunderson has been used to describe this phenomenon. Family trees are more accurately described as Directed Acyclic Graphs or DAGs. It’s a diagram that goes in one direction, parents have children, and as you cannot be your own ancestor, it is not a cycle, it is acyclic. You will find your family tree, like mine, is full of DAGs.
It’s been theorised that every human being is at most 50th cousin distant from everyone else. We are all incredibly inbred. There is no way we can marry anyone who is not already a family member. You might ask, Is this a problem? At what point is this incestuous? At what point do our offspring start growing pointy heads and extra fingers? How close a cousin can we marry?

Adeline Lovina Webster (1872-1957)
George A Hinckley (1862-1947) was my grandfather’s uncle. He married Julia Goodrich in 1887 who died shortly after while giving birth to their first child Mabel in 1888 Two years later in 1890 he married Adeline Lovina Webster (1872-1957) who was his mother’s brother’s daughter, she was his first cousin. It was not illegal to marry your first cousin in Vermont at that time. However if they had lived in nearby New Hampshire it would have been. So why is it illegal in some places but not others?
We in Western countries have no problem with second cousins getting married but we generally are averse to first cousin marriage.  This comes from thinkers of the late 1800s who thought that that first cousin marriage was, “a remnant of a more primitive stage of human social organization”, and non consanguine (cousin) marriage would "increase the vigor of the stock". Dr Samuel Merrifield Bemiss of the American Medical Association wrote in an influential report in the late 1800s "that multiplication of the same blood by in-and-in marrying does incontestably lead in the aggregate to the physical and mental depravation of the offspring".

Cousin Marriage banned in 'red' states

Modern statistics show that first cousin marriages do increase birth defects but only by a tiny 1.7% to 2.8%. They had no accurate statistics of this in the 1800s.
The ideas circulating in the 1800s were taken much more seriously in the US than they ever were in Europe. This probably had more to do with the fact that many European royal families were the result of cousin marriages while in the US it was seen as a problem of the uneducated masses. In 2010 there were 30 US states that still banned most or all marriage between first cousins. While in Europe there were only ever three countries that at one time had a ban and there are none now. It has never been banned in England or Australia.

Charles Darwin married his first cousin Emma

Attitudes vary throughout the world and laws are continuously changing on cousin marriage. In the Middle East it has always been common practice to marry your first cousin. The Ancient Roman’s banned it then unbanned it and then banned it again. Hinduism bans cousin marriage within the first 6 degrees if the cousins have the same surname (agnatic kinship). It is illegal now in China but hasn’t always been. Some indigenous cultures make a distinction between marriage with first cousins from your father’s siblings and your mother’s siblings (parallel and cross cousins) one being permitted and the other not. Attitudes vary throughout the world.

Table of Consanguinity c.1300

So how did you know who you could marry? The European nobility would look at a Table of Consanguinity. This would identify the degree of cousin relationship between two people using their most recent common ancestor as a reference point. However, if you were a European commoner, your guidance about who to marry came from a Table of Kindred and Affinity that had exactly the same information as a Table of Consanguinity only it was telling you who you couldn’t marry instead of who you could.

Table of Kindred and Affinity (partial)

My grandfather’s aunt Adeline Lovina Webster was born in Plymouth, Vermont which is next to Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Plymouth Notch’s most famous son was none other than Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) who was the 30th president of the United States, a man famous for his laconic New England wit and belief in ‘small government’. His birthplace has been preserved as an historic museum.

Plymouth Vermont
President Coolidge was not a talker. There is a story that a woman sitting next to the president at a White House function told him that someone had made a bet with her that she couldn’t get him to speak three words or more. She told the president that she thought she could and had accepted the wager. Calvin’s response was ‘You lose.’
Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)

Interestingly Adeline Lovina Webster’s mother was Lucy Jane Coolidge who was also born in Plymouth Vermont. Lucy was Calvin’s 4th cousin. So Calvin Coolidge was the 4th cousin of my 1st Great Great Aunt. He is in my family tree. But does it really matter. If you look into your own family tree you will find him there too. He is your cousin as much as he is mine. After all we are all cousins. Aren’t we?


   A 'selfie' by a distant cousin









Monday, 11 August 2014


The Protestant Reformation gave Europeans tough choices. The decision was whether to follow the doctrine of the established church or not. If not, you risked being charged with heresy. If you followed the wrong doctrine then there was God to answer to. It was a choice between your King and your immortal soul, a choice between being executed as a heretic in this life or an eternity in the fires of Hell in the next.
It’s been estimated that around 30% of people with British ancestry have at least one Huguenot hiding in their family tree. This is true for many Australians. People are often not aware of this because Huguenot surnames were often anglicised. Your own surname could be an anglicised French name and you might not realise it.

Warren Buffett is of Huguenot descent
(he pronounces his name buffet at home)
Although the Huguenot exodus was well over by 1788 when the first fleet arrived, there were many settlers that came to Australia with Huguenot ancestry.  Jacob Bellet, a Huguenot silk weaver, was on the First Fleet, there was a Capt Edward Riou in charge of HMS Guardian in the Second Fleet, the wife of Lt Governor Sir John Franklin of Tasmania was the daughter of Huguenots.  Cazneaux, La Trobe, Chauvel, Cazaly the list of famous Australians with Huguenot names is a long one.
For most people the search for a Huguenot ancestor can be quite hard. You might have to look at a list of anglicised Huguenot names or look for an ancestor with a Huguenot occupation. It can be a long and involved search. There are many Societies devoted to this that can help you. In Australia there is an Australian Huguenot Society.

The origins of the word 'Huguenot' have been lost but it was thought to have originally been a derogatory term used to describe French Protestants. Although they were a small percentage of the French population they were influential. At one time it was estimated that half the French nobility were Huguenot. King Louis XIV saw this as a big problem. In 1681 he billeted soldiers in the homes of Huguenots to force them to convert to Catholicism. The ‘Dragonnades’ terrorised and abused their host families. A satirical French cartoon of the time called them ‘Nouveau Missionaires’

New Missionaries
There is a great website on the history of the Huguenots. It is called the Musee virtuel de protestantisme. The English translations can be a bit funny but it’s still well worth a look.
Huguenots had already been leaving France for many years but in 1685 King Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau. Protestant clergy were banished, their Churches were to be destroyed, the laity were to be forcibly converted to Catholicism and they were forbidden from leaving the country. To Louis surprise 200,000 Huguenot laity left the country anyway. They dispersed to all points of the world. 50,000 went to England, 10,000 to Ireland they went everywhere. The French word refugee entered the English language at this time. 

Huguenot Cross
This was a disaster for France as Huguenots tended to be skilled and very well educated. They had occupations like silk weavers, clock makers, silver smiths, furniture makers and workers in the textile industries. Some were professional men such as doctors. This caused a huge le exode des cerveaux (brain drain) which damaged France’s economy for many years. In today’s terms it would be like if Star Trek was banned and all the IT guys decided to leave the country. A very serious problem.
Finding a Huguenot ancestry in my own family tree was easy. This is not typical. My grandmother’s mother was Harriet La Grange (1878-1965) who was born and lived in upstate New York near Albany. We have always known that her surname was of Huguenot origin. All the Albany La Granges were thought to have descended from an Omie De La Grange (c.1624-1731) who probably arrived in the area in 1656.
Harriet La Grange (1878-1965)
There was a La Grange who arrived in America even earlier than Omie La Grange. His name was Captain François Léger de La Grange and he arrived in Florida in 1564. I have not found evidence that he is in my family tree yet but he is part of an interesting Huguenot story.
In 1562 the French Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (1519-72) decided to found a colony in the New World. France was eager to establish a presence there and Gaspard wanted to find a safe haven for his fellow Huguenots. He must have foreseen trouble brewing for French Protestants as shortly after this decision the French Wars of Religion began. An American colony would be good for France and good for Huguenots too.

French Florida

Gaspard enlisted his close subordinate Captain Jean Ribault (1520–1565) to lead this expedition. In 1562 Ribault, with three ships and 150 Huguenot colonists, sailed across the Atlantic and established a new colony on Parris Island in present day South Carolina he called this colony Charlesfort. Two years later another expedition led by René Goulaine de Laudonnière (c. 1529–1574) sailed over and founded the French colony of Fort Caroline near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. The Charlesfort settlers decided to bail out after a year but the Fort Caroline colonists stayed on.

Fort Caroline

The Spanish were none too happy about having the French moving into their territory. It wasn’t that they were French so much as they were Protestants. They quickly established a colony they named St Augustine in September 1565 located about 60 Km south of Fort Caroline. Ribault hearing of this sent his ships over to force the Spanish out but a storm hit him just when he was ready to attack. He was forced back and most of his ships were wrecked off Cape Canaveral. Most of the crewmen of Ribault's ships managed to scramble ashore. Captain de La Grange was one of the survivors.

The Spanish, lead by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, marched overland to Fort Caroline and massacred everyone there except the women and children. Menendez then hunted down Captain Ribault, Captain La Grange and his surviving crewmen.  After they surrendered he massacred them too. A sign was supposedly left at Fort Caroline that said ‘They were not massacred because they were French but because they were Heretics.”

 Jean Ribault (1520-1565)

The French were shocked and offended by this event. I can imagine King Louis XIV when hearing of this saying something like: “Those Spanish pigs! (pronounced peeegs) How dare they massacre our heretics! We are Frenchmen! We can massacre them ourselves!”
Gallic pride was restored in 1568 when Captain Dominique de Gourgues arrived at the now Spanish occupied Fort Caroline, then renamed San Matteo, and massacred every Spaniard there. Touché.

William Benjamin "Bill" Lenoir (1939 – 2010)
An astronaut with Huguenot ancestry.