June 25th, 2021
I don't know about you, but personally, I am constantly confused about familial relationships. I mean, how family members are related, the actual official titles. 2nd cousin once removed. In-Laws, Outlaws. 4th husband's 3rd cousin by marriage once removed. (removed? Sounds like a an operation! - I had my tonsils removed and my 3rd cousin by marriage) The various greats and grands. It's all a little baffling.
My dad was seriously into genealogy and traced his family back far beyond the first of his clan to step foot onto what ultimately became the United States. Back then this country was largely uncharted territory already populated of course by the indigenous peoples of the area which matter not one whit to the Europeans when they arrived. Of course there is nothing I can do about that now some three hundred years later. So I am not going to go down that particular rabbit hole right now.
Instead I will just state the facts as I know them. On the paternal side of my family tree, a fellow named Casper Branner or possibly Brenner (there is some polite disagreement on the spelling) of Germany received a land grant of 400 acres in what is now Fairfax Virginia from another fellow named Lord Fairfax in England. How that all came about, I have no idea. This all happened way back in 1750. Clearly I wasn't around.
At any rate, as was not uncommon in that time, the family were farmers. They were fruitful and they multiplied. Large families were also the norm back then. Farming is hard work and the more free labour available, the better. The Branners (or Brenners) were busy working the land and populating the surrounding areas until at least one person in that group felt crowded. And so they up and moved a little further west.
And that pattern continued until eventually a batch of descendants arrived in Michigan.
Now on my mother's side, not nearly as much is known. All that is for certain is that her family has been hanging around the coast of Maine for a long time. A REALLY long time In fact, once again, since before our country was our country. They were mostly fisherfolk. Similar to my dad's family in a way except they worked the seas instead of the land. And once again, family stayed close to each other until somebody felt crowded and that that person nudged over a bit.
Starting from when I was very young, my dad's job had us moving around the country a whole lot. For a change, it had nothing to do with feeling crowded. So that was different from previous generations. And instead of moving just a little further, we moved all over the place, like the ball ricocheting in a pinball machine. Which means that although we visited family, my sister and I never lived close to any of them. Which is probably why the whole family tree thing is a wee bit overwhelming to me. As a kid my "family" was comprised of exactly 5 people: my sister, my father, my mother and my Nana who lived with us part of every year.
I recall attending exactly one big old family reunion in my lifetime. It was in Michigan, my dad's family. My grandfather cleared out one of his barns and tables were set up with boards on saw horses. People arrived in droves. Vehicle after vehicle after an endless stream of vehicles! And when those car and truck doors opened, people bearing covered dishes of all sorts, tumbled out like a waterfall of humanity. There were, literally, hundreds of folks in attendance. I met so many people it felt like I was in the middle of a tornado. I was only a little kid so I can be forgiven for not remembering a single name. But I do recall being impressed that my dad could tell me exactly how I was related to each of those individuals. It was wild. It was weird. It was unfathomable to me.
The only extended family I knew at all well were - on my mother's side, my Nana's oldest son and his wife who lived next door to my Nana up in Maine. That would be Uncle Sangar and Aunt Lydia or in kid parlance, Uncle Sang and Aunt Lyd. For those of you trying to follow this, that would be my mother's oldest brother who was nearly 20 years older than she. Which means Uncle Sang and Aunt Lyd's kids - who would be my cousins were old enough to feel more like aunts and uncles. Clearly they didn't want to hang around with dopey little kids like us. It was THEIR kids, who we knew a little better. Which would be our...2nd cousins? I think. But still that was all the way up in Maine and far away from us.
On my dad's side, we got to know his only sibling, dad's brother, Wilbur, his wife, Letha (read as Uncle Shorty and Aunt Lee) and their 5 kids who were thankfully around our age. Whenever we visited them we were like an untamed herd of kiddos running amuck. It was kind of awesome. Still is was only the occasional visit. We lived far away and did not get to see them often.
So as can you see, we never lived near enough to any family to have that whole aunty/uncle/cousin/2nd/removed/etc stuff become second nature to us. It was not even third of fourth nature. It was as mysterious and incomprehensible as Calculus. (which remains a mystery to me to this day)
All of that as a back drop for the following:
A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of meeting my niece's step daughter, an altogether delightful girl by the way. I will call her, DG for Delightful Girl. And while we were chatting, DG said something about me being her step great aunt. And I mentally came to a halt for a second. "Damn that sounds old", was my first thought. The second thought was that while I am, indeed, a pretty great aunt, Great Aunt sounds wrong. I know that it's correct, but it shouldn't be.
See if you can follow this:
My niece is DG's step mother. The (step) mother's mother, who is also my sister, would be her (step) Grand Mother, right? So why am I a great aunt? Shouldn't I be a grand aunt? On the tree line, I am on the same lateral line as my sister. If my sister is the Grandmother, wouldn't it follow that I would be a Grand Aunt?
Bear with me a minute. If my mother were still alive she would be the (step) Great- Grandmother. That's where the great belongs, on that line! If my mother's siblings were around, they would be the (step) Great Aunts and Uncles, right?
So what the actual heck?
Gosh I am so confuzled.
I suppose in the grander scheme of things it really doesn't matter. DG can call me whatever she likes. Great Aunt, Grand Aunt, Regular Aunt....... Just Sam works fine too. I give up.
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Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.