10 May 2007

What does it Mean to be Related?

Ancestry.com is reporting that President Bush and Pocahontas are
related. I guess by most definitions of "related' they are, but it
might be a stretch.

An ancestor of President Bush, Robert Bolling, was married twice. The
first wife was Jane Rolfe, a granddaughter of Pocahontas. Robert
Bolling's second wife is the ancestor of the President. Does this
qualify Bush as "related" to Pocahontas?

While I see the connection (genealogy isn't always rocket science),
I'm not certain this qualifies the two as related in the sense that
most people think.

For many people, their definition of related implies a blood or
biological connection. That clearly is not the situation in this case.

For others, being related implies a relationship by marriage.
However, in most of these cases, the "relative" is the subsequent
spouse, not the first. Subsequent spouses are often referred to as
step-parents of any children by previous marriages and may be seen as
defacto parents by those children. That was not the case here either
as Bolling's first wife was a Pocantas descendant, not one after
Bush's ancestor was born. Did Bolling have a relationship with his
former in-laws after his wife's death? I'm not certain, but the
chance lowers unless they had children.

Should a genealogist care about these "relatives" if they aren't
related in the way we normally think? The answer is
sometimes--depending upon how stuck we are and how much time we have.

As for me, I rarely trace the ancestors of all my ancestor's
spouses--when they had more than one. In most cases, knowing at least
their parents' names is helpful to help place them in context--going
further back usually isn't necessary,but sometimes it is. However, I
don't consider myself related to all the spouses of my ancestor, it
is just that sometimes learning more about them is helpful in tracing
my own family.

Of course sometimes I am related to all my ancestor's spouses.
Related in the biological sense of the word.

Good old Hinrich Fecht (1823-1912), my 3rd great-grandfather is a
prime example.

Hinrich was married three times:

1) Trientje Bruns (1823-1848)--sister of wife 2
2) Marie Bruns (1831-before 1877) her and Hinrich's daughter Anna was
my ancestor
3) Antje Jaspers Habben (1823-1900)--her son John Habben married
Hinrich's daughter Anna, daughter of wife 2.

There's a lot of relationships here...more than in the
Bush-Pocahontas connection. I have a couple of other ancestors from
whom I descend via the first and the second wife.

But we'll leave that for another posting.