According to Ancestry.com, actor and eternal bachelor George Clooney is supposedly former President Abraham Lincoln’s half first-cousin five times removed. Try saying that tongue twister five times in a row without pausing. Now before we get into that story, let’s first look at this whole “removed cousin” business. What does that even mean exactly? And what about “once, twice, three times,” (a lady) and so forth?
Let’s start with the basics. A cousin is a relative with whom you share a common ancestor. According to genealogy.com, your first cousin is someone with whom you share two of the same grandparents (the children of your uncles and aunts). Your second cousins are a little more distant from you – they have the same great-grandparents as you but not the same grandparents. Third cousins have the same great-great grandparents, and so on (basically add another “great” for every additional number that you are separated from your cousins).
Now we get to the “removed” part: the site defines “removed” as two people from different generations. So you and your first cousins are in the same generation – both two generations younger than your shared grandparents – so you would not refer to your relationship as “removed.” By referring to a relationship as “once removed,” you are indicating that there is a difference of one generation. So your dad’s first cousin is your first cousin but once removed because your dad’s first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents while you are two generations younger than them. The more generations you are separated by, the more times you are “removed.” So “twice removed” means that there is a two-generation difference, and so forth. Not terribly difficult once you get the hang of it, right?
Now back to this whole George Clooney and Abraham Lincoln relationship. Ancestry.com explains that Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks was the half-sister to Clooney’s fourth great-grandmother, Mary Ann Sparrow. Lincoln’s mother and Clooney’s fourth-great grandmother shared the same mother but had different fathers, and their mother was Lincoln’s grandmother as well as Clooney’s fifth great-grandmother. We’re starting to think we need to borrow a math calculator just to keep all of this straight!
In other interesting news, according to a list that Entertainment Weekly posted about various celebrities who are oddly connected, Justin Bieber is Ryan Gosling’s 11th cousin once removed. Does that even constitute being related? And if it does count, maybe I should start tracking my genealogy and see who my famous ancestors are. Perhaps it could work to my advantage. Can you imagine pulling that line outside of a club?
Me: But you have to let me in, I’m related to Salma Hayek!
Bouncer: Oh yeah? And how?
Me: We’re second cousins, seven times removed! Isn’t it obvious?
While it probably wouldn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, it’s still a lot better than finding out that you’re indirectly related to Justin Bieber.