Written by BG Howard

April 27, 2023

A recent encounter with a long-time acquaintance who detailed a situation involving two of his “brothers” that turned out to not be relatives at all prompted consideration of a rather compelling issue…who is family? There are a number of people who often speak of brothers, aunts and uncles more as terms of endearment than an actual family reference. The occurrence is most often propagated amongst people in the south as an endearing cousin will invariably come to be identified as an aunt or uncle.

It wasn’t until the relatively recent home-going service of someone I’d known for a number of years as my aunt that I became aware of the true nature of our relationship. As it turned out, she was only a distant relative; a third or fourth cousin if even that closely related. In truth, those I’ve been occasioned to question were either unaware or uncertain as to the exact DNA pathway to kinship. The reference had been sustained throughout so many years that those who would have known the specifics of the relationship had long-since passed away.

In the case of another “aunt,” I discovered just a few months ago that she’s actually not an aunt but, in fact, my third cousin which completely disrupted whatever understanding of the family tree I’d grown to know. With that, the plight began to try figuring who in the line of aunts and uncles was really as identified. As fate would dictate, it turned out some weren’t even part of the family tree at all. As investigation would disclose, many had been grafted in as the benefit of a long-standing relationship with some actual older relative so long ago that there’s no one left to either dispute, explain, or clarify the claim. So, with nobody to either substantiate or dispute the allegation, it invariably becomes accepted as fact among the clan’s genealogical historians.

The truth of the matter is there are often circumstances that develop pitting siblings in opposition with one another, children against their parents or, even worse, resulting with a distinctive “separation” or polarization amidst members of a household. It’s a given that individuals living in close proximity of each other all the time, i.e. family, will inevitably encounter challenges that test the boundaries of their relationship. My dear departed father used to maintain, “Teeth and tongue occupy the same mouth and even they fall out every once in a while.”

It is a true blessing to have close relationships beyond the biological connections that facilitate a bond deserving of “brotherly” or “sisterly” acclaim. Experiences and encounters shared by like-minded individuals sometimes have a tendency to manifest significant connections leading to a type fusion that result with the feeling of propinquity resulting in a deep emotional connection. Consequently, the impassioned association eventually embodies the same sentiments as a biologically confirmed relation and the individuals involved succumb to sibling tendencies.

Factually speaking, platonic relationships enjoyed with those who aren’t biologically related are sometimes more rewarding and fulfilling than associations maintained with family members. Simply pointing to the fact certain people “click” and seem to either automatically or grow to get along in such a manner that their relationship appears to take a form that fosters the perception of one much closer than being just friends. This is the type endearing friendship that can, understandably, lead to the closeness which would have a cousin become an aunt or uncle. Even to the point dear friends who have no real genetic connection end up as “brothers” or “sisters.”

There are numerous cases in which I discovered people of no relation had been affectionately adopted into a family many years ago resulting with generations of relatives claiming each other as kin who would otherwise have no ties. This speaks to the fact that the leaves on a typical southern family tree aren’t always as they appear and some shoots get grafted in but are still destined to grow and produce equally good fruit. In many cases, the “adopted” members prove better relatives than those biologically connected to the roots of the tree.

So, while attending the next reunion, thumbing through the pages of that old family album or perusing photos downloaded onto your computer and a few of the relatives look a little out of place, it will begin to make sense as to why it doesn’t make sense that particular relative doesn’t look like the rest of the family. Just realize Uncle John could actually be Cousin John or simply a close friend of Uncle Fred from fifty years ago. At any rate, family is family not because of DNA or test results but the relationship between people. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.

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