I have to tell you, right at the start, that it was thanks to this month's research project that I discovered I am my own sixth cousin.
I used to laugh at my husband, when I discovered that his mother descended from two ancestral lines whose founding individuals turned out to be half-siblings. He is his own umpteenth cousin. Me? I have Thomas Taliaferro Broyles' unfortunate wife, Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey, to thank for this genealogical pickle. (And yes, that was her full name, according to the entry in her father's will concerning his youngest child.)
Here's how this happened. Mary, born in some unidentified location in Georgia, was the last of at least ten children of Thomas Firth Rainey and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro. Baby Mary arrived on December 12, 1852, five years before she lost her father. Five years later, at the death of her mother, she and her surviving siblings became orphans.
Mary was not the first in the family to have been given that name. A sister born in 1835 had been named after their mother, but had died just one year before our Mary was born. Likewise had their oldest brother died before reaching adulthood—as, I think, had some of their other siblings. It was because of that brother—Warren Taliaferro Rainey—that it fell upon this young girl Mary, the baby of her family, to serve as his namesake, keeping his memory alive.
The name Warren Taliaferro was an important one to that Rainey family, for it was the name of young Mary's maternal grandfather. That senior Warren, in turn, happened to connect to my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, because the two were brothers. Thus, I descend from two Taliaferro men: on the one already documented Broyles line, I claim Zachariah Taliaferro as my fourth great-grandfather. But through my matriline, I descend from Mary Merriwether Gilmer and her husband, Warren Taliaferro.
That connection came about when Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, living in Tennessee, must have followed a tip from his parents in South Carolina, to marry a young orphaned woman in Georgia who just happened to be his own second cousin.
It was a stretch to explore the possible pieces when I first attacked that research puzzle, but in retrospect, that sort of liaison was not unusual for the time period. In fact, once I started finding DNA matches on either the Broyles or Taliaferro lines, my distant cousins could often point out more than one way that we were related. The earlier the matches in the framework of American history—thus a smaller pool of eligible contenders—the more likely it might be that families looked for spouses among those whom they knew best: their own extended family.
So think again if you supposed the answer to my question to be a resounding "no." If you go back far enough in your family tree, you may find you are actually your own distant cousin.