Friday, January 7, 2022

The Downside to "Endogamy Lite"


In our current era, the instance of someone marrying a cousin is just something we never expect to add to our family tree, but that wasn't always the case. As we push backwards in time, charting our pedigrees, there are times from the distant past when we may encounter such a scenario, as uncommon as it is now.

Other than discovering true cases of endogamy, where intermarriages within a close-knit or isolated community repeat over multiple generations, there are researchers who will find a minor version of that scenario, called pedigree collapse, appearing in the distant branches of their family tree.

Simply put, pedigree collapse involves seeing the same couple's names repeated in more than one location in a pedigree chart. In other words, when cousins marry cousins some time back in your family history, where two sets of great-grandparents, say, would usually have been placed in the chart, those two sets are represented by the same couple, listed twice. Instead of eight great-grandparents, for instance, someone with pedigree collapse might only have six great-grandparents, if a cousin married a cousin.

Those who are researching colonial American ancestors—whether in the United States or Canada—may see that scenario played out among their relatives in the 1700s or earlier. Another example would be for those ancestors who settled in geographically isolated areas, or who tended to marry only within their specific religious organization.

Of course, that is only what we discover when we actually work our way back to those distant time periods. In the meantime, remember that family history research is a pursuit of ancestors built on the premise that we start with ourselves and work our way backwards in time, generation by documented generation. How are we to know, from our starting point, that Ancestor X is going to turn out to be cousin of her own husband? We only realize the punch line when we get that déjà vu feeling that we've seen those surnames entered somewhere before—like, in our own family tree!

So it has been with the work in progress on my mother-in-law's family lines. She was the one whose ancestors from a close-knit Catholic heritage migrated out into the then-wilderness of the Ohio frontier and, having not much of a choice in that early time period, ended up intermarrying.

Now, from my point of view, I begin to realize I'm wandering into the far fringes of what I call "Endogamy Lite" as name after familiar name pops up in my mother-in-law's ancestry database. Only, because I didn't realize it when I began that journey, I've built, say, eight lines leading to eight separate great-grandparents when there were, in reality, only six.

In other words, it's time to merge the duplicates in her tree.

Trust me, these duplicates are much farther removed than a simple case of great-grandparents. They are also complicated with a twist—such as great-grandchildren descended from half-cousins marrying, or sibling sets marrying sibling sets, blending two families in more ways than one. No matter what the story was, one hundred or even two hundred years ago, since I'm working my way back there from the present, I've ended up with more relatives than there are in reality, simply because I didn't know at the outset that that was going to happen. And that is the downside to "Endogamy Lite" that has become my behind-the-scenes clean-up chore for this month.

Now that I've laid out my research goals for 2022 during the twelve days after Christmas, my genealogical Epiphany celebration aside, I'll start the research work in earnest beginning next week, when we begin exploring the early nineteenth century history and documentation resources for Glynn County, Georgia, in search of my fourth great-grandfather Job Tison's roots.

In the meantime, I've got some "Endogamy Lite" spring cleaning to do on my mother-in-law's lines. 


  1. I know I am not very proficient with Ancestry trees, but I do have trouble with merging my cousins marrying cousins, or more recently, my grandfather marrying his deceased wife's brother's widow, making my dad's cousins his step siblings. (This leads to an interesting wedding photo with my grandfather with both of his wives, one couple stood up for the other couple's original wedding).
    I do have those - hey wait a minute - moments when dealing with endogamy in the further generations.

    1. Some of our ancestors' relationships can get downright messy to document. You certainly have an interesting situation, Miss Merry--especially with that unique wedding photograph!

      I'll share some screen caps showing the merging process this weekend, which I hope will help.

  2. I feel your pain :-)

    Does that happen in your mother's tree, also?

    1. Oh, I know you do, Lisa!!!

      In answer to your question, no, there are not as many examples of intermarriages in my own mother's line--until, that is, we get back to the same territory you are struggling with.

      I have one DNA match on my mother's Broyles line who turned out to be a closer estimated cousinn match than she is in reality, simply because some of those colonial Broyles men in our mutual lines married their cousins.

      You might also like to know it was my Broyles line which settled near your kin in South Carolina, if I remember correctly.

  3. I've come across this situation in my own family tree but now I know there is a name for it - endogamy. Thank you! I found a large group of families who appeared to immigrate from Canada to Illinois and then to Kansas - as a group. And of course we're finding lots of marriages among those families which causes certain family names to appear over and over again. Very interesting, but can be confusing.

    1. Oh, yes: definitely can be confusing, Sara. If you have tested your DNA, it can also impact your results with matches appearing more closely related than they may be in reality. Whether a true case of endogamy, or of the less-pronounced case of pedigree collapse, it does take effort to keep all those "duplicate" ancestral names clearly recorded.


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