December 13, 2008
Tom Hanks is dead!
I was trying to think of a title that would grab people's attention and that seemed like the best one. No, Tom Hanks isn't really dead (as far as I know!) but some of the talking heads in the media seem to think he is!

As you may know, Abraham Lincoln's last living descendant died in 1985. He did have descendants, of course, but they are all dead now. Yet many of the talking heads in the media claim that Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abraham Lincoln. Assuming that they are talking about the 16th president of the United states and not some other Abraham Lincoln (such as his grandfather!), then the only way that Tom Hanks could be a descendant of Abraham Lincoln is if Tom Hanks is dead.

It might help here if we define our terms. The word "descendant" refers to sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaugheter, great grandsons, etc. All such relations to Abraham Lincoln are dead, and Tom Hanks is not one of them.

People who descend from a sibling (brother or sister) are sometimes called "collateral descendants". These would be nieces, nephews, grand nieces, grand nephews, great grand neices, etc. Note that if you just say "descendant" and not "collateral descendant" then you are referring to "direct" (true) descendants, not collateral descendants. While Lincoln may have collateral descendants who are still alive, Tom Hanks is not among them either.

So is Tom Hanks related to Linclon at all? Well, technically everyone is related, and the "experts" say that no two people on earth are more distant than 50th cousins. Tom Hanks is distantly related to Abraham Lincoln, but not that distant. He is our 16h president's fourth cousin four times removed.
Just how distant is that?

Well, your grandparents other grandchildren (aside from you and your siblings) are your cousins, also known as first cousins. Someone whith whom your closest ancestor (living or otherwise) is more distant than a grandparent would be a distant cousin. If they share a pair of great grandparents they would be your second cousin, great great grandparent would be third and if the closest ancestors are great great great grandparents then they would be your fourth cousin.

The Child of your cousin is your first cousin once removed. The Child of your fourth cousin would be your fourth cousin once removed. The great great grandchild of your fourth cousin would be your fourth cousin four times removed. To put this in perspective, such a person would be 1024 times as distantly related as a first cousin or 4096 times as distantly related as a brother or sister.

Now imagine that the great great grandchild of someone with whom you had a pair of great great great grandparents in common claimed to be your descendant. "Poppy cock!" you'd say, or more likely your actual descendants would, since you would probably not live to see such a person born.

So the next time you hear some talking head grunting that Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abraham Lincoln you are free to say "Poppy Cock!" [or perhaps a more "colorful" expression!] The same holds true when you hear someone grunting that the baseball player, Paul O’Neill, is a direct descendant of of Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens whose last living descendant died in 1966 . He is actually his first cousin 3 times removed, and thus only distantly related.

The Same goes for the idiot book reviewer who claims that Carol Bronte is a direct descendant of Patrick Bronte (who had no grandchildren) but then contradicts himself by admitting she is actually his "great great niece". Likewise when someone grunts that another Ms. Bronte, the author of a book on the relationship of genetics to longevity, is a direct descendant of the 3 short lived Bronte sisters you can point out that none of them ever had any children.

Besides, how could someone be the DIRECT DESCENDANT of 3 sisters anyway? (and have the last name Bronte!) It seems that quite a bit of interwining of the branches in the family tree would be needed to accomplish that!

Does she touch type with six fingers? :)

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