My daughter got engaged this week. It was all very romantic on the shores of the Grand Canal in Venice. Now they have returned from their holiday and are getting done to ordinary life again, a life that promises new relationships. Once they get married they will both acquire, as we will, lots of in-laws, people who are family without being blood relations. There will be new people to meet and new names to be learnt. I will become a mother-in -law. For many, many years English comedians have been making jokes about their awful mother-in-laws and now I’m going to be one!

Other languages and societies do it differently. My daughter will acquire lots of new uncles and presumably aunts by marriage, her husband to be will gain a bevy of aunts and innumerable cousins, and even second and third cousins and cousins once removed.

The two families are scattered from the Midlands and north to the Scottish border, southwest, the northwest and into Wales and Ireland. We won’t get to meet them all before the day, yet by the end of the wedding day we will all be related to people we haven’t even met before.

I had to look up what that word ‘removed’ meant. The removed bit is down to the generations that separate us, so my cousin’s son is my cousin once removed. His first cousin on his father’s side would be my second cousin once removed. A second cousin is a cousin of a cousin who isn’t also my first cousin. It‘s confusing, isn’t it?

In the Punjab, where family members tend to live at quite close quarters, or at least in the same village there is a different name for each relationship – father’s oldest brother, mother’s youngest sister and so on. The problem is that these titles don’t translate and everyone seems to be described in English as either a brother or an aunty.

What happens in your language I wonder?  In French it is belle-mere or beautiful mother, much nicer.  I believe the German word “Schwiegermutter” can be translated as the ‘hurt mother’ which seems odd.

Why don’t you draw out your family tree and put in all the relationships you can.  Can you go back in time?  The further back you go, the more common relationships you will find with others.  It is easier if you have an unusual name or if your family has lived in the same place for many generations.  Because there were far fewer people about in the past we share lots of common ancestors. Someone had calculated that in western Europe we are all related to the ancient king Charlemagne which is an odd thought.

Genealogy is fascinating, but be warned it can take up a lot of your time. You might also find out things you don’t want to know. In my husband’s family there is a regicide i.e. someone who killed a king, as well as a disobedient priest.  In my own family there are lots of Welsh hill farmers, but also the person who introduced a particular disease into Britain and a whole bunch of religious refugees.  What might a climb along the branches of your family tree reveal?

You can learn more relationship vocabulary here.