Ronald A. Bremer¹

Thomas Russell Wingate

Salt Lake City
April 1980²


Progenitors are one’s parents, one’s grandparents, one’s great-grandparents, etc. To remove a progenitor is to remove oneself.


Ancestors are dead progenitors.


Progenitors and descendants are in a line of descent. Collateral relatives are not. All ancestors and descendants are “direct”; none are collateral.


Progenitorship is the identification of one’s progenitors and/or the families of those progenitors (e.g., their siblings, second marriages, children by other spouses, children by adoption).


Descendants or progeny are one’s sons and daughters, one’s grandsons and granddaughters, etc.


Offspring or issue are one’s sons and daughters (i.e., immediate progeny). Both nouns may be singular or plural.


Children are one’s offspring while they are young.

One remains a son or a daughter lifelong. One does not remain a child lifelong unless death precludes adulthood. “Grown children” and “married children” are contradictions.


Grandchildren and great-grandchildren ought to be called third or fourth generation descendants when they become adults. The terms grandson, granddaughter, great-grandson, and great-granddaughter are correct.


Cousins share an identical relationship to a common progenitor. Siblings share their parents; in logic (though not in common parlance), they are cousins. First cousins share their grandparents; second cousins share their great-grandparents.

Cousins one or two generations apart are said to be once or twice removed.


One’s own generation is the first generation. The third generation in either direction is prefixed grand (e.g., grandfather, grandaunt, grandson). The fourth generation in either direction is doubly prefixed great-grand (e.g., great-granduncle, great-granddaughter). The prefix great may only be followed by another prefix; it does not stand alone (e.g., “great-aunt” is incorrect, despite common parlance).


Genealogy³ is the identification of the descendants of a common progenitor and/or the families of those descendants.


Progenitorship is the logical opposite of genealogy. The former, seeking ancestry, proceeds backward in time; the latter, seeking posterity, proceeds forward in time,


Whether one is alive or dead, one’s posterity grows greater (like Abraham’s) unless and until the line becomes extinct (like Shakespeare’s). Whether one is alive or dead, one’s ancestry is fixed, however far back it may be traceable. One can be deprived of descendants; one cannot be deprived of progenitors.


Genealogical societies exist to facilitate progenitological research which must precede genealogical writing unless the writing is being done by the common progenitor himself.

Alex Haley’s Roots was written as a genealogy of Kunta Kinte. Haley’s finding of the African was a classic piece of progenitorship.

Genealogists and their societies—their hub is Salt Lake City—should, in the interests of cogency, be renamed progenitologists and progenitological societies.


A genealogy takes the form “Abraham begat Isaac.” It goes forward.

A progenitology takes the form “Jacob was a son of Isaac.” It goes backward.

Ancient books such as the Bible often contain both.


Pedigree or lineage may be reckoned through the male line, the female line, or both. It is the modern custom to trace both lines.


A diagram of one’s lineage is a genealogical chart.

The English pedigree comes from the Old French pied de grue (“crane’s foot”). Modern French has imported it with ambivalence, spelling the masculine noun without accents but pronouncing it as though it took them.

The chart—horizontal or vertical, forward or backward—is customarily compared to a tree.


We urge you to nourish your family tree.


1 Best known for Compendium of Historical Sources: The How and
   Where of American Genealogy
(1983), a large reference book with at
   least nine printings. Marquis Who’s Who in America: biographee, 2007—.
2 New title, new format with notes, December 2009, February 2010; revised
   by TRW to be more comprehensive.
3 First syllable is jenn, not jeen. “Generate” is the root word.
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