Double in-laws

About Virginia Bobbitt Transue — born 10/12/40 (a month after me) — the wife of a brother (Bill) of my husband-equivalent (Jacques). More succinctly, my husband’s brother’s wife, in effect my sister-in-law-in-law. Or, putting it in more abstract terms, my spouse’s sib’s spouse, my sib-in-law-in-law.

Here we have the equivalence of X’S SPOUSE’S SIB’S SPOUSE to X’S SPOUSE’S SIB (my brother-in-law’s wife treated as my sister-in-law) — an equivalence not recognized by some people, while for other people, it’s routine. It’s the way things work for Virginia and me; I refer to her as my sister-in-law, she refers to me as her brother-in-law.

There are other equivalences. The point of all of them is not merely selecting simple terms: the equivalences express feelings of familial closeness, caring, and even responsibility; they are emotionally potent.

Another double in-law equivalence (distinct from the Arnold-Virginia relationship, though parallel to it): of X’S SIB’S SPOUSE’S SIB to X’S SIB’S SPOUSE, again in effect X’s sib-in-law-in-law. For example, Keene Daingerfield’s wife Elizabeth (Libby) Walcutt Daingerfield’s sister Ann Walcutt Winn’s husband Jack Winn — Keene’s sister-in-law’s husband — treated by Keene as his brother-in-law.

Now, the background to all of this. (Some of this will be a bit repetitious; I’m trying to pull out some really cool abstract distinctions that take a while to appreciate, because what we know about them is pretty much all below the level of our consciousness, and we don’t learn anything about kinship relations in school.)

From my 8/16 posting “Affinal equivalents” (somewhat edited in details):

In a comment on my 8/15 “niblings” posting, Aric Olnes reports having 20 niblings (sib’s kids), “27 including spouses”. Now, SIB’S KID is a consanguineal relationship [AZ: consanguineal < con– ‘together with’ + the Latin stem sanguin– ‘blood’] — of kinship “by blood” — in both of its parts, SIB and KID. Including spouses introduces an affinal relationship — of kinship by marriage — into the mix. [AZ: affine and affinal ultimately < Latin affinis ‘related’]

A nibling’s spouse would be, technically, a nibling-in-law, but we don’t customarily treat such a person as an in-law; either they’re kin without an easy name, or they’re no actual kin at all (instead, in some Americans’ terminology, they’re a connection), or they’re treated as equivalent to a nibling (the way Aric treats them); SIB KID’S SPOUSE counts as equivalent to SIB’S KID.

… [This] is just one way of introducing an affinal relationship into an entirely consanguineal one — giving what I think of as external affinal equivalence: X’S Y’S SPOUSE counting as equivalent to X’S Y (in the nibling case, for SIB’S KID’S SPOUSE, and also in the auncle case, for PARENT’S SIB’S SPOUSE). There’s also internal affinal equivalence, with SPOUSE’S X’S Y counting as equivalent to X’S Y. In external affinal equivalence, you pick up new kin from people your kin marry; while in internal affinal equivalence, you pick up new kin from the person you marry.

(Internal equivalence seems to be considerably rarer than external.)

Digression on other equivalences. (Then I’ll return to the two types of in-laws and to double in-laws.)

Thing One, the equivalence of same-sex spouses to other-sex spouses, now enshrined in law in the US, though not accepted socially — on cultural or religious grounds — by some people.

Thing Two, the equivalence of same-sex partnerships to same-sex marriages. But some other people assign special social value to same-sex mariages, as against same-sex partnerships. (An acquaintance consoling me on, as she put it, my friend’s death: “It’s not like he was your husband“. Thoughtlessly cruel, since same-sex marriage wasn’t available to us before J’s dementia overtook him; though before that happened, we’d had a series of ceremonies to establish us as husband-equivalents, in our own eyes and in public. We got a certificate from the City of Palo Alto on Valentine’s Day 1996 — entirely symbolic, but we treasured it, had it framed, and got a professional wedding-equivalent announcement photo that is truly touching.)

Thing Three, more subtle: quite often a relationship established by either of the equivalences

X’S SPOUSE’S SIB’S SPOUSE ≈ X’S SPOUSE’S SIB [X’s external sib-in-law]

X’S SIB’S SPOUSE’S SIB ≈ X’S SIB’S SPOUSE [X’s internal sib-in-law]

survives the death or divorce of the intermediaries, and stands on ts own.

For my relationship to Virginia, both the intermediaries — my husband-equivalent Jacques, and his brother Bill — have died, but I still consider her to be my sister-in-law, and she still considers me to be her brother-in-law.

For Keene Daingerfield’s relationship to Jack Winn, after Keene divorced Libby, Ann Walcutt Winn’s son Harry B. Miller Jr. (Keene’s nephew by marriage) specifically told Keene that he might divorce Libby but he couldn’t get rid of the rest of them; Harry and his mother Ann and Ann’s husband, Harry’s stepfather Jack, and indeed Harry’s wife, Patricia (Pat) Griffin Miller, were all still Keene’s kin, even though Libby had been the crucial link to these relationships. So Keene’s daughter, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky (my Ann), continued treating Jack as a kind of uncle to her, and Pat as a kind of cousin. (No, I didn’t think I could stretch the equivalences as far as treating Jack as my uncle, and Pat as my cousin; but they were clearly some kind of (not easily nameable) kin of mine.

(Virginia Transue I’ve written about repeatedly on this blog, Jack Winn not so much. For the record: Judge John Jacob Winn (1989-1974) lived with his wife Ann née Walcutt in Mount Sterling KY (in tiny Montgomery County, east of Lexington, just short of mountainous eastern Kentucky) — a good man, and a fabulous character.)

Two types of in-laws, three if you count double in-laws. A while back, when I was first gearing up to talk about Virginia Transue (and Jack Winn, both people I’m pleased to be kin to), I was delighted to discover that NOAD had the basic facts right — it just enumerated the three senses. And it got them from OED3 (June 2018), whose entry on sister-in-law lists the three possibilities separately (and also introduces spouse-equivalent partner as an alternative to spouse, so that the term spartner will be useful to cover both) — first, the two types of in-laws, then the double in-law:

The sister of one’s spouse or partner [i.e., one’s spartner’s female sib — internal], or the wife or female partner of one’s sibling [i.e., one’s sib’s female spartner — external]. Also occasionally [AZ: the double in-law!]: the wife of one’s spouse’s or partner’s sibling [i.e., one’s spartner’s sib’s female spouse].

Similarly for earlier brother-in-law.


3 Responses to “Double in-laws”

  1. Bill Stewart Says:

    This reminds me that in my father’s family a Cooper brother and sister and Stewart brother and sister got married, resulting in “double first cousins”. I’m not sure how they appear in the family tree; now you’ve given me the nudge to start untangling some of it. My anglo forebears were wont to share a limited palette of first names across several generations, and the families were often pretty large. One ancestor had three children with the same first name after the first two died in infancy.

    Now, what do I call my daughter-in-law’s parents other than by their first names?

    Now, David has very little family left, but the ones we like best he says are not really related, as the closest link is the niece of his mother’s brother’s wife. For me that’s pretty close to a “real cousin”, given all the Thanksgivings and Seders.

    Short form: patterns of familial affection don’t need to be direct to feel very special, and not a small number of families have “grafted” branches on their trees.

  2. Mike McManus Says:

    So, tying threads, the spouse of a nibling is just a nibling-in-law, right?

    Also a spouse of a cousin (of whatever degree) would be a cousin-in-law if I’m not mistaken.

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