Not Kissing

Week 38: #52 Ancestors – Cousins

By Eilene Lyon

I have a scarcity of first cousins – exactly five. Even though I rarely see them, I would know them instantly if I ran into them anywhere in the world. I’ve met a number of my dad’s cousins since taking up the family historian role.

I visited with several of them on a trip to South Dakota in 2012. Three years later, I went to the Pioneer Days festival in Madison, SD, and thought the guy standing next to me looked familiar. Yes, it was cousin Nick! Totally out of the blue.

Eilene M Halse Lyon and Nick Gusso Sep 2015 Pioneer Fair Madison, SD
Me and my dad’s first cousin, Nick, at the Pioneer Days festival in Madison South Dakota, in 2015. (Courtesy of J. Halse)

My father has/had 37 first cousins, not counting those who did not survive infancy. Yet he hardly knows them. Some, he’s never met. My mother doesn’t know her cousins very well, either. But what is even more astonishing to me is that her father seems to have met only two or three of his many first cousins.

My maternal grandfather, Laurence M. Smith, aka Smitty, had 60 first cousins that I know of, though some died very young. Seven of those are double cousins, because his father’s sister, Laura Elizabeth (aka “Maggie”) Smith married his mother’s half-brother, Samuel Boyer.

There are a number of reasons he didn’t get to know his cousins. One was geographic separation. Another is that most of them were much older than him. He was the next-to-youngest in his family, with 18 years between him and his oldest sibling. His father was the youngest of nine children. His mother was 6th among 10 siblings and half-siblings.

In his memoirs, Laurence recalled a few of his relatives. The first, uncle Milt Mapes, married his maternal aunt, Josie May Reams.

Milton W. Mapes and Josie May Reams. (Collection of the author)

UNCLE MILT MAPES: It was in the 1920s sometime when we visited at my Uncle Milt’s. I remember that it was late afternoon of a July day when we arrived in the 1916 Buick. Their house was two story frame, common in that period of time. In front of this large house was a picket fence.

I remember the large poplar trees also in front. To this day I recall the comforting sounds of the wind rustling the leaves of these huge trees. Uncle Milt was farming at least a thousand acres at this time on a farm which was some distance South and West of Sprague, Washington.

Smith16 016
Laurence and Loren Smith with their father, Charles E. Smith, in front of the 1916 Buick. The other two are unidentified, but may be Orville Trout and Ada Smith Trout (Laurence’s sister). This was possibly taken on the trip Laurence recalls here. (Collection of the author)

I should mention that Uncle Milt could not read or write. He was smart enough to hire people who could. One of his daughters later was something of a bookkeeper for him and over the years the family became quite wealthy.

On this visit I recall that they had a large player piano in the living room. After a night of sleeping in a large feather bed, which in itself was quite an adventure, I asked Aunt Josie if I could work the player piano. “Of course you can.” She opened up the case where all the rolls were and I took off pumping the player piano. Aunt Josie, I’m sure, regretted starting me off on this. I never let up. I pumped the player piano the entire time we were there, driving everybody to distraction.

In later years Uncle Milt and Aunt Josie moved to a small acreage just East of the town of Sprague, Washington. I remember being there on another summer day. I was feeling puny. I had one of the periods of illness I seemed to have had at that time of my life.

Uncle Milt was working with some pigs and one of the young pigs got loose. I took out after the pig and after quite a chase I caught it. Uncle Milt said, “Man, can you believe a kid running like that and him being sick. If he ever gets well I’d like to enter him in a race some place and collect a pot of money.” I seem to recall that after that time I got to feeling a lot better.

Milt and Josie Mapes had two daughters who were Laurence’s first cousins, Lura and Laveda, who were eleven and eight years older than him, respectively.

Lavida Mapes
Laveda Mapes, probably the one who helped Milt with his bookkeeping. (Shared by Gwen Mally on

The other encounter Laurence had was an unplanned meeting with his double cousin, Howard Boyer.

…I should tell of an obscure relationship I happen to know about. My father had a sister, my Aunt “Maggie” who lived in Oroville, Washington. Her son Howard Boyer became the general manager for the local office of the Washington Water Power Company.

Martin Smith family photos - Forrest Boyer
Laurence’s Aunt Maggie (Laura Elizabeth Smith Boyer). (Courtesy of F. Boyer)

When the power company was taken over by the state P.U.D. Howard stayed on with the P.U.D. and worked for them until he retired. I was working for the W.W.P. Co. in 1934 and my boss introduced me to the manager in Oroville.

He didn’t recognize me, so I told him that I was his cousin. “My gosh amighty.” he said. “You must be one of Uncle Charlie’s kids, the youngest?” I told him that I was not the youngest, that Loren was younger than I. At that time I was involved in taking inventory of some of the sub-stations in that area.

Though Laurence lived in Washington many years, Howard was the only one of his seven Boyer cousins that he apparently ever met. It doesn’t seem that he met Maggie and Samuel, his aunt and uncle, but I could be wrong about that. Howard was also eight years older than Laurence. One of Laurence’s cousins was born 38 years before him, giving you some idea of the disparity in ages.

One of Howard Boyer’s children actually helped me get started in genealogy and we met in Oroville a number of years ago. I’ve never personally encountered any other of Laurence’s cousins’ descendants.

Feature image: Me (back row) with my two brothers and four of my five cousins in 1977, Corvallis, Oregon.


Smith, Laurence M. 1990. “The Passing Parade.”

33 thoughts on “Not Kissing

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  1. The comforting sounds of the wind rustling the leaves. . . what a dear remembrance.

    I guess it does make a difference if you grew up with your cousins, like I did with Dad’s side. Mom’s sister had four sons; Mom had just my sis and me. Loved our aunt, but those boys? Facebook has actually brought us closer, and this week I got a note from the grandson of a cousin who’d been back to Iowa from California to see the Dallas County Freedom Rock with his great grandfather on it! He wouldn’t even know about it except for my website and Facebook!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love how you weave in your Grandfather’s words. I love reading old journals/letters, it really gives you a sense of the person and time.
    When you make that bond with cousins in childhood, it always seems to be there, although you rarely see them. I have one cousin, who keeps track of all the births and adds to the family tree. (forever grateful) There are many second cousins(and of course now their offspring) that I’ve never met or met once in my life, even in the 21st century distance is a challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. So true. I was unable to attend my Canadian cousins a couple of years ago because of distance. But, we had one last year on my father-in-laws 90th birthday, an opportunity to meet some of my husband’s cousins, for the first time, after 30 years as part of the family!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. My husband only had three cousins (all brothers) and I fortunately met them all and have stayed with two of them (the third is gone now) on my travels. One lives in Denver, so we see them fairly often. I thinks he’s met all of my cousins, too. Several came to our wedding.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I had met most on my husband’s maternal side, as we married in Ontario and that is where his mother’s family live. I’m hoping in the next two years to reunite with my Scottish cousins. (in actuality all my cousins are Scottish, but I refer to those that live in Canada as my Canadian cousins!)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have six cousins, but the youngest one died in his 40s so I only have five left. I see one of them quite often (our mothers are sisters and we take them to visit each other) but rarely see the rest. We used to play as children when visiting our grandparents. Once they all died that seemed to be the glue gone but, as with old friends not seen for years, we can fall back into a relationship when we see each other.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s nice that you have at least one close cousin contact. I don’t see my first cousins very often (probably the grandparents don’t make a difference). I’ve made friends with more distant cousins because of our shared interest in family history.


  4. I have three first cousins, whom I see once or twice a year. I also have two half-cousins whom I’ve never met or corresponded with. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wondered from time to time whether I should reach out to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Laveda is a beautiful name. I like old-fashioned ones like that one. Cousins are a tricky thing. You think that they should care about keeping in touch, but most don’t seem to. I’d have liked to have had adult relationships with my three first cousins, but I don’t interest them. I’m from the *wrong* side of the family, you see. 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I’d certainly say it’s their loss, Ally. I also think it would be nice to have closer relationships with my first cousins. But it’s been tough enough with siblings and even parents, so my expectations are low.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You flatter me. Thanks. My expectations were dashed years ago, I could see how little I meant to them. I do believe in the old adage that not everyone you lose is a loss, so I’m philosophical about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not close to any of my first cousins because of a situation similar to your grandfather’s. My dad is the second youngest of six with a more than twenty year gap between oldest and youngest, so most of my cousins are at least twenty years older than me. I only have one cousin on my mom’s side, and he’s a jerk. I do get along well with some of my parents’ cousins’ kids who are my age, but I always forget what that relationship is. Second cousin once removed?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see the age gap being a factor. Your parents’ cousins’ kids are your second cousins. Your parents’ cousins are your first cousins once removed. I’ve gotten to know a few second cousins, and now, due to the genealogy interest, some third, fourth and fifths!

      Liked by 1 person

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