KISSIN' COUSINS -- There may be no more iconic image illustrating the size and intra-connections between Western Pennsylvania pioneer families than this one. This early 20th century portrait shows Miner brothers Ephraim (top), of Kingwood, Somerset County, and Andrew, of Washington, Washington County, and their wives Rosetta Harbaugh (left) and Mary Louise Johnston, respectively.
Due to the accident of their births -- their parents were first cousins of the Younkin family -- these brothers had a staggering 103 known first cousins, about half on each side. All shared strands of Younkin DNA, and one cousin, Syvilla (Younkin) Rush, was the great-great grandmother of actress Shirley Jones.
In fact, more than a dozen Minerd-Younkin family marriages took place in the region during the 1800s and early 1900s. Following the pattern, both of Ephraim's wives were cousins, his first bride Joanna of the Younkin clan and the second Rosetta of the Minerd/Harbaugh. In another turn, Rosetta's nephew Charles Arthur "Charleroi Charley" Younkin became a co-founder of the Younkin National Home-coming Reunion of Somerset County in 1934 and publisher of the Younkin Family News Bulletin in 1937, intending to write an article for his bulletin about the two clans' many links.
Although marriages of first cousins today are illegal in many states, they were commonplace in the 19th century. This was true especially in rural Pennsylvania German communities where clusters of interconnected families lived on adjacent farms and were of the same heritage and culture. Modern genetics did not become a recognized science until the early 1900s, and no laws were on the books at the time to prohibit such unions. Cousin marriages had value to society as a way to ensure that like-minded couples with similar values and backgrounds stayed together, and President Thomas Jefferson urged both of his daughters to wed cousins -- which they did.
This photograph may be familiar to Minerd.com readers. It has been used on the "My Brush with History" page of this website as well as in books such as Well At This Time: The Civil War Diaries of Ephraim Miner (2011), Down the Road of Our Past (1990s) and the Younkin Family News Bulletin (April 1990). Click to learn more about Ephraim and Andrew and their grandparents on the Younkin and Minerd branches of their clan.