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I’m My Own Grandpa

Last week a teaching colleague who has a 4-year-old daughter and who is one of my friends on Facebook wrote on my Facebook wall, "Today at lunch, Kirsten said: There's that man that I love! I was pretty sure that I knew who she meant, but to be sure, I said: which man? She said: The one with the silver hair. :)"

In addition to giving me a good laugh, it totally made my day! Kirsten's mama further explained to me this morning that little Kirsten says her own hair is "silver," which made me even happier.

Thinking about silver hair, as I was looking through some stuff in my files, I found a version of a the story "I'm my own grandpa." I had heard the song once at the Wilds, and I decided to see what I could find out about it before posting it to my blog. It's really an interesting tale based on a real life story. Not quite as convoluted as that story is something from my own family - my uncle and his uncle (my great-uncle) married sisters. So then my uncle's sister-in-law was also his aunt, and his uncle was also his brother-in-law. The sisters were not only sisters, but also aunt and niece. (I should probably pass on redneck humor very carefully, considering my own family history!) Anyway, on to the blog post....

I'm My Own Grandpa

An article in a New England newspaper - "A Man His Own Grandfather," The Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Mass.), 30 July 1877 - reported an interesting story about the suicide note of a man named William Harmen:

A man at Titusville, Pa., recently committed suicide in his horror at finding that he was his own grandfather. The way it was thus told in his dying statement: "I married a widow who had a grown-up daughter. My father visited our house very often, fell in love with my step-daughter and married her. So my father became my son-in-law, and my step-daughter my mother, because she was my father’s wife. Sometime afterward my wife had a son; he was my father’s brother-in-law, and my uncle for he was the brother of my stepmother. My father’s wife - i.e., my stepmother - had also a son; he was, of course, my brother, and in the meantime my grandchild, for he was the son of my daughter. My wife was my grandmother, because she was my mother’s mother. I was my wife’s husband and grandchild at the same time. And as the husband of a person’s grandmother is his grandfather, I am my own grandfather."

An article in Wikipedia, speaking of the song that comes from this story, affirms:

Although the song continues to mention that both the narrator's wife and daughter had children by the narrator and his father, respectively, the narrator actually becomes "his own grandpa" once his father marries the woman's daughter.

* The narrator marries the older woman. - This results in the woman's daughter becoming his stepdaughter.
* Subsequently, the narrator's father marries the older woman's daughter.
* The woman's daughter, being the new wife of the narrator's father, is now both his stepdaughter and his stepmother. Concurrently, the narrator's father, being his stepdaughter's husband, is also his stepson-in-law.
* The narrator's wife, being the mother of his stepmother, makes her both spouse and step-grandmother.
* The husband of the narrator's wife would then be the narrator's step-grandfather. Since the narrator is that person, he has managed to become his own (step-)grandfather.

I'm not quite sure I followed that, but....

An interesting history of this story and how it has resurfaced and evolved through the years, attributed to various sources - including Mark Twain - can be found at http://www.genealogymagazine.com/grandpa.html

If you'd like to hear the song (downloaded from YouTube) performed by Dennis Warner, you can do so below.


"Humility is a low opinion of my own opinion." - Dr. Greg Mazak

=^..^= =^..^=

Lead your life so you wouldn't be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.

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3 Comments on “I’m My Own Grandpa”

  1. #1 David McGuire
    on Jan 21st, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Interesting that you should mention what happens when people get married. Years ago, our friend (and your dean) Bob Taylor became his own brother-in-law. If I remember correctly, Bob and Barb grew up in the same town in Pennsylvania. I believe that Bob’s mom and Barb’s dad both passed away. Then Bob’s dad and Barb’s mom got married . . . and Bob became related to himself! I know it’s a stretch, but it is curious nonetheless.

    This also reminds me of some Hampton Park friends from years ago. It seems that they were engaged to get married. And both of them had separate invitations to attend a wedding on a certain weekend in Memphis. Turns out the the first cousin of the guy was marrying the first cousin of the gal. You just never know.

    I’m just glad that I will have been married to Nancy for thirty-eight years this coming July. There are many complexities in life, but staying married to my best friend for all these years offers stability and security. And I thank the Lord for her every day.

    ivman adds:

    David, your facts are basically right about Bob and Barb. The widowed parents married each other before Bob and Barb did. What happened was that Bob and Barb became stepbrother and stepsister first, as college students. As I recall the story, they really didn’t know each other growing up and didn’t hit it off when they first met after coming home from different colleges. Obviously they did hit it off, and they were married later, but in effect, they were each marrying a stepsibling they hadn’t grown up with. Not quite so odd as it sounds when you first hear it.

  2. #2 M Hall
    on Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:19 am

    This one reminds me of a family I knew in Washington state in 1958 where I had gone to work for Child Evangelism after my BJU graduation. There was a small church (maybe 100) in Okanogan, WA which had two unusual families: One family had 6 boys and the other family had 6 girls. You can imagine the intermarriages with all 12 of those growing up together in the same small church. THEN, eventually, after spousal deaths, the father of the boys marries the oldest of the 6 sisters. Now how were they all related? Just thought you’d enjoy. M Hall

  3. #3 Karen
    on May 1st, 2009 at 3:15 pm


    Thanks for putting “I’m My Own Grandpa” on your blog. My late father used to sing this you me when I was just 4 or 5 years old. In actuality my grandfather on my mother’s side married (later in life) my great-grandmother on my father’s side. That made her a wife, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother to my Grandpa Vollick — I think.

    They enjoyed many wonderful years together.