Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation

by Linda Farmer Harris 

I’m fascinated by the theory of six degrees of separation. Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian author, is credited with originating the concept. 
Frigyes Karinthy

That’s the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. The chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.

Karinthy published “Chain-Links” in a volume of short stories titled Everything is Different. Read Chain-Links at https://djjr-courses.wdfiles.com/local--files/soc180%3Akarinthy-chain-links/Karinthy-Chain-Links_1929.pdf. In 1929, he believed that the modern world was ‘shrinking’ due to the ever-increasing linkage between people.

Wow, what would he think of all the social networking and connectedness we experience now. Facebook alone is a marvelous example of finding those links.

A friend said she found relatives via Facebook by knowing the name of one person — a distant cousin. She matched names and relationships from that first person's "friends" list; visited the selected "friends" pages and checked out their "friends" and so on. She was able to find several generations of aunts, uncles, cousins — folks, when she contacted them, confirmed their relationship to her, but had no idea she existed. Tracing their genealogy wasn't part of their family's traditions.

I began to wonder if the six degrees of separation is true of people we research as we develop characters for our historical fiction.

Living amongst a web of small towns in southwest Colorado, it seems like everyone is related to everyone else. The historical linkages are exciting to follow. Two of my Colorado writer friends are sisters in the Nossaman family.

Welch Nossaman

In the 1930's, Welch Nossaman recorded his adventures and his early encounters with the Ute leader Colorow Ignatio and his band. Nossaman built his first log cabin in 1876 in Pagosa Springs and Ignatio burned it down. Each year Nossaman would build and Ignatio would burn it down. It all started when Nossaman refused to share his provisions with Ignatio. Known to the pioneers as Colorow, he was born a Comanche, but raised by White River Utes in northwestern Colorado after being captured as a child.

Another Colorado writer friend is part of the Slade clan. While doing a little research for a New Mexico writer friend about stagecoaches and the pony express that traveled through northwest New Mexico and southwest Colorado, I found Joseph A. "Jack" Slade. 

Joseph A. "Jack" Slade

Slade became a stage driver of the Central Overland stage line  through some of the most lawless and dangerous stretches of the route in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. He supervised the construction, livestock acquisition, and hiring of drivers for the almost 200 relay stations for the Pony Express. 

In 1861, Slade hired 15 year old Buffalo Bill Cody as a driver. My husband has a family connection to Wyatt Earp, who knew Cody. Hm-m.

I've thought about the six degrees of separation that have occurred over my lifetime. 

For example: a Colorado writer friend has a favorite content reader in Illinois (I don't know her); Illinois has a daughter in Texas (I do know her, but didn't know the connection until recently; Texas has a favorite author in Alabama, who I made a point to meet at a national writers conference because my Texas friend admired her so much; Alabama, who wrote under a pen name, turned out to be related to me by marriage through my niece. Alabama was her mother-in-law. That was a delightful and surprising connection.

You may have heard about the parlor game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" where players are challenged to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and Kevin Bacon. Created in 1994 by three Albright College students, it assumes that anyone in the Hollywood film industry can be linked through his/her film role to Bacon within six steps.

I don't have any "world famous" connections, but in my small sphere of influence there have been some amazing linkages over the years.

Have you had six degrees of separation moments in your life? I'd love to hear about them.


Lin writes historical fiction for adults and children.  Her young adult historical series The Butcher Boys Chronicles is set in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Book One: Escape From Outlaw Ridge features 14 year old Malachi Westin, whose very life depends on who he knows and his own six degrees of separation.

Lin's enjoyment of genealogy and family history adds unique elements to her stories. One day she plans to write down all of the "separations" she can remember over the years. She and her husband, Jerry, live on a hay and cattle ranch in Chimney Rock, Colorado.


  1. I find "six degrees" fascinating. I don't know that it has happened but I have many times said"Isn't it a small world" when someone you may not know so well knows someone you do know well and it can go on and on.

    I love the post, Linda......very enjoyable and interesting.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Melanie, thanks for stopping by. Thank you for the kudos. I apologize for the late appreciation of your comments. My husband, Jerry's heart went into continual afib and had to go to the cath lab for what they called a reboot! Success and he's fine. It sounds good and steady when I put my head on his chest.

      "Six degree" is fascinating. I've been more attune to the people I meet and their relationship to people I know. In future posts, let me know about you later experiences.

  2. That's so much fun and fascinating, Lin. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Louise, I bet you've had your share of Six-Degrees over the years.

  3. Lin, I've always been fascinated by "six degrees" too, but had no idea that the concept had been around since 1929.
    Thank you for such an interesting post!

    1. Hi, Margaret, thank you. I thought it was a new fad and since it's become associated with Kevin Bacon, I figured it was a "celebrity" thing, until I began to see the connections in my own life.

  4. I just discovered recently that I'm related to a "famous" person. It's one of The Greatest Generation people that Tom Brokaw wrote in his book. My mom's maiden name was Ringenberg, and one of Brokaw's stories is about Margaret Ringenberg, who was a pilot in WWII. Margaret was married to Morris Ringenberg, my 3rd cousin. I never met Morris or Margaret, but my mom knew them, and my dad said he met them once at a Ringenberg reunion. So it is a "small world" after all!

    1. Hi, Donna, wow, I've read about Margaret before. I remember barnstormers flying over our farm when I was a child. I can see why she was fascinated by flying. Thank you for sharing with me.

  5. Of course, have heard of this before, but so glad to read your fascinating article about this concept. I'm also surprised to learn this was developed so long ago. My paternal grandma claimed we were related by some degrees to Daniel Boone. Or was it Davy Crockett? Never checked it out to prove it either way. But family legend stories often revolve around the famous and infamous.

  6. Hi, Janet, you are just the person to investigate that connection. That would make a delightful new book. As far as I know, we have no claims to interesting bloodlines, since most of my folks we on the American Indian side.