Dolly Parton Once Explained How Her Family Tree Has so Many ‘Double First Cousins’: ‘It Sounds Like I’m My Own Grandpa’

Dolly Parton grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee. Her father’s family, the Partons, and her mother’s family, the Owenses, all knew each other well. And there just weren’t that many other families in the area. So the “Jolene” singer‘s family tree is a bit complicated. In an interview Parton did with Playboy Magazine in 1978, she explained how she ended up with so many “double first cousins.”

Dolly Parton photographed at her Grand Ole Opry 50th Anniversary
Dolly Parton | Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s family is filled with musicians

Parton came from a musical family.

“All of my momma’s people were singers, writers, musicians,” she told the interviewer, according to the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “And a lot of my daddy’s people were really involved in music.”

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Though the “9 to 5” singer’s family was filled with talented musicians, no one made a living by playing music (until Parton came along). People simply sang and played music “around home and in church.”

“Nobody had ever done anything as far as making any money with it,” she said. “I was the first one that ever became popular doin’ it, but there’s a lot of ’em a lot more talented than me. I just had this grit and all these dreams and plans.”

What Dolly Parton got from her mother, and what she got from her father

Parton considers herself a nice mix of both of her parents (though she unquestionably got her singing and songwriting from her mother).

“I look like [my mother] and my daddy, too,” she said. “Daddy’s people are fair and blonde and blue-eyed. My momma’s people have a lot of Indian blood, so they’re dark, with high cheekbones and real dark hair. I have Momma’s features: Momma’s smile, dimples; but I have Daddy’s nose. I got Daddy’s pride and determination and I got Momma’s personality.”

The family tree

Parton went on to describe her family tree, and how she ended up with so many “double first cousins.”

“My momma’s people and my daddy’s people grew up as good friends, that’s how they met, so there’s a lot of marriages between the Partons and the Owenses,” she said. “In the mountains, there’s not that many people, so most people are related on one side or the other, and then they marry in, which makes you all kinfolks. I have double first cousins, first second cousins, stuff like that.”

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The interviewer, understandably, asked Parton to clarify.

“Let me see if I can explain it,” she said. “My mother’s mother’s sister married my daddy’s brother. So their kids are my first—second?—cousins. It sounds like I’m my own grandpa, don’t it? Anyway, you can figure it out later. However it is, we got some double first cousins and first second cousins. That kind of thing. Who can tell about mountain people?”