For such an important scientist you would have thought that Charles Darwin would have known better when it came to picking a mother for his children but his choice of partner may be the reason why three of his 10 children died so young: Darwin’s wife was also his cousin.
An article published in this months’ BioScience Journal shows that Charles was not the only Darwin who didn’t look far when it came to finding someone to spend his life with: Charles’ parents were cousins too. According to Darwin’s biographer, Berra, at least five marriages of Darwin’s ancestors were to relatives.
Today the thought of starting a family with your relation is sickening but right up until the start of the 20th century people were marrying family members as a way to keep their lineage ‘pure’.
During his scientific career Darwin studied plants and insects closely enough to note that interbreeding made them weaker. Hypocritically, he then used his findings to try and ban marriage between first cousins, but he was unsuccessful as it was thought that the benefits were greater than the risks.
Maybe if he had continued to pursue his study in this area it wouldn’t have taken until more than 100 years after his death to make the discovery.
Having 10 children must have come as a bit of a shock to Darwin given his ancestry and the link to infertility. His children were not as lucky and some of them failed to have kids despite maintaining long and happy relationships.
Although Darwin’s children died from serious infectious diseases, their genealogy did nothing to help the situation, those born into inbred families are more at risk of ill health It’s a good thing that Charles Darwin isn’t around to hear the results of this study. He would surely be saddened to know that he could have prevented three deaths and three childless families.