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In the Yorkshire city of Bradford, in England, for instance, a majority of the large Pakistani community can trace their origins to the village of Mirpur in Kashmir, which was inundated by a new dam in the 1960s.

Cousin marriages have been customary in Kashmir for generations, and more than 85 percent of Bradford's Pakistanis marry their cousins.

Their fear was that cousin marriages would cause us to breed our way back to frontier savagery—or worse.

"You can't marry your first cousin," a character declares in the 1982 play Brighton Beach Memoirs.

In Paris in 1876 a 31-year-old banker named Albert took an 18-year-old named Bettina as his wife. According to conventional notions about inbreeding, their marriage ought to have been a prescription for infertility and enfeeblement.

These so-called lethal recessives are associated with diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia.

Banning cousin marriages makes about as much sense, critics argue, as trying to ban childbearing by older women.

But the nature of cousin marriage is far more surprising than recent publicity has suggested.

The famous outlaw Jesse James broke more laws than we know (well, at least it would have been illegal today)—James married his first cousin, Zerelda Mimms, with whom he had two children. Einstein held a lot of knowledge, but no knowledge of the dangers of procreating with a close relative.

Einstein married Elsa Lowenthal (she had her last name from a previous marriage) who was Einstein’s first cousin on his mother’s side and second cousin on his father’s side.

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