An International Seminar on Kinship:
My loyal and energetic correspondent has sent me the, “Report on International Seminar on the New History of Kinship,” Paris, France October 1 and 2, 2004.

There was even a collection of papers on “Kinship and Fertility.”  Ah to be able to time travel. 

The first issue that caught my eye came up during the discussion of two papers on kinship and longevity.  The challenge was that instead of using genealogies to examine the issue one might use molecular genetics.  The authors of the papers said that our understanding of molecular genetics was still so rudimentary that genealogies were more valuable for looking at things like longevity.  That fits my own impression.  I thought that it might be possible to predict the fertility of a couple by comparing their genomes.  I no longer believe that.  Most Jews in this country are sufficiently similar genetically so that they should have no difficulty with their fertility.  But their numbers are in decline helping persuade me that an epigenetic rather than a genetic phenomenon is at work. 

There was a whole section on Kinship and Fertility.  But the conference was held before the keystone papers published in SCIENCE that I refer to so often, so the papers did not address whether kinship alone raised fertility.  They did note (Dilip C. Nath) that in some communities the presence of a helpful grandmother could increase the number of children.  I suspect that the presence of the grandmother correlated with strong family ties, but I was not there.  They also noted (Alan Bittles) that in at least the area of study, first cousin marriages had more problems with stillbirths, infant mortality and early childhood mortality than non relatives.  I do no know what the tradeoff between fertility and health problems might be at that level of kinship, but I rather suspect that the first cousin marriage would not be ideal.

The meeting was a few years ago, but even then I had the Mesopotamian experience in hand.  Of course I might have been hooted off the stage and given the whole idea a worse reputation.  Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t try.  If they hold a repeat of the meeting and I hear about it I shall certainly take an interest.

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