Keeping it at home:
My father had a superb ear as well as a superb voice.  He took a great interest in the sound of language.  As the son of a Methodist preacher in South Carolina be became aware of the fact that every county had its own accent.  So he made a bit of a study of it until he was able to identify the home county of anybody from South Carolina. 

It was also true in those days that in any one county there would be a very common last name, different for different counties.  Not everybody had the same name, but a very large percentage.  So one day when my father was a young man he confided in a friend what his powers were.  He then capped it by saying that another man who was talking nearby was from South Carolina by his accent.  The friend, being from “up north,” was highly skeptical, so my father invited the other man to join them.

“Excuse me, but from your accent I would say you are from South Carolina.”

“I sure am.”

“And I would say you are from…,” and he named it “County.” 

“Yes, I am.”

“And at a guess I would think you know a man named…,” and he have the county’s most common last name.

“I work for him.”

The Yankee was duly impressed.  The stranger seemed mildly impressed, but it was only a mild exaggeration of the small town principle that everybody knows everything about everybody.

And I must insert on caveat, obvious to a Carolinian, I should guess.  The stranger was a Black man.  And in the old days, courtesy called for a Black person to answer any question from a stranger with a “yes.”  It was only a way to make the stranger feel good.  And in this case where it was obvious that my father was showing off and was fishing for a yes, he would certainly have played along with the game.  It could hardly have escaped his notice that everybody he knew had the same last name. 

But the general principle is sound.  Almost everybody in that county had the same last name, so it was quite probable that just about everybody was cousin to just about everybody, within the past ten or fifteen generations. 

In Britain the situation has been rather more extreme.  Men from neighboring villages claimed that they could not even understand each other.  And recent genetic studies indicate (Ewen Callaway, Ancestry Testing Goes for Pinpoint Accuracy NATURE vol. 486 no. 7401 June 7, 2012 page 17 reporting on an academic project called People of the British Isles led by Walter Bodmer) that even now rural people from adjacent counties in Britain can be reliably distinguished by state of the art genetics.  I understand that the same thing can be done on the continent of Europe. 

So if the question ever arises, “How long have people been marrying kin?” the answer is, “For far longer than there have been people.”

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