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Seven Historical Figures Who Married Their Cousins

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I, like most of you, would never marry my cousin. I mean, nothing against the guy. He's pretty cool. I just"¦you know"¦find the whole concept to be pretty squicky in general. But wedding your cousin was rather common not too long ago. In fact, there are a whole slew of famous people "“ intellectuals, even "“ who married second, third and even first cousins, and lived happily ever after. Or didn't, in some cases.

1. Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach had 20 children, seven of them with his first wife and second cousin on his father's side, Maria Barbara Bach. They married in 1707; she died in 1720. Five of Bach's sons, including two with Maria Barbara, had thriving musical careers of their own. Not much is known about their marriage, but he remarried less than two years after her death.

2. Edgar Allan Poe

It's no wonder so much of Edgar Allan Poe's work is macabre: by the time he was two years old, his father had abandoned the family and his mother died of consumption. When he was 20, in 1829, he moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, brother and cousin Virginia. Despite the fact that Virginia was only seven, he fell in love with her. They were married in 1835 when she had reached the ripe old age of 13 (although the marriage certificate lists her as 21). There were about seven years of relatively good times for their family "“ Edgar was gaining fame for his writing and wrote some of his best-known pieces during this time period. In 1842, the couple was at a dinner party when Virginia started coughing up blood "“ it was consumption, the same illness that killed Edgar's mother. She spent the next five years slowly dying, which contributed to Edgar's insanity and alcoholism. She succumbed to the disease in 1847 and he mysteriously followed in 1849. The cause of his death is still unknown and much debated.

3. Jerry Lee Lewis

lewis.jpgWhile marrying your 13-year-old cousin may have been somewhat standard in the 1800s, it was certainly not acceptable in 1957, when rock "˜n' roller Jerry Lee Lewis married his cousin Myra, 13. It understandably caused an uproar and radio stations refused to play his music. It almost ended his career, but he later found a niche in country music. Myra and Jerry Lee had two children, one of which (Steve Allen Lewis) died at the age of three. The other, Phoebe, helps manage Jerry Lee's career today. He and Myra were divorced in 1970.

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4. Rudy Giuliani

Rudy had just graduated law school in 1968 when he married his third cousin, Regina Peruggi. Or so he thought. Accounts differ, but it seems that they figured out in 1982 that they were actually second cousins, which was just a little too close to home. Coincidentally enough, this discovery was made about the same time he met second wife Donna Hanover. Regina and Rudy divorced in 1982, the marriage was officially annulled by the Catholic church in 1983 and Rudy married Donna in 1984. Obviously, he's now running for president. Regina is the president of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.

5. Charles Darwin

Yep, the Father of Evolution married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. They shared a grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood (who, incidentally, started the Wedgwood pottery empire). Darwin was decidedly unromantic "“ when torn over whether to propose or not, he made a list of pros and cons. The pros included the fact that marriage would provide companionship better than that of a dog. The cons revolved mostly around his career "“ marriage would provide less money for books and would take up a lot of his personal time. Ultimately, marriage won out. When he went to Emma to ask for her hand, though, he skipped the whole "endless love" mush and instead spent the evening discussing transmutation. The scientific talk must have really done it for Emma, though, because when they did eventually get married they had a prolific 10 children.

6. Franklin D. Roosevelt

One of America's most beloved President/First Lady pairs were cousins. Distant cousins, though. Although they had met as children, they became reacquainted after a dinner at the White House in 1902 held by Eleanor's uncle and Franklin's fifth cousin, President Teddy Roosevelt. FDR was 20 at the time and was attending Harvard. Eleanor was 17 and had just had her formal introduction into society with her debutante party. They were married on St. Patrick's Day, 1905, and had six children in a span of 10 years.

7. Albert Einstein

Yes, our very own beloved Einstein. He was actually somewhat of a philanderer "“ he moved in with his second cousin, Elsa, in 1917"¦two years before his divorce from his first wife, Mileva. They were separated, though. He married Elsa in 1919, not too long after his divorce from Mileva was finalized. Letters in his own hand showed that he cheated on Elsa, though, and had at least half a dozen girlfriends while he was married to her. Elsa died in 1936 after coming down with heart and kidney problems and it would appear that his newfound bachelorhood suited Einstein just fine: he never married again and had plenty of girlfriends until his death in 1955.

A few other notables who married their cousins, distant or otherwise:

Jesse James "“ first cousin Zerelda "Zee" Mimms
Thomas Jefferson "“ third cousin Martha Wayles
H.G. Wells "“ first cousin Isabel Mary Wells (he left her after just three years, though)
Igor Stravinsky - first cousin Katerina Nossenko
Carlo Gambino - first cousin Catherine Castellano
"¢ Lots of Royals, including Queen Elizabeth II (third cousin Prince Philip); Marie Antoinette (second cousin King Louis XVI) and Catherine the Great (second cousin Peter III of Russia).

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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