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It was there in Baltimore that he met his seven year old cousin Virginia, who he fell in love with and married when she was only thirteen.

She died eighteen years later in 1847, and Poe died only two years after Virginia’s death.

First-cousin marriages were once quite common in Europe, especially among the elite – Charles Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood – but that changed in the late 19th-century as people, especially women, became more socially mobile and the risks became more evident.

A 2004 study found that 13 out of 1,000 Asian children born in the Bradford area had inherited recessive disorders, which can lead to disabilities.A family affair: Cousins who tied the knot Jerry Lee Lewis The rock 'n 'roll star infamously married his 13-year-old first cousin once removed, 10 years his junior, in 1957.They had two children and remained together until Jesse's death, aged 34, 12 years later.H G Wells The science fiction author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds married his first cousin Isabel Mary Wells in 1891 but left her after three years to marry one of his students, with whom he had two children.However, Professors Paul and Spencer said that the risk of congenital defects is about 2 per cent higher than average for babies born to first-cousin marriages – with the infant mortality about 4.4 per cent higher – which is on a par with the risk to babies born to women over 40.

"Women over the age of 40 have a similar risk of having children with birth defects and no one is suggesting they should be prevented from reproducing," said Professor Spencer, whose co-authored study is published in the online journal Public Library of Science.Women in their forties are not made to feel guilty about having babies and the same should apply to cousins who want to marry, said Professor Diane Paul of the University of Massachusetts in Boston and Professor Hamish Spencer of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.Although first-cousin marriages are legal in Britain, there have been calls to ban the practice because of reports that it has resulted in a higher-than-average incidence of birth defects in certain immigrant communities where it is common and culturally acceptable.Regina and Rudy divorced in 1982, and Rudy married his second wife Donna Hanover in 1984.The risk of giving birth to babies with genetic defects as a result of marriages between first cousins is no greater than that run by women over 40 who become pregnant, according to two scientists who call for the taboo on first-cousin families to be lifted.They had 10 children, to whom he was a devoted father.