The Amish are one of the smallest and most reclusive religious organizations in the United States. As a result, there are a lot of questions about their beliefs and practices.
And, if you consider the fact that the Amish are so small in number, you may arrive at the same question as many others have.
Do the Amish marry their cousins?
Surprisingly, there are multiple answers to this question. To help, we’ll give a short answer and a long answer.
We’ll start with the short answer.
Short Answer: Yes, Sometimes the Amish Marry Their Cousins
In a nutshell, the Amish do in fact marry their cousins at times.
There are a number of reasons for this — which we’ll discuss further in the blog — but they basically boil down to the limitations that exist from the Amish way of life.
Those limitations include transportation limits. Horse-and-buggy transportation can only go so far, which means the Amish are limited in terms of the people they can meet outside of their community.
This can, in some communities, push them into marriages with first cousins — and that could even be the preferable outcome, depending on how long these families have been in the same area with one another.
If you want the long answer, we’ll talk about more reasons below.
3 Reasons the Amish May Marry Their Cousins
In addition to our short answer above, we’re going to dive into three major reasons why the Amish may be circumstantially pushed into marrying a first cousin.
This is not an exhaustive list — there may be other reasons that a man and woman wed in the Amish community when they’re first cousins.
However, these reasons are probably the most common.
(There’s no academic research into this topic, so please keep in mind that this list is entirely anecdotal and not backed up by any statistics or studies.)
1. Transportation Limitations
To expand on the answer above, the first major reason that the Amish may marry their cousins is transportation.
Horse-and-buggy transportation has a much more limited distance than cars, trains, and planes. That means long-distance relationships aren’t viable for Amish communities, and even meeting someone from a neighboring town can be a time-intensive, exhaustive ordeal.
As a result, the Amish are usually marrying people around whom they were born. They’re the members of the same community, and they may have been family friends prior to marriage.
They’re also likely married early in life (compared to modern standards) in their late teens or early 20s. With this in mind, the Amish couple may not have had the time to even meet someone new.
They’re born around the poeple in their commnity, and eventually, they likely marry one of those members.
Depending on how small the community is, that could potentially mean marrying your cousin.
This becomes even more likely when you consider another trend in the Amish as a whole — the growth of their communities and families.
2. Family Growth
The Amish are renowned for having large families, and this has been a trend with their culture since they were founded.
Since many Amish are farmers, they need many hands nearby to help with the chores associated with raising crops and livestock.
This leads to large families with many children, all of whom eventually “pitch in” to help the family business in one way or another.
Since the Amish have not technologically grown along with the rest of the world, that means manual labor is an essential part of their livelihood, and they still need large families today just like they did 200 years ago.
When you have multiple large families growing up next to each other (and the inability for them to travel long distances), there is almost certainly going to be some closer-than-comfortable marriage arrangements.
This is especially important since while the number of Amish people may be growing overall, there is almost no one new “joining” the Amish.
3. There Are No “New” Amish
So the Amish are restricted by how far they can travel and their populations are, generally speaking, growing.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that an Amish person is going to marry his or her cousin, though.
But there’s one more element here — there’s no one joining Amish communities (or almost no one).
This means that there are larger families in close proximity, but no new families that can help “dilute” the Amish gene pool.
As a result, it becomes more likely that the Amish will marry their cousins with each passing generation in a community.
In fact, some of the more isolated Amish communities (like those in Central Pennsylvania) are already practicing this level of intermarriage. Mifflin County in particular already has a local government double-check marriage licenses with a couple to ensure that they’re not too closely related in their family trees.
But this is generally for two people who aren’t Amish.
For the Amish themselves, there aren’t these checks — partly because it’s much more likely that two Amish people are related as first cousins (or closer) when they marry.
This practice is surprisingly common in areas where there are low levels of new families. One example is Iceland, which had such an issue that they created an app that helped two people determine if they were related when they started dating.
The Amish don’t have the ability to use apps. Unfortunately, that means they’ll likely continue to marry their closer-than-comfortable family relations, along with the risks that entails for their children.
But that’s a topic for another blog.
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