A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]Lucille Porter is no geneticist. She is just a self-taught genealogist who stumbled upon a previously undetected genetic ailment in her own family.
"I was tracing my father's lines," Porter explains from her home in suburban Philadelphia. "The dates recorded in the family Bible didn't add up. It seemed that all the first-born children in the family were born two or three months premature."
Dubbed "primoprematurity" by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, the disease has since been detected in every region of the country, in families of every social class. What makes Lucille Porter's family remarkable is that the disorder revealed itself in every generation.
"I've traced it back as far as 1749," says Porter, "when my ancestor Calista Porter gave birth to a son just six months after marrying her husband Zachariah. Poor woman. She had no way of knowing what their coupling would produce."
The disorder appears to have been especially prevalent among 19th-century domestic servants and farm laborers, and flourishes even today. Porter suspects that unreported cases of primoprematurity abound.
"Look at Gwyneth Paltrow. She was married in December of 2003, and gave birth to her daughter Apple in May 2004. Can there be any other explanation?"