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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Dobell   20 April 1863

29 Duncan Terr

April 20 1863.

My dear Sir

Knowing your interest in the subject of hereditary transmission, I hope you will not mind my troubling you by submitting to you the enclosed forms.1

There is so little acquaintance on the part of most persons with the common form in which a genealogical table is drawn up, that I find a great difficulty in getting full reports of families even when they are offered by medical friends. The usual plan being to mention only the individuals who have presented some peculiarity, and then the exact relationship between them is often difficult to get at; and all the collateral bearings of the case are lost.2

I am thinking, therefore, of having some forms & directions printed so that I can forward them to friends who are willing to report cases, and I have drawn up the specimen enclosed which appears to me to give all the assistance necessary. I think that I could thus get the materials from which to draw up a proper genealogical table of 3 or 4 generations.3

If you will be so good as to look at it & suggest any alterations which you think advisable I shall take it as a great favour, & I shall have great pleasure in furnishing you with any cases I may obtain which I think may interest you.

I hope you will pardon my troubling you in this matter, on the strength of so slight an acquaintance as ours, as I am very anxious to have your opinion before proceeding further in the matter.

I am my dear Sir | very truly yours | Horace Dobell.

Ch Darwin Esq | &c—


The enclosure has not been found. CD may have returned the forms to Dobell with his letter of 21 April [1863]; the revised form Dobell sent with his letter to CD of 12 May 1863 has not been found.
Dobell was a physician interested in respiratory diseases and the inheritance of disease and morphological anomalies (see letter from James Paget, 7 February 1863 and n. 3).
No copy of such a printed form has been found. However, in Dobell 1866, pp. 120–8, he analysed the genealogy of emphysema and bronchitis by tabulating the health of parents and siblings, suggesting (ibid. p. 120): the adoption of a similar form of table by other observers when registering family history will be found convenient, and calculated to prevent mistakes as to the real influence of the hereditary and collateral tendencies of diseases. Dobell concluded that bronchitis, but not emphysema, was hereditary (ibid., p. 126). See also letter to H. B. Dobell, 21 April [1863].


Dobell, Horace. 1866. On winter cough, catarrh, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, with an appendix on some principles of diet in disease, a course of lectures delivered at the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Chest. London: John Churchill & Sons.


Sends CD a form he has devised of a proper genealogical table of three or four generations of the families of medical cases, so that hereditary transmission may be more accurately and fully recorded.

Letter details

Letter no.
Horace Benge Dobell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Duncan Terrace, 29
Source of text
DAR 162: 189
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4115,” accessed on 19 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11