A #52Ancestors prompt to write about “longevity” spurred me to check out my Family Tree and see if I could find how long my ancestors lived. I learned a lot through this exercise, but how long ancestors lived proved to be elusive.
A Longevity List
Using Family Tree Maker, I printed out a list of all people in my tree and their birth and death dates and age at death. Thanks to help from Amy Johnson Crow, I learned how to make Family Tree Maker do the math, so I didn’t even have to do simple subtraction. Thanks Amy and thanks, FTM.
After copying all the names of people who lived to 85 or above, I realized I need to narrow the field even more. I looked at centenarians and ninety-nine year olds first, then those 95 or over.
Well, this looks exciting–I have FIVE ancestors who lived more than 100 years according to the list from my records. BUT…..
Erroneous Information In My Tree
The first centenarian, Anne Edward Rogers, wife of a 9th great-uncle, was born in 1615 in England and died in 1719 in Massachusetts according to my data. That would make her 104 years old. However, I don’t know where I got that birth year, because the only information now available came from Find a Grave where her birth date is listed as unknown. Scratch Anne Edward Rogers from the list.
My next ancestor claiming to have reached 100, Frances Belcher, is a closer relative, so I’m excited. My 9th Great-grandmother Frances was born in England in 1598 and, my record said, died in 1678. Whoops! Her death actually occurred in 1698, instead of the erroneously recorded 1678. That means she was a respectable, but not record-breaking, 80 years old when she died. The information on her comes from Find a Grave and from a family history of Hugh Welles (husband of Frances Belcher), neither of which is conclusive (primary) evidence, anyway.
115-year-old 7th Great Aunt?
Lydia Death (appropriate name for this exercise, right?) lived in Massachusetts from 1682 to 1797, according to my tree. While I have the usually reliable Massachusetts town record (Sherborn Massachusetts) that attests to her birth, reviewing her page revealed that I have NO Reliable Source for the date of her death.
110 Year Old, Legendary, 7th Great Grandmother
Next, I come across Penelope Van Princis Stout, a legendary woman in the most literal sense of the word. Penelope married my 7th great-grandfather, Richard Stout, an adventurer and perhaps part-time pirate. My mother’s maternal grandfather “Doc” Stout traced his ancestry back to Richard and Penelope Stout. Penelope’s personal story includes a shipwreck, a deadly injury, capture and rescue from death by Indians, and becoming the “Mother of Middletown New Jersey.” You can read the entire embellished story about the miraculous Stouts on this web page. Although her birth year might range between 1622 and 1626, her marriage to Richard Stout is documented, as is his death and the fact she was still alive in 1705. One of the many stories written about her says she lived to 110 years (1622-1732). Although that report was written in the late 1700s, closer to her time than others, it still does not constitute proof. Alas.
And Then There Was ONE Centenarian
Checking the information on Mary Jane Emaline Cochran, a First Cousin three times removed, drew me into a fascinating life. I have to resist! Not only does she not come from the line I’m currently reviewing, but I also have resolved to stick with the grand parents for a while and resist writing about the aunts and uncles and cousins.
But if I WERE writing about her (which as you can see, I am plainly not) I would tell you that she was born in 1885 in Kansas and died in 1989 at the age of 103. She did not spend all 103 years in Kansas. When she was just 17, she married a much older Belgian immigrant farmer and they lived in Kansas and in Colorado and had seven children together before he died. She remarried and had three more children with her 2nd husband. They lived in Michigan until she moved back to Kansas with her husband when they were in their fifties. She died in the state of Washington, according to that state’s death records and the Social Security Index. If I were writing about her, I would track down where her children were and whether she had gone to Washington to be with one of them.
But I’m not going to write about her.
Was She Ninety-Nine?
Elizabeth Bee, a nine times great-grandmother would have lived to the ripe age of 99, had I not discovered that some researchers had mistaken her from some other Elizabeth Bee. She married a John Stout (The same Stout family as Penelope married into). Despite the fact she was a widow at death, I doubt the church records would have called her Elizabeth Bee.
One record used by several people lists in Latin “Elizabeth Bee filia” followed by a difficult-to-read first name with the surname Bee. A few lines further on and a few days later, the death of “Elizabeth Bee uxor”with the same man’s name. It seems obvious to me that a child died and a few days later the mother who had given birth also died. And she was an Elizabeth married to a Bee, not a Bee married to a Stout.
Finally, Find a Grave lists (with no documentation) January 1, 1591 for her birth and 1685 in Nottinghamshire England as her death. So if Find a Grave is correct, she lived to 94, not 99.
A 7th great-grandmother, Hannah Rice, whom I thought died at 99, actually died at 89. Instead of relying on shakier data, I should have looked a little harder and found the Concord Massachusetts town record which records her death year and age at death–89.
Fifth Great Uncle Stephen Barrett Jr. would have been 98 at death if the dates I originally had were correct. The Rutland Massachusetts town records say he was born in 1753, however I have only Find a Grave to rely on for his death date, and instead of the 1852 I had recorded earlier they say 1832. So he died at the age 78 or 79.
- William Lwelyn Kaser, a cousin of my father, was born in 1891 and died in 1988. Those dates are confirmed by the Social Security records and by Ohio Death Records. He lived to 97.
- My mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser, lived to 96.
- George Reed, 7th Great Grandfather born 1660 and died 1756 in Massachusetts, lived to 96 according to Find a Grave and New England Genealogy and History Register.
- Isaac Bassett, of Norton Massachusetts, my 5th great-uncle, lived from 1755 to 1852 (including service during the Revolutionary War) which made him 96 at death. This is well substantiated by various sources.
- My mother’s sister, Rhema Anderson Fair lived to 95, and so did many of my earlier ancestors in New England.
- Robert Irving Stout, First Cousin two times removed lived from 1891 to 1986, very well documented living to ninety-five. The thing that amazes me about Robert Stout? He lived in the same city as my parents in the eighties and they never made the connection.
Others too far removed from me–related only by marriage or very distant cousins–reached their nineties. But these are the highlights, and lowlights of research errors discovered while searching for longevity.
So did I find a lot of long-lived ancestors? Some, but not as many as it appeared at first.
Meanwhile, I need to get my nose back on the grindstone of following my Kaser line (and the associated names).
What I Learned
Contrary to popular belief, the long-lived ancestors do not all come from the twentieth century. My New England ancestors were a hearty crew.
And what did I find? I found a lot of errors. I found that I need to double check the information on many ancestors where I did the research four or five years ago. And I learned that an amazing amount of new information has become available that was not there a few years ago.
I need to review all my earliest entries on my tree and”Family get rid of any questionable reference materials and the associated information.
I learned that when I began filling in boxes on my family tree, I depended too much on index lists like
“Millenium File“. That document merely compiles information from other family trees rather than from primary sources.
“Family Data Collection“. Same complaint as with the Millenium File. I routinely ignore information from that source, and need to go back and eliminate those places where I used it as a reference–in my less choosy days.
Find A Grave presents several challenges. First, most of the information there is not sourced. Unless there is a photograph of a gravestone, the written information is questionable. It provides guidance but proceed with caution. A second challenge is that there are both the general U. S. Find a Grave and separate ones for states, and a third that includes “Deaths at Sea”. These lists are redundant, so citing all of them does not give you 3 sources of information, just one source expressed in three different ways.
And can somebody explain to me that Netherlands file? It looks like it is another compilation of individual family trees rather than solid information, so I rarely even look at it.
If I live long enough, I may get this all straightened out.
Fascinating read, Vera! I can empathize with your comments on having to check and verify sources. When I began my research in 2002, I was just eager to input people to my tree. I gave little thoughto proper sourcing. Now I am paying the price…as I update and add reliable sources, I find it to be much more time consuming than it would have been to do it right in the first place. 🙂 Happy hunting.
Thanks Christopher. Nice to have a fellow genealogy nerd reading these posts. I’m sure some people would be put to sleep quickly. Seriously, though, I think everyone who starts this game has to go through the learn-by experience route. There is so much to absorb at first, that knowing what alleged sources are not really sources does not come on page one of the instructions–but more like on page 132. And, yes, it takes a lot more time to re-do than to do right.
Nice example of investigatory research about false centenarians in the family. It would have taken me a hundred years to figure it all out.
Yes, I did see what you did there. Thanks for the compliment. I must admit that I devoutly wish that everyone of the legends about Penelope VanPrinces Stout were true, including her age. Actually, we don’t even know for sure the last name of her first husband. But even watered down, her life was extraordinary.