Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research, Part 5

Today’s post is somewhat related to Part 3, in which I discussed the many times I found names of parents and children not matching up when I grouped people into family units.

Today, I’ll spend a few minutes talking about reported AGES in marriage and burial records.

Census records might be the first record set in which a researcher questions the ages of people enumerated. We know that census details are only as accurate as the person reporting and the enumerator recording.

To my surprise, there appear to be HUNDREDS of ages that are not only incorrect, particularly in the parish burial records, but wildly off in accuracy.

It is understandable when one priest has to bury 63 people in 7 weeks during a cholera epidemic that he doesn’t have time to verify the age of each deceased person.

However, even in quiet times, it is evident that for children under ten years, the priest may well have estimated the child’s age. For example, if the age recorded is one year, that might mean aged 6 months to one year or even as old as three years.

Several times, the only corroborating evidence of age I could find (a baptismal record) showed that the priest either just guessed at the child’s age (and was off by 3 or even four years) or perhaps confused the child’s age with a cousin of the same name who was close in age to the deceased.

I’ve even found an instance where a two-week old infant died and her age was reported as 4 months old. That’s in spite of the fact that her twin sister died only a few days earlier!

Given the difficult lives the villagers led, it is likely that, as people aged, they might have not remembered just how old they were and adult children may not ever have known exactly how old their parents were at death.

I am sure that the age guessing might be even more pronounced with very elderly people when they passed away. In a place where records begin in 1827, life was a daily struggle frought with illness and death. Few made it to 65 years old, so I have to question burial records that claim an age of 95 years for the deceased. I can’t prove that the age is wrong, but there isn’t any way to prove it is correct, either.

However, I do think it is likely that a young mother, or father, knew exactly how old sons and daughters were, but the priest or scribe neglected to ask and simply guessed at ages.

One might believe that ages at marriage were quite accurate, given local cultural traditions, but, again, numerous baptismal records have been found for grooms and brides, where neither of their ages matches the baptismal record. We’re not talking minors lying about their age – that didn’t happen when the entire village knew you and the parish priest married you.

There are many instances of brides and grooms, say in their mid-to-late 20s, or older, whose ages are off by 5 or 10 years. Again, I have to believe that the scribe who made the parish register entries didn’t know the ages of the couple and simply guessed.

I have to say that in my many years of reading census records, I have found them to be MUCH more accurate in terms of ages than these village parish records.

This has been another eye-opening experience.

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