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My Irish Great Grandmother's age prevarication

Discussion in 'General Genealogical Queries' started by Bob Spiers, Jul 26, 2018.

  1. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    I have commented on my Irish lineage before in the Forum but never really concentrated on my Irish Great Grandmother Bridget Flynn. It took me a while to realise age variations were not just down to ‘age rounding’ but to a prevarication in admitting her age. Judge for yourself:

    Bridget Flynn was born 1844 and baptised on 17 December 1844 in Co. Galway, Ireland. (Full details of Parish known but not relevant to the story)

    Bridget, with parents and sibling(s) (3 in total but only one relevant to this story, a brother John) emigrated to England (Birmingham) about 1866. There is no 1861 Irish Census extant, but I was lucky to find the family in an Irish 1851 Census ‘Search’ Extract.

    1851 (Irish Census): Bridget is shown aged 6 (supporting 1844) and her brother John aged 3 (born 1848). The Irish Census information was correct for both.

    1871 (England Census): Bridget now 26 but the Census records her as 23 (suggesting a birth year of 1847/8). Her brother John is shown aged 22 (suggesting 1848/9). Bridget’s age is under estimated by at least 3 years; whilst John’s is correct. (At this point perhaps, a Census age round-down is the culprit?)

    1879 (Marriage): On the Marriage Certificate Bridget’s age is recorded as 27 to her husband’s 28. Bridget would have been 34 approaching 35. (Even 27 contradicts that 8 years previous she was shown as 23)

    Her husband’s (Henry Westbury) age is correct as he was born 1851. There is a 6/7-year age difference, but the Certificate shows one-year difference.

    1881 (Census): Bridget (now Westbury) is shown aged 30, which although wrong is at least consistent with her declared marriage age of 27 and with the (invented) birth year of 1851 – when you will recall from the Irish Census of 1851 she was 6 years of age. Husband Henry’s age of 29 is correct. So again, maintaining the pretence that there is but a year between their ages.

    1891 (Census): Both Bridget and Henry are shown aged 39. Bridget should be 46, but by recording her age as 39 continues to support a birth year c1852.

    1901 (Census): Again, both Bridget & Henry show aged 50. Bridget should be 56 but by now it is clear she wants no one to know this.

    **I accept Census age-rounding comes into the picture, but had Bridget given her true age, age rounding would almost certainly show at least 5 years variation, perhaps the true difference of 6/7 years. **

    1911: Henry died in January 1911 before the April 1911 Census and although Bridget lived on until 1927, I have been unable to find her in that Census.

    1927 (Death Registration): When she died Bridget Westbury was shown aged 74 with an estimated birth year of 1853. The information supplied by her family of course and based on the age admitted by their mother. So presumably not knowing she had achieved the grand old age of 82. Only her brother would have known otherwise, but he had died before her husband.

    RECAP: She was older than her husband by (to be precise) 6 years and 11 months. She was 26 at the time of the 1871 Census (but declared as 23). At marriage in September 1879 she would have been 34, not 27; and at death 82, not 74.

    Someone will probably tell me it is a woman’s prerogative to be frugal with the truth when it comes to age. But spare a thought for this poor Researcher, who -troubled by contradictory evidence – went over the same ground time and time again. In the end finally realising the contradictions were mainly caused by the determination of a Great Grandmother to conceal her true age. She certainly succeeded in doing this.
  2. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Member

    This story reminds me of a conversation/email correspondence I had with a fellow researcher about a people common to both our trees whose name was Ada.
    Now Ada was born on 2 Dec 1873 and for the first 3 census she appeared on, her birth date was given as 1874 (which of course is typical of the rounding up of censuses).

    However by the 1911 census, Ada seems to have decided that she didn’t particularly like how old she was becoming- she gave her birth date on this census as 1880, lowering her age from 38 to 31.

    Now Ada died in an air raid in 1940, so she would be on the 1939 register. While having a conversation with my fellow researcher, I found Ada (he had been unable to) but you could only find her by searching for her husband, since Ada had been “fudging” her age again.

    On the 1939 register, Ada said that she was born on 2 Dec 1888, giving her an age of 51; Luigi, her husband, was born in 1889 and thus, like Bridget, there was only a year between their ages officially.

    Ada was in fact 66 by the time of the 1939 register. And her death entry has her age given as “about 1887”, going of course by how many years she was claiming... not her actual age.

    From what I gathered from my fellow researcher, who is much more closely related to Ada than I was, that this fudging of her age was not unexpected given the type of person Ada was.

    It can make researching very difficult if someone (often a woman) isn’t being honest, I completely feel your pain Bob!
  3. Margery

    Margery LostCousins Member

    Having a similar situation in my husband's family and also another couple being somewhat creative with their date of marriage, it amazes me how these people can keep up the facade. After all, surely other members of the family would be aware of the age of their sibling or what year/month they attended a wedding? It would mean that these people would be celebrating milestone birthdays and anniversaries at the wrong time. They would have to have a very good memory.
  4. Rhian

    Rhian LostCousins Member

    It is not only women who get economical with their age.

    My 6X Great grandfather was one that has caused me problems, and still is 20 years later. Charles Fisher Grist is the only child of the family who does not have a baptism record, estimating from census records and marriage date gives his birth as about 1804 with a wide margin of error. He married in 1824 and I have records of 3 different address' up to 1841, no record of his age on any of these, the marriage just gives 'of full age.' His wife died just before the 1841 census and his age given is rounded enough to be unhelpful.

    By 1851 he had remarried, to a younger woman, 20 years younger, and he obviously lied about his age in that census as he was the same age in 1851 as in 1841, instead of being a similar age as his new father in law. He solved the problem of old family and new family knowing different ages by moving to a different town leaving most of his children behind with his bankrupt business'.

    By 1861 his new wife was in a mental hospital and Charles, together with a son of the same name, disappeared from census data until his death in 1877, living alone as a lodger with unrelated people, his age given as 78. His son turned up in Wales in 1891, the first census he was on, age 33, he gave his work as sailor which helps explain him being missing on some earlier census entries but not when he was 3 years old.
  5. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Of course, my story does not reveal the tragedies Bridget and family experienced both before and after leaving Ireland.

    In 1865 - the year before they emigrated to England – Bridget lost a half-brother Festus from her father’s first marriage (his wife died giving birth in 1841). Festy (as he was known) also appeared in the 1851 Census with his father & step mother and half-siblings aged 10. I pondered long to find out why Festy did not accompany them to England, they I came across a death of a Festy Flynn in 1865. (He was 23, and unmarried). Likely one and the same, and no doubt the reason the family emigrated soon after.

    But worse was to come for Bridget & John after arriving in England:

    Their father died in Birmingham in 1869 (aged 53), and younger sister Mary (not mentioned in the story) died a year later in 1870 aged but 19. Neither making the 1871 Census.

    Then, perhaps the saddest blow of all, their mother -who did appear in the 1871 Census - died later that year aged 53. So, Bridget and John were left to fend for themselves which they did with some success I might add.

    Bridget after marrying Henry Westbury went on to have a family of 4 -including my dear Grandma Mary Westbury (later Spiers). John Flynn married Louisa Maber and raised a family of 10 (8 surviving to marry and raise families of their own) before he too died in 1905, aged about 57. Louisa lived on until 1923 aged 71.

    Their legacies of course live on, yours truly included. (deo volente)
  6. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    It's tempting to assume that it was the woman's choice to make herself appear younger in official records, and no doubt it often was. But one of my ancestors, who was 6 years older than her husband, and whose age is optimistically recorded in the two censuses taken during her marriage, was nevertheless listed with her correct age before she married and after she was widowed.

    So I have wondered if on this occasion it was the husband who wanted his wife to appear younger.
  7. Tim

    Tim Moderator Staff Member

    You're all assuming these acts were done deliberately? You have to remember that a lot of the people in these periods were illiterate. How many people even knew what year they were in let alone born?
    • Agree Agree x 1
  8. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    A pretty fair hypothesis Tim, especially given the number of those mid 19th Century and earlier individuals who signed with their 'X' mark. But I'm equally sure a good many age prevarications were for 'cosmetic' (syn. embellishment) reasons; once begun hard to correct. Illiteracy/innumeracy would have played its part -as would 'age-rounding' in Censuses - but for all sorts of unfathomable reasons, a good many (not all women) played 'fast and loose' in admitting their age. But it's just an opinion.
  9. Tim

    Tim Moderator Staff Member

    I agree that I also have instances where widowed people have lost a few years. However I don't believe this was down to vanity, but the necessity to find another partner to help with existing families, making them appear to be in a similar age range as their prospective partner. It was very common for widowed people to remarry, sometimes really quickly after the death of their partner.

    I find it very hard to imagine living in the time periods that we research, and the conditions that these people had to live in to survive.
    • Agree Agree x 3
  10. Heather

    Heather LostCousins Member

    We must always try to think outside the box, eg. when looking at a family in census results and finding that the "wife" after appearing one census after another then "disappears" even though the "head" of the family states that he is still "married". After searching for her elsewhere with no results, one sometimes finds that she died years ago but her husband still states that he is married, maybe they didn't do the "until death do us part" bit when they were married, who knows ?

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