Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Lifespans of My Great-Great-Grandparents

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver sounds interesting:

1)  We each have 16 great-great-grandparents.  How did their birth and death years vary?  How long were their lifespans?  

2)  For this week, please list your 16 great-great-grandparents, their birth years, their death years, and their lifespans in years.  You can do it in plain text, in a table or spreadsheet, or in a graph of some sort.

3)  Share your information about your 16 great-great-grandparents with us in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this blog post, or on Facebook or Google+.  If you write your own blog post, please leave a link as a comment to this post.

Even before I started working on this, I was wondering how the statistics would look.  I suspected my great-great-grandfather who lived to be 90 might skew the average.  I also thought about how many of my great-great-grandparents I don't have birth and death information for.  So let's see how it played out:

Here are the 14 great-great-grandparents whose names I know, in alphabetical order (because that's how I keep my my family lines straight in my head):

• Beila ——, ??–before 1924
• Joel Armstrong, 1849–about 1921
• Mendel Hertz Brainin, about 1861–1930
• Frederick Cleworth Dunstan, 1840–1873
• James Gauntt, 1831–1889
• Amelia Gibson, 1831–1908
• Victor Gorodetsky/Gordon, about 1866–1925
• Ruchel Dwojre Jaffe, about 1868–1934
• Sarah Deacon Lippincott, 1860–1927
• Simcha Meckler, ??–before 1904
• Gershon Itzhak Nowicki, about 1858–1948
• Esther Leah Schneiderman, about 1874–1908
• Martha Winn, 1837–1884
• Dobe Yelsky, about 1858–1936

So I ran into problems.  First, I don't know the father of my paternal grandfather, so I definitely don't know his parents' names.  Second, I have no concrete information about my Meckler great-great-grandparents.  I decided to do my list with the 12 great-great-grandparents I have dates for, even if several of them are approximate:

• Joel Armstrong, 1849–about 1921, 82 years
• Mendel Hertz Brainin, about 1861–1930, 69 yeras
• Frederick Cleworth Dunstan, 1840–1873, 33 years
• James Gauntt, 1831–1889, 58 years
• Amelia Gibson, 1831–1908, 77 years
• Victor Gorodetsky/Gordon, about 1866–1925, 59 years
• Ruchel Dwojre Jaffe, about 1868–1934, 66 years
• Sarah Deacon Lippincott, 1860–about 1927, 67 years
• Gershon Itzhak Nowicki, about 1858–1948, 90 years
• Esther Leah Schneiderman, about 1874–1908, 34 years
• Martha Winn, 1837–1884, 47 years
• Dobe Yelsky, about 1858–1936, 78 years

The average birth year for these 12 ancestors is 1853, with a range from 1831 (two of them) to 1874.

The average death year is 1915, with a range from 1873 to 1948.

The average lifespan is 63 years, ranging from 33 to 90.  The average male lifespan is 65, and the average female lifespan is 62.

It looks like I was right about my 90-year-old 2x-great-grandfather skewing things, at least a little.  If it weren't for him being such an outlier, the average male and female lifespans would be even closer.

I hadn't realized that two of these ancestors had died quite so young, at 33 and 34 years.  I know that Esther Leah Schneiderman (Gorodetsky) died a month after the birth of her eighth surviving child and blood was mentioned in the cause of death.  I don't know what caused the death of Frederick Cleworth Dunstan.  He was a file grinder, but I don't know if that was a particularly hazardous job.

Of these ancestors, only two lived to be older than 80.  I believe several of my great-grandparents lived past 80, so my family members appeared to be living longer, at least for a while.


  1. I tried this, too. It was a very interesting exercise. I have both dates for only six of my great-greats, and most of those are approximate. Of the six, their life spans based on those dates ranged from 50 to 77. Average was 64.
    The next generation, for whom I know most of the dates, did much better, ranging from 59 to 85 years, average nearly 79.

    1. I did notice that for my Jewish side, I don't have one concrete birthdate; all of them are approximate. I'm actually quite proud that I have death records for six of them, and one of those is for someone who died in Russia.

  2. Out of 16 GGG, I could only take an average lifespan age from 12 of them. That age was 59 with a range from 26-73. Like your family, my great grandparents aged a bit longer. My maternal grandmother's grandfather was murdered at age 35 so that sort of skewed the average for natural life span. Unfortunately, I have no ages for my Syrian/French (Jewish) GGG or my father's paternal gg from??? ( I only have their surnames , Youvich and Matz/Mazia). I know that the Matz was from Austria or Italy or Croatia or Dalmatia depending on what year due to boundary changes. It's so frustrating not to know isn't it?
    What has always been very obvious to me is that my New England ancestors always married much later than my southern US ancestors. The average age of my southern female at marriage was 18 and for males, 21. My northern female ancestors ( and males) were all highly educated which probably accounted for that delay. I don't have an average on their ages at marriage but most were at least 28 ( major spinsters!). Another thing I find interesting is that my northern ancestors did not have large families after my GGG grandparents. My NE GG grandparents only had at most 4 children and most had 2- probably due to later age at time of marriage and not needing farm labor since they had other types of careers like teacher, blacksmith, doctor, lawyer, minister.

    Janice have you ever researched your famous kin? I started working on mine last month and I've found all sorts of famous cousins. One of them is an actor that I always had a big crush on ( Chevy Chase, 12th cousin). I'm not a groupie type and the celebrity thing doesn't matter to me but what I did find very interesting is that these were very influential people in my life even though I had no idea I was related to them. It always stuns me when I realize how closely I've walked in my ancestors footsteps- in many cases, right on top of them!

    1. I think some of the trends you've seen in your family are common among others, such as Northerners (particularly more educated ones) marrying later in life and having smaller families than Southerners, who were more dependent on agriculture. I agree it is definitely frustrating not to know more information about those "ancestor gaps"!

      Now that I've learned Sellers is my adoptive line, I don't seem to have famous kin anymore. I think the closest I have — that I know about — is that my grandfather's brother was married to Jan Peerce's cousin. And that and $5 will get me a cup of coffee. :)

      So how did you determine that you are related to Chevy Chase?

    2. Hi Janice,
      Oh my gosh Jan Peerce is cool! Bluebird of Happiness is my favorite song! I have so many ceramic bluebirds in my house!
      Well, I descend directly from several Pilgrims and so do a lot of American celebrities including Chevy/Cornelius. One day while researching, I stumbled on a tree that listed several celebrity ancestors related to my 11th GG, William Brewster so, I began researching. Wm Brewster is also Chevy's 11th GG. I should mention that I always gather my own evidence when I research and never just copy people's trees (nothing drives me more crazy then discovering people did that on Anyway, last month, I found a really fun website: That offers a great deal of 'hints' and will help others trace their line. I've not found a mistake on this man's website but that doesn't mean he's perfect and he doesn't claim to be. I decided to take a break from my usual research and create a folder of ' famous kin' lines in my family for fun. I learned a lot about different families in the lines of descent. For example, I'm a very distant sort of relative of George Washington who is:
      husband of great grandmother of wife of 7th cousin 5x removed. Seems silly to even consider him kin. However, George was related to Mary Randolph Custis who was married to General Robert E Lee who is my 7th cousin 5x removed. Doing the research on each line was like watching a documentary on each person- lots of fun. I learned a lot about George, colonial America and even discovered that my more direct Comer and Moss ancestors in VA attended the same Church he did and was one of the pall bearers at his funeral. The truth is that my Moss ancestor was a pathetic wimp that couldn't endure the weight of the casket and he fainted or something and had to leave. Oh well, at least he showed up and tried.

    3. Wow, hardly anyone nowadays has any idea who Jan Peerce is! That's so cool you even know his song.

      Sure, if you're descended from Brewster, you'll have lots of famous relatives, because he has so many descendants. :) But it is fun just to learn about the history and find the connections between people. Sounds like you're really enjoying your research!

    4. LOVE that song!

      I could research all day long but I fear developing a blood clot :( My love of genealogy began several years ago when I was trying to help a dear friend locate her birth parents ( she was adopted) and I was successful though the outcome was not very happy. It never occurred to me to research my own family until she made a comment about how we had so much in common given how I didn't know anything about my father's family ( or my mother's). As soon as I got off the phone with my friend, I began my research and I've been addicted since. Researching my own family has been an educational, enlightening and therapeutic experience but I get just as much satisfaction or more when I help others :D

    5. Obviously I love genealogy too! I've been hooked for 41 years now (wow!). I do lots of volunteer work with it also. I learn something from everyone I work with.

    6. 41 years! You only look 25 in your photo! You must have located the fountain of youth :D
      I've only been researching for ten years and I look like it too!

    7. Aw, shucks, you're making me blush. But I did start when I was 13. :)

  3. 13 years old! Oh, I see now. You're one of ' those' :D
    I met a young man two years ago who was also one of ' those' types. I think he was 25. He was researching a family in VA that I had also researched and I arranged for him to meet with the family. His research methods were impeccable. He showed up with cameras, tape recorders, computers, etc.. I was so impressed that he had taken up family history at such a young age( probably 13 or so). I asked him if he had considered becoming a Pro but he had no desire to! He was single despite being quite attractive and well educated. When I asked him if he was married, he laughed and said, ' Well, no. It's not like I meet very many women at the library or in a cemetery."

    1. Yes, I'm one of "those." There don't seem to be many of us! I think the photo is from about ten years ago.

      It's funny what your friend said about meeting women at the library or the cemetery. I have a friend who had been going through a string of women, and I told him he needed to look for someone else who liked cemeteries. And what do you know -- he finally found a genealogist!

    2. I wish I could meet someone who was into genealogy like I am. From my experience, most family researchers are not in their 20's and so the young man probably meant that it was very unlikely he would meet anyone his own age. I was the youngest ( in my late 40's) at my local genealogy society. The elders were so excited to have someone that could still lift a box and put me to work right away :D I'm 55 now. How long have you been a Professional Genealogist? I was considering becoming one since I need a new career.

    3. Most people aren't interested when they're young. The majority we see come into the Family History Center at which I volunteer are in their 60's and up, because that's when they have time to follow up on all of this -- after they've retired.

      I'm still one of the youngest volunteers at my FHC, and I'm 54. I think two(?) people are younger than I am. Last year was my tenth as a professional genealogist. I transitioned to it after my previous career as an editor became less viable.

  4. Janice, I wasn't sure where to post this but I would like to pick your brain, if you don't mind. Why would a young man from Vermont go to Callao, Peru at the beginning of the Civil War? He was on a ship, not sure it was a Naval ship and I'm more inclined to think it was just a cargo ship. The ship was kept in quarantine at the port in Peru. My ancestor ( 18 years old) became claustrophic, jumped ship and drowned June 1863. Any thoughts?

    1. Tough without knowing more, but he might have been trying to avoid fighting in the war. If it was a cargo ship, he might have gotten a job as crew. Since it was going around South America, he might have been trying to go to California. It's a little late for gold fever, but not impossible that's what motivated him.

      Have you considered searches in Vermont archives, or wherever else close family members moved to, to see if a dairy or letters from family might be there? Maybe someone wrote about him.

  5. I thought about him avoiding the war but his family was SO righteous and I don't think they would have approved of such a thing even though they would have hated him going to war. Still, it's possible. Would he have been drafted? I haven't found any draft record for him. I had forgotten about the Gold Rush or other western opportunity...hmmmm Apparently, Callao, Peru was a popular place for Americans to live. I found a photo album listed on an antique dealer's website that contained pictures of the Crosby family of VT, NH and NY who moved there. That family was distant to my William Crosby who drowned. There must have been some incentive for going there but I haven't found any. The only records I found were newspaper articles mentioning his death and he was referred to as a Seaman. I don't know if Seaman refers to military or if it's generic for someone working on a boat. His father was notified of his death 4 years!! after the tragedy. I never found any other articles suggesting that his family was looking for him or concerned so, maybe he and his father had a falling out due to him leaving during the war. Maybe they didn't search because they wanted to keep their son ' incognito'. ???????
    I will do more searches in the VT archives on other close family members. There is a ton of info on the Crosby family of Brattleboro. Yes, I'm related to Bing...hehehe

    1. If the family was so righteous and wouldn't have approved of him not fighting, maybe he ran away because of that? As for being drafted, I do not remember the specifics of how the Civil War draft worked. You should check into it, see when it was doe and how it would have affected him.

      In my experience Seaman is usually for someone in the navy, but it might have had a generic meaning for ship's crew at that time. Something else to investigate!

      Hey, if you find anything in those Crosby records about a family member changing his name to Preuss, or maybe a daughter marrying a Preuss, let me know. My stepfather has always told me that his Preusses were originally Crosbys.

    2. Thanks!

      Please tell me more about your stepfather's Preuss family- Does he have any idea where they may have lived and when? NY, VT, Mass? I don't have any Preuss in my tree yet but I'll keep a lookout for one.
      There seemed to be quite a bit of intermarrying among the Crosbies- beginning with Simon, the immigrant. There was so much intermarrying that it was screwing up my tree and confusing the life out of me! I've been trying to solve the mystery of who Fanny Crosby's ( the hymn writer) father was and I'm inclined to believe that her father and mother were brother and sister which could account for all the secrecy about her parents and for her blindness being a birth defect.

    3. I recall something about them being from Vermont. And there was an Olympic athlete, I think maybe a skier, who was a relative.


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.