Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mortality for Genealogists

Mortality is one thing we all share as human beings. But genealogists are more aware of birth, marriage, and death than most of those around us who do not spend their time looking for records. Unfortunately, some genealogists seem oblivious to the realities of our mortal existence and seem to assume that the age at which people die is negotiable. Here is an example.

This notice from the Family Tree is not all that uncommon. Of course, there are other such notifications such as death dates before birth and all that, but this one is the most interesting. One of the most commonly found omissions in the Family Tree is a missing death date. But can we assume a 120 year limit to human existence?

An NBC News report dated August 16, 2013, is entitled, "123-year-old Bolivian man is oldest living person ever documented." Here is a quote from the article:
If Bolivia's public records are correct, Carmelo Flores Laura is the oldest living person ever documented. 
They say he turned 123 a month ago. 
The native Aymara lives in a straw-roofed dirt-floor hut in an isolated hamlet near Lake Titicaca at 13,100 feet, is illiterate, speaks no Spanish and has no teeth. 
He walks without a cane and doesn't wear glasses. And though he speaks Aymara with a firm voice, one must talk into his ear to be heard.
What is more important to genealogists is using a little bit of historical sense when entering data into our family trees.  One phrase that has been bantered around for years is "Do the Math." This means we need to look at the dates and time periods that we enter for our ancestors and relatives that are imposed by the reality of living on the earth. Babies cannot be born before their parents or born a long period after they die. Some of the other dates are negotiable but any dates that seem well outside of the normal time frame need to be carefully verified and documented.

There are a number of sources online for mortality tables. These tables give the average life expectancy for any given time period in the present or past. One interesting thing about the tables is that life expectancy increases dramatically if a child lives to be 5 or 10 years of age. Infant mortality was much higher in antiquity than it is now and it is not usual to see families with a number of children who died at a very young age.  Here is one example of such a life expectancy table beginning in 1850. Estimates in older times are mostly conjecture because of a lack of adequate records.
As with any broad brush statistical analysis, there are always exceptions. We do have accounts, such as those in the Bible, of people who lived an extraordinarily long time. But it clear that except for some notable exceptions, most of us will succumb well before we live a hundred years.

This is one of my constant pleas: that we, as genealogists, somehow connect what we research to reality. Let's get real, as they say, and spend some time thinking about the implications of what we enter in our family trees.

Oh, by the way, you might want to read the Wikipedia article about Carmelo Flores Laura. He was also not as old as claimed.

No comments:

Post a Comment