Scotch-Irish-L ArchivesArchiver > Scotch-Irish > 2004-05 > 1083696484
From: "Boyd Gray" <>
Subject: Gravestones and censuses.
Date: Tue, 4 May 2004 19:48:04 +0100
On the issue of the veracity of dates of birth taken from gravestones, maybe
we should be thankful for small mercies. On two occasions now, I have
eventually located a family plot in some obscure graveyard only to find the
singularly unhelpful inscriptions, "The McCook Family of Dullaghy" and "The
Brewster Family of Dromore". Nothing else! No dates, no names! Did these
people have no consideration for the family historians of the future?
I don't think anyone would seriously disagree with the contention that ages
and dates of birth on gravestones must be treated with caution and only
accepted when confirmed, like anything else, by other sources. Probably the
only reliable source for an early date of birth is a church register, and
even then, it must be a date of birth rather than a date of baptism, because
the latter could be many years after the child's birth. My Great
Grandparents Gray seemed to baptize their children in "job lots" - up to
four at a time!
The 1901 Census is a particularly inaccurate (and amusing) source. Those of
you who have only researched in Northern Ireland may not be aware that the
Republic of Ireland has no 100 year rule so that the 1911 Census is also
available south of the border. Using the two together to estimate dates of
birth produces some fascinating results. While conducting research in
Donegal, I have noticed that older folk especially, seem to age, on average,
about 15 years between 1901 and 1911! Did the unseemly shenanigans of the
Suffragettes prematurely age the elderly during the Edwardian period? I
think not. In fact, there is a very simple reason for this.
When the local constabulary called in 1901 to ask your age, older people,
just like most of us nowadays, were apt to subtract a few years in response
to such a nosey question, especially since, at that time, it was unlikely
that there would be any documents to gainsay your answer. Obituaries and
death notices suffer from the same problem. But then the government
introduced Old Age Pensions in 1908 and you had to be 70 years of age, or
over, to qualify. Faulty memories suddenly became much more precise by the
time of the next census. But before we jump to the conclusion that the 1911
records are going to be more accurate than 1901, I suspect that many folk in
1911 were tempted to add a few years on to their age, in order to claim the
one shilling and sixpence a week that was on offer!
Never mind - if it was too easy it would not be as much fun!