They Really Did Not Know How Old They Were

In reading through Civil War pension applications, the one thing that amazes me is the number of people who really didn’t know when they were born. Some people did know their date of birth and gave their age consistently. Others apparently only knew their approximate age.

Is that why Grandpa’s age varies from one census record to another?


0 thoughts on “They Really Did Not Know How Old They Were

  1. Anonymous

    In many families, birthdays just aren't a big deal. Without an annual celebration and consecutive numbering of candles on a cake, how would a child ever remember? And, families in rural areas rather ignore the calendar – time passes with harvests and plantings, each year much like the ones before (except that year without a summer). My daughter was born just before Easter the year before Hurricane Gloria swept through Connecticut. How old is she now?
    ~ Aili

  2. veebriz

    I recall hearing a Revolutionary War presentation by George Sweitzer in which he asked Ma “when was I born?” She answered “between Jeb and Mary.” “But what year was I bornd?” Ma said, “Now don't get so high falutin' on me, get back to work!:

    Then when I signed up for the War, I heard them ask the man ahead of me for his birth date. I had to make up one real quick. Little did I know that 200 years later my descendants would be faithfully writing that down as my “date of birth!”

  3. Patti Hobbs

    I recently did some work for someone who had a birth date from a tombstone for his ancestor. But when I got his Civil War pension file he said that he didn't know anything more than the year which is what his father had told him when he enlisted. I figured he must have just appropriated something that was close. He had siblings who were older than he.

  4. Jennie

    In the case of my husband's ancestors, we have to consult the lunar calendar. In China (where they were born) they don't mark the date as we know it. Everything revolves around the lunar year.

  5. Anonymous

    My Great-great grandmother aged dramatically in the last years of her life. Her family thought she was 104 years old at the time of death. In tracing her through the census years she was closer to being 80 — which still would have been very old for persons in 1895! Because of the advanced age, her obituary made the city newspaper.

  6. Anonymous

    On a trip to Williamburg, VA, a docent told us that people didn't celebrate their birthdays in the 18th Century, they only celebrated the King's/President's birthday.

    Charlotte Marek

  7. Anonymous

    One person I'm researching has three birth dates. The 1900 census indicates birth in Dec 1899. On the WWI Draft Registrations his birth year is 1900. Social Security Death Index shows his birth year as 1898. Which one is likely to be correct? I'm going with the 1900 census with the age of 5/12 years.


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