This is a update to my previous post on the average age at time of death for my ancestors. I wanted to verify my previous conclusions when I received a better source of average age data than I had used. Thanks to Ginny S. for providing the link to the National Institutes of Health paper which looked at the average age statistics in the 1800s in multiple ways. You might find the article of interest as you write papers and analyze your family:
You can read the previous post by clicking here.
There were several observations I make about the article:
- It identified issues with the data collection that I had not considered before: such as the process for collection of data, small sample sizes, the rural vs. urban dynamics, the east coast and racial bias, etc.
- Immigrants averaged a shorter life span in the US than native born whites in 1850. (Table 1, Ferrie, 1996.) The study did not, however, address the difference in the life span of those who stayed in the country of origin to those who immigrated. The rural differential was about 5%; the urban differential was about 18%.
- I was surprised that the life expectancy of a 20 year old in the US declined starting at the beginning of the 19th century until mid-century for both males or females. There is then a slow increase in longevity; the average age does not exceed that of earlier in the century until after 1900! (Table 1, Kunze, 1979; Pope, 1992)
- I was surprised that I didn’t see a more radical effect of the Civil War in the 1860s. Twenty year old white men seemed to “hold their own” in the very low 40s. The effect of the CW is probably manifested in that during this time 20 year old white women’s life span became equal to men’s, where before it had consistently lagged by 2 years, plus or minus.
- The US Census mortality schedules (effective the year previous to the census year) under-reported deaths by perhaps as much as 40%, an interesting fact for genealogists, who cannot find their ancestor but feel like they should, in these non-population schedules. (15th paragraph in article after abstract.)
So, what about my data from the previous post? It appears that any differences between the “infoplease” data I used, and the NIH report are negligible, or supported my case more strongly that our family lived longer than average. My conclusions do not change and my family lived longer than average in all respects. The reasons for the extended life span were probably due to my ancestors being rural and not urban, less susceptible to communicable disease, reduction in pulmonary tuberculosis and other medical advances, etc.
Here is a summary of the immigrants in my family and why they were, as a whole became better off in the US.
My Swedes: This family emigrated in 1881 for religious reasons. They were Baptists in the land of Lutherans. The family’s safety net was the brother of the wife who had been in the US for 10 years prior to my family’s chain migration. Bengt Peter worked on the railroad for 10 years, earning enough money to buy a farm.
My Dane: Chris emigrated in the early 1900s as a young man and progressed from $5 in his pocket to owning his own business and two farms in Iowa. He had a safety net of a close friend with whom he stayed for two years before heading to northern Iowa.
My paternal Ostfriesens: emigrated in 1854 with money to buy a farm within 10 days of landing in Illinois. They were the wealthiest of all of my immigrants with much land and privilege in Ostfriesland, Germany. The males became the most formally educated of my ancestors. Marrying into this family is a young woman who was orphaned at an early age, immigrated with an unrelated family and married much younger than average into this wealthy family.
My maternal Ostfriesens: emigrated in 1864 (why, why, why would you do that!!), landed in Iowa and immediately bought a farm. But, another line within this family sector was not so advantaged. The head of household of the Berg family died within 1.5 years of arrival, leaving the widow with 6 children under the age of 15. She remarried, “disappeared” for 7 years and reappeared in 1871, a widow with sons who bought land all over the Midwest and daughters who married well.
I pause here for a moment to discuss my use of the word “wealthy.” By no means were these families members of the upper echelon of the society in the United States at this time, but rather they owned more land than they ever could in the country of origin. In addition, the amount of real estate and personal property indicated in agricultural schedules had a higher value when compared to their immediate neighbors. Even my great grandfather, a minister, died at the age of 55 with three farms.
So, it should be no surprise that my ancestors lived longer than the average of the time. I used to say that our family was “extraordinarily ordinary,” but I think that is no longer true. We were “privileged” from the time of their arrival–privileged with a strong work ethic, and a chain migration pattern leading them to settle in the rich land of Iowa and Illinois. That privilege does not negate the hard work, and tough times that the families endured to make the path a little smoother for their descendants. Their commitment to investment in land as a stabilizer in the family reflects their reaction to their inability to do the same in their country of origin.
What I have done since the last posting: celebrated new years with family and friends and prepped my presentations for the new year. I have several new ones and so there was much work to do. I also prepped the presentations I have presented before for my very active first half of 2017. I have also been recording and linking my findings from my summer trip to by database. There are hundreds of documents to record, transcribe, analyze and enter. I figure I am only about 25% through. (press on gladly!! It’s my New Year’s resolution.)
 National Institute of Health, “Decennial Life Tables for the White Population of the United States, 1790 to 1900,” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2885717/ : accessed 2 January 2017).