Yikes! The Role of Physics in the Determination of Identity

johannes_diderik_van_der_waalsI flunked Physics in college.  Yup…a flying F. So, why am I talking about Physics and identity–of the genealogical kind, you may ask? Because the basic principles of Physics are germane to our establishing the identity of an individual. I actually used all three of these principles in my portfolio’s case study! And, the identity of the person on the left? Johannes D. van der Waals (edited).[1]

Here are some of the basic principles of physics and how they apply to identity. (Now, don’t glaze over here; stick with me on this….)

  • Principle of Physics: one object cannot be in two places at the same time. However, Einstein believed and scientists have now proven Einstein correct that this principle is false at the sub-molecular level.[2] At the “Law of Intuition” level (I made that up) this appears to still be true for those of us above the sub-molecular level.
  • Pauli Exclusion Principle [3]: Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Actually, it has been proven multiple atoms can occupy the same space at the same time.[4] For people, composed of billions and billons (etc.) of atoms, scientists haven’t figured that out yet.
  • Principle of Physics and Chemistry (Johannes D. van der Waals): “The condensed phases of matter depend for their properties on the content proximity of all their constituent atoms.”[5] Non-scientific translation: There is a strong desire for objects to cluster together.

Let’s take them one by one.

  1. Principle No. 1:
    If you think “your” Lars Larson resided in the United States in 1882, but you find “your” Lars Larson in Sweden immigrating in 1895 for the first time–there is some explaining to do. Lars cannot be in both the United States and Sweden at the same time.  An example closer to home for me…Friedrich Eilers was naturalized in Chicago in 1856; Yet, it appears that MY Friedrich was raising a family and didn’t immigrate until 1861. Result?  The first Friedrich is NOT MY GUY. It comes down to…just because the name is the same doesn’t mean its your guy.They both cannot be your ancestor.
  2. Principle NO. 2:
    If there are two John Smiths—one the younger and one the older–they will have different timelines and events that happen in their lives, even if they live in the same place. Your job as a genealogist is to tweaze out the differences in their timelines  and make them each unique in the world.
    Example: Bengt #1 lived in Sweden in 1785-1795 as a day laborer on a farm and was enumerated on the tax rolls as “Bengt.” Another “Bengt,” surname unknown lived on the other side of the parish. Which fragment of Bengt’s life belonged to my ancestor? They lived totally separate lives until 1791 when Bengt no. 1 paid taxes on the west side of town and Bengt no.2 paid taxes on the east side of town. And, one thing we know is that no one, at no time, pays tax twice for no good reason. Different life experiences differentiated the two men of the same given name and approximate same age.
  3. Principle no. 3.
    There is a strong desire, especially pre-social security era, for family members to rely on other family members as “insurance.” Family members are the ones that help when the barn burns down. Family members are the ones who migrate together to a frontier fringe. Family members are the ones who support each other when a spouse dies. What does this sound like– The FAN Club. So, according to physics, your group will stay together even if pressure is placed on one to move. Case in point: Antje, age 21, living in Germany, apparently was made an offer of marriage by a recent immigrant to the US. She accepted. The famiy discussion must have been interesting, because the entire family decided to emigrate. The father at 54 was the oldest traveler on the ship. This FAN Club stuck together.

So, that wasn’t so bad now was it!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: Prepare for my beginners class at Washington Athletic Club, work on my syllabi for the Olympia GS (I thought I had them done–I didn’t.); shifted the date of my presentation to the Sons of Norway/Bothel due to a scheduling conflict; attended an APG online discussion on presenting to groups. I also participated in two trial runs and a tech test with the certification discussion group members on Google Hangouts and worked up the website for the same group. This will be my first 100% online class where I am the leader. I am very excited.

[1] Johannes Diderick van der Waals, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Diderik_van_der_Waals : accessed 14 February 2017). In the public domain.

[2] Steve Connor, Independent, blog, “Einstein was Right, You Can be in Two Places at Once.” ( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/einstein-was-right-you-can-be-in-two-places-at-once-2162648.html : accessed 14 February 2017).

[3] Wikipedia, “Pauli’s Exclusion Principle,” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauli_exclusion_principle : accessed 14 February 2017).

[4] Physics.org, “Atoms can be in the Same Place at the Same Time,” (https://phys.org/news/2015-01-atoms.html : accessed 14 February 2017).

[5] Stephen Barry, Encyclopedia Britannica, (https://www.britannica.com/science/cluster : accessed 14 February 2017).

Strategic Thinking: A Research Plan

nose in bookI declare there are no “brick walls.”

WHAT! you say. I instead contend that there are problems that we haven’t tackled yet or problems that we have tackled by “grazing” in the data. Oh, sure, eventually everyone runs into no records, but—we have genealogical dead ends because of a lack of strategic planning!

Our strategic answer? It’s called the development of a research plan.

So, I ask you to think of one of your intractable problems.  Got it? OK, let’s get started and see what kind of progress you can make on it. (All links are in the footnotes.)

We are going to develop a strategic research plan for your particular problem. I would suggest that one could do this with your easiest problem, but it might be better to start with one that you think is solvable, but you haven’t yet found the answer.

There are three phases to a research plan.

Phase 1: Recording all you know.

1. Start fresh. Act like you have never seen this problem before.[1]
comment: We cannot all go on vacation, like the resource listed but we can clear our mind of preconceptions about the problem we wish to tackle. Meditate if you have to.

2. Clearly state your research question and write it down. Make your individual of interest unique in the world using the “known facts of the case.” Write your question at the top of a blank document. Make it 14 pt. font and bold. [2]
comment: This is often harder to do than initially perceived. You are not writing this question for you, but for a casual reader who picks up the document tomorrow. Be obsessively specific about your ancestor of interest.

3. Gather together every shred of evidence that you already have that relates to the individual or his/her relatives, business associates etc.[3]
comment: This is not reviewing what you have in your genealogy database, but rather to pull out the actual document and look at it. You are looking for hidden clues or clues you missed, because you hyper-focused on that single bit of evidence and missed others. (That filing system and compulsive citing your sources pays off today!)

4. Document by document, write what you know, based on what you have. Start with the citation and then summarize what is contained within the source. Transcribe and abstract any documents with handwriting. If your document is a census, record the neighbors of at least 10 families in each direction. Label this section “Background.” [4]
comment: It is almost guaranteed you will see new information that you had not seen before, for example–are the children going to school? Perhaps there are school records. You may (or even should) transcribe printed documents as well. Remember this is your intractable problem and we cannot get to an answer without some work.

5. Note whether the “thing you are holding in your hand,” the source, is an original, derivative or authored work; whether the information is primary, secondary, or indeterminable; and whether the evidence is direct, indirect or negative in response to your research question. Don’t stop with just categorizing your documents. Instead, analyze your response. Record your catagories and if there is better record put it on your research plan. [5]
comment: For example, if you have a derivative work, is there an original? If so, where? Even if an original, is there a document that would be closer to the event?The analysis is the key piece here.

6. As you are doing no. 5 above, identify all FAN Club members and place in a table with the date of interaction and the role your ancestor played in that interaction. Label this “FAN Club.” keep the interactions in chronological order–you are building a timeline.[6]
comment: What you are looking for is patterns–patterns of interactions with others. Who keeps showing up? Do not be too narrow in your range of years you are looking at….you might be looking at 2 or even 3 generations of interactions.

7. Add known dates of importance of your individual of interest to your timeline. Depending on your problem, there may be other key individuals (in a separate column) you wish to add to your timeline. [7]
comment: Developing a timeline is particularly important when you have too many individuals with the same name–each candidate will get his/her own timeline. At this stage your timeline will be incomplete, but it includes what you know.

8. If appropriate, take your timeline and expand it to a table, which includes all people you think might be relevant to your investigation–family, candidates for identity (for example, all your possible John Smiths), business partners, and other members of the FAN Club you developed in item 7 above.  Add their events to their timeline as well. [8]
comment: The principles of physics apply here. See my next post!

Phase 2: Research researching

9. Because of your hard work in items 1-8, you should now have identified some localities or resources to investigate that you hadn’t thought of before or places you need to re-look. Develop a five-item research plan of the sources that are most likely to yield salient information based on what you know. Add the list of five items to your document and label this ”Research Plan.” Each resource should include a draft of the citation. Put the citation in bold. [9]
comment: Get the rest of that probate packet, find that regimental history or “mug book,” conduct a line by line search of a census…..just 5.  Your research plan may even include re-looking at some databases etc. which did not yield fruit the last time. This research plan is dynamic–once you start researching, you will add other resources to investigate.

10. Review Part 2 of Val Greenwood’s book for a list of types of sources. Review each source type to determine if researching that type of source might be likely to provide additional information for your particular research question.  Place “likely suspects” on your research plan.[10]
comment:  You may have to research the resources, e.g. determine what the names of the newspapers in that area at that era, before you can build the citation.

11. Read the FamilySearch wiki for your particular locality for additional resources. [11]
comment: The FS wiki is a go-to place for me for locality research. Research every jurisdictional area: country, state, county, court. If you do a lot of research in one area, consider writing a locality guide so you don’t lose all this fabulous work you are doing. consider also Cyndi’s List and Linkpendium.

12. Conduct a locality or topical search in Family Search and Ancestry catalog. Click through every entry in the catalog to identify film you ought to order or if the film has been indexed or uploaded and not indexed.  Add each film to your research plan as a citation. Your research plan should be longer than five items by now.[12]
comment: 70% of the Family Search resources are not accessible by conducting a surname search, but instead have been digitized, but not indexed by surname.

13. Review the National Genealogical Society (NGS) States series to determine if your state is included. These wonderful books are an overview of  resources and repositories that are state specific and which include archives and repositories you may not have thought of.[13]
comment: Another place to look for resources is the WPA inventory books (check Google or FHL). In the 1930s often WPA workers were asked to inventory county records, identity the documents held, where held and the years of coverage, for example, Civil War registrations, voter lists etc. Perhaps some of these records still exist.

Phase 3: Researching

14. Based on your research plan, conduct the research of your top priority source.  If you think of a new resource to check, just add it to your research plan in priority order. Always write out a skeleton citation.[14]
comment: Do not be afraid to remove a resource from your list. Your initial research may lead you down a different road than you had initially thought, rendering your initial thoughts less imperative. I form a “GARAGE” at the end of my document where I “park” resources I deem unlikely. I put them in red and save them. I may never look at it again, but I have been known to resurrect content from the “GARAGE” before.

15. Do your on site research. If you cannot travel, then enlist a friend or hire a genealogist in the area. Revisit your research plan and add new sources (as citations) as they are identified.[15]
comment: I have hired a researcher in a specific locale to find documents for me that I cannot access myself easily or cheaply.

16. Order those FHL films you identified in your catalog review or better yet, take a trip to Salt Lake City and do your research there in the company of research experts who can help.[16]
comment: You have to be registered to utilize the film loan program, but it is free. Film rental is minimal. Did you know you can call the FHL and get a telephone consult as well?

17. Re-conduct old research. We are smarter now then we were five years ago.[17]
comment: I visit a particular county courthouse every five years. Every time I ask for the same thing—the records on my Bode family—every time, I get something new.

18. Record ALL searches, including those that yield noting. Constantly update your research plan. Record all your findings including your negative searches. Label these Negative Findings.[18]
comment: At this point, beware of the “bright shiny object.” the goal is to practice “mindful genealogy.”

19. Repeat.

There are many standard locations in which to look that I have not covered here, including State Archives, local archives, genealogical society collections, newspapers, cemeteries, to name a few. You are responsible for knowing your area and your problem well enough that you know what will yield fruit for you and what might not–but remember we can find the most amazing evidence in the most obscure locations.

There is no guarantee that you will get to an answer to your research question by doing the above, but I can guarantee you will be further along than you were before and you wil have a terrific document outlining your search!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: Finished a client report, worked on several syllabi that I thought were done–I was wrong. Since I am now Seattle GS president, I am dealing with society issues and generation of the Board agenda. This month we conducted a Society Summit planning meeting to see if there was any interest in getting the GS of the Puget Sound area together–there was and so we will be putting that together in the Spring.  I am getting prepped for my Google Hangout with 14 eager individuals who desire more information about certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists(R). I have never done this before; I am waaaaaay outside my comfort zone.


[1] David Rock, blog post, “Back from Vacation? Don’t Waste a Precious Clear Mind,” Psychology Today, 6 September 2009, (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work/200909/back-vacation-dont-waste-precious-clear-mind : accessed 12 February 2017) .

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia : National Genealogical Society, 2013), 7-8.

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, blog post, “Quick Lesson 11: Identity Issues & the FAN Club,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-11-identity-problems-fan-principle : accessed 12 February 2017).

[4] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Professional Genealogist: A Manual for REsearchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians, “Transcripts & Abstracts” by Mary McCampbell Bell (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc, 2001) 291-396.

[5] Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 8-16.

[6] Mills, “Quick Lesson 11.”

[7] Jill Morelli, blog post, “Timelines for Analysis & Correlation,” Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey (https://genealogycertification.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/timelines-ana-corr : accessed 12 February 2017)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyber Space (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, Co., Inc., 2014). This source gives you some templates for proper source citations, but do not be afraid to compose your own. Just make sure you have all the information needed for the casual reader to be able to evaluate the quality of your source.

[10] Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, Co., Inc., 1990), part 2.

[11] Family Search, wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki : accessed 12 February 2017). You also can do topical searches and even find out about entry hours for the Family History Library and the webinar classes they are conducting that month at this site. Cyndi’s List (http://www.cyndislist.com/ : accessed 12 February 2017) and Linkpendium (http://www.linkpendium.com/ : accessed 12 February 2017).

[12] Family Search, catalog (https://familysearch.org/catalog/search : accessed 12 February 2017). Ancestry, waypoints: Ancestry > Search > Card Catalog. Sometimes the Ancestry catalog is located in the sidebar at the bottom. You can also use the map for access to the items related to a locality search.

[13] National Genealogical Society, “Research in the States Series” (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/research_in_the_states : accessed 12 February 2017). As of this access date 24 states had been covered. TIP: if you don’t see your state published, go to the NGSQ and search on your state. Iowa, for example does not have a booklet as part of the “Research in the States” series but does have a comprehensive article in the Q: George E. McCracken, “Genealogical Resources in Iowa Archives,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 41 (September 1953): 67-69.

[14] Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, Chapter 3 “GPS Element 1: Thorough Research.”

[15] Association of Professional Genealogists (https://www.apgen.org/ : accessed 12 February 2017). You can do a name, location, research specialty or geolocation search to find a genealogist who subscribes to the standards o the APG.

[16] Family Search, wiki, “Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche,” (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Ordering_Microfilm_or_Microfiche : accessed 12 February 2017).

[17] Federation of Genealogical Societies, website, (http://www.fgs.org/cstm_societyHall.php : accessed 12 February 2017). If there is a society in your area, check out their website for classes; some run free webinars. today, more than every before, there is no excuse for not taking a class a week and learning something new.  Google: Illinois State Genealogical Society, Southern California GS, Wisconsin State GS and Legacy Software webinars for online educational opportunities–free!  no excuse.

[18] Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 15.

SLIG 2017: Family History Law Library

2017-fh-law-library-shelley-long-photographerThis past week I was delighted to attend the Salt Lake Institute for Genealogy (SLIG) at Salt Lake City, Utah and I want to tell you a bit about it. An institute for genealogy is usually five days of intensive study and lectures on a single topic related to genealogy.  This year there were 14 tracks and you had to pick one– a difficult task. I selected “Family History Law Library” taught by Judy Russell (left) and Rick Sayer (right; I’m behind Rick.) in the photo at left.[1] Other speakers included Claire Bettag (Civil Law), David Rencher of Family Search (Irish Law) and Warren Bittner (German Law).

I always come out of these institutes with a larger number of genealogy buddies, new information on the topic and a renewed enthusiasm for genealogy, which I did not have before. This session was no different.

Working in the law has always intimidated me and so I hoped to come away with some basic knowledge of how to  think about my immediate problem and how to then access the law.

A concept that clarified much of my thinking were the four questions to ask yourself when you have identified that your problem might be answered in the law:

  1. What is the type of court where this problem might be resolved?: local, state, Federal, or special?
  2. Could the topic be covered in a chartering document, like a constitution? If so then you need to look at the constitution or similar document of that state or country.
  3. Is it Statutory law? And, if so, is it territorial, colonial or state?
  4. Is it common law and covered through precedent?

Once you have answered the above questions then you have a road map to finding the answer to your question in the law.

There are a number of good websites for finding Federal level law:

  1. Google Books: many of the older Federal and state laws are in scanned books: https://books.google.com/
  2. Century of Law Making for a New Nation (up to 1878): https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html
  3. HienOnline ($$; contains more current Federal law): http://home.heinonline.org/
  4. Constitution Society (for chartering documents): http://www.constitution.org/

The state laws can best be found by googling name of the state, “law” and then any additional identifiers–“territorial” or “colonial” law, and type of problem, e.g. mental health, immigration, or voting age, for example. These documents are often found on a governmental website for the state of interest.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: Attended SLIG, started “bullet journaling” based on an Association of Professional Genealogist Quarterly article (it has greatly improved my efficiency.) Have alerted several groups etc. that I have received the credential of Certified Genealogist; interviewed 3 new clients; continue to work on transcriptions of findings from my summer sabbatical, cleaned up some webinars and conducted two (Illinois and Southern California with Wisconsin at the end of March.) Did some research on my elusive Eilerts and withdrew my proposals from APG-Professional Management Conference to be held in September in DC. I am still waiting to hear from BYU, and I did a bunch of other stuff related to being SGS President.  Whew! busy month.

[1] Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) 2017, Class 9, The Family History Law Library, photograph, January 2017, digital image, Shelley Lewis, photographer, used with permission; SLIG 2017 (https://www.facebook.com/groups/SLIG2016/ : accessed 2 February 2017, 8:10 am).






clock-6I am happy to announce that today I received notice from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) that my portfolio which was submitted in mid-October has been deemed worthy of conferring onto me the title of Certified Genealogist. I am still a bit giddy.  I also realize that I will probably forget to do some critical thing in the “fog” of jubilation. As I am leaving on Sunday for Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), I am vulnerable to forget to pack all I need for their cold weather.  Yikes!

I will not stop this blog because I have reached this goal.  Like all goals, you need to develop the next before you have attained the last.  And, that is certainly true for me.  I will discuss goal assessment in the near future.

I thank all the readers for supporting this blog and my efforts to become certified.  With certification comes not only the pride of attaining a difficult goal, but also the responsibility to model to others the good work of a certified genealogist.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last blog post: I started bullet journaling because I found myself wasting a lot time and I needed a tool to keep me focused. Except for today– it’s done a good job. I listened to three webinars; attended an APG online discussion, developed my research plans for my trip to Salt Lake City and had lunch with a friend I had lost track of.  It’s been, for me, a good day.

Timelines for Analysis & Correlation

I love timelines and their “sibling,” tables. The use of timelines and tables was critical to my writing of the Case Study and the Kinship Determination Project for my BCG portfolio.  I even used a table in my document transcription and research plan. I found, however, that many people do not understand the power of placing information in an array and looking at it differently than in the narrative format.

I am very visually oriented — basically for me “pictures say 1,000,000 words!” I need timelines and tables to array my information so I can visualize the gaps, the overlaps and/or the relationships of one bit of information to another.  Without them, I try to construct the array in my head, which is not always the most reliable “canvass” on which to work!

Because of my intense interest in timelines and tables, I put together a presentation on the ways one might use timelines.  In this blog, I wanted to introduce you to some examples I used in the presentation. You can also use timelines to assist in story telling but I am not going to discuss that here.

jacobson-rm-person-pageEXAMPLE 1: I use timelines to identify gaps in my data. This may be as simple as looking at my RootsMagic individual report (left) to see if I have entered all the census reports that are available.[1]  It can assist in identifing if I have researched all the source types mentioned in Val Greenwood’s book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Research.[2]

slide1EXAMPLE 2: Another kind of gap is that of time. You might have two “fragments” of an individual which you believe is one person, but there is a significant gap in their timeline.  This was true for my Case Study where I had located my Swedish ancestor on the Handskhult (Hishult, Halland County) farm where he was a child and on the Rishult farm when he was an adult, but I was missing 10 years in the middle!  Could I link them or not?


slide1EXAMPLE 3: Another example of a timeline that expands and assists in analysis and correlation is one where there are many same named individuals without enough information to identify the unique individual who satisfies the known information. Fredrick Eilers is my “brick wall.” He is the second husband of my great great grandmother, Eda (van Hoorn) Berg. I have lots of information on Eda, but I also have a 7 year gap after the 1862 marriage to Fredrick. During that time the family moved from Illinois to Iowa, arriving in 1871. I developed a timeline for Eda and then aligned it with the timeline of known information of Fredrick, and then identified Fredrick Eilers in the Midwest who passed some minimal thresholds (old enough to marry, likely to have been in Stephenson County, IL). I am still bedeviled by the fact that I cannot identify the right Fred. Right now my research summary of this problem is 10 pages of places I have looked and not found.

slide1EXAMPLE 4: Some time ago J. Paul Hawthorne took his pedigree chart and colored it according to location of birth. That was interesting to do, but my pedigree chart is pretty boring–4 colors–Danish (red), Swedish (blue), Ostfriesen (olive) and Iowa (green). He then added the idea of time to the pedigree chart. I decided to look at that as well. I don’t know that I learned a lot from it, except it is obvious that my Danish and Swedish ancestors had their children who were my ancestors earlier than my Ostfriesens (who generally do not marry until age 26-30). You can tell that by seeing that the red and the blue pedigree chart areas are more compressed, i.e. same number of generations in less time, than the Ostfriesens in the olive. It is a fun exercise whether you gain deep insight or not.[3]

Hope you found these of interest.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: I have reorganized my way of keeping track of my lectures/presentations. I needed to do this as I have over 27 presentations set up for this year and most are being given in the next 6 months. I have investigated four different software programs to assist and am seriously looking at AirTable. I have presented at SGS my “Making Timelines Work for You.” It was well received, but I need to tweak it more. In a week I will be going to Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) to take the course, “The Law Library” from Judy Russell. This course will assist me in using the law for genealogical purposes. In the meantime I have to develop a research plan for my time there. If I have some minutes for research I want to use my time wisely in the Family History Library.

[1] In my quick review of the Christian Jacobson person page I found I had not have the 1940 census for him recorded.  And I made a note to look at the 1935 Census of Business to see if his trucking company was covered in the enumeration.

[2] Val Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Research (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, Co., Inc. 1990), specifically Part 2.

[3] You can make one of these as well. use 1/4″ grid paper and use 10 years equals on square on the x-axis. For the primary person, start with 9 vertical or y-axis squares.  the next generation is 7 vertical squares. Calculate the overlap and work back to the year of birth.

Update: Age at death vs. Average Age at Death

statisticsThis 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.[1]  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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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%.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Happy Hunting!


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.)

[1] 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).

Age at Death vs. Average Age at Death

statisticsI am seriously into crunching numbers lately!! Comments about this and my previous two blog postings are welcomed.

I talked with my brother over the holiday who stated that our ancestors all died young.  I wondered why I hadn’t looked at this question, since I had the data to either confirm, or deny his hypothesis. So, I crunched the numbers.


Several questions were raised concerning the development of the analysis:

  1. Where can I find data as to the average lifespan of a person born in XXXX year?
  2. How many generations should I go back?
  3. If that person did not emigrate, would that make a difference?
  4. Should I use predicted life span based on birth year or should I use a life span predicted if one lived to age 20, effectively eliminating childhood deaths?
  5. Should I separate men and women?

Here’s what I did:

  1. I found that data for the US at  http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html.[1] The data is incomplete particularly in the 1800s.
  2. I went back four generations, starting with my parents, because I have documented data back that far on both maternal and paternal sides.
  3. I identified the ancestors who immigrated and those who did not.
  4. I decided to use data which predicted age of death based on a person who lived to 20 years of age. If I used birth year only, the average life span of the individual  would be shorter. The method of using the predicted age of death at 20 years of age is therefore, more conservative when calculating the numbers of years more or less the individual lived compared to the average.
  5. I split the data by gender as it quickly became apparent that there were some trends that were gender based.


Contrary to my brother’s statements, I hypothesized that:

  1. My male ancestors would live at least as long as average for their time in every generation.
  2. My female ancestors would live at least as long as average, but less than men, in every generation.
  3. My immigrant ancestors would die on average at an older age than those that did not immigrate in every generation.

If my hypotheses 1 and 2 are correct, my brother’s supposition is incorrect. I just threw in the 3rd one because I wondered what I would see.

My maternal and paternal ancestor’s familial and cultural norms dictate marrying approximately between the ages of 25-32.  My span of years covered in 4 generations (starting with our mother and father) is from 1931 (birth  + 20) back to 1808 (birth+20) –about 120 years for four generations. (My brother and I, and our children are continuing the tradition of late marriages and late childbirth.)

Summary of findings

My hypotheses were correct for numbers 1 and 2; my hypothesis for 3 was incorrect.


  1. Our male ancestors lived longer than average in every generation.
  2. Our female ancestors lived longer than average, but less than men, in every generation, except the 4th. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations were statistically average.
  3. Our non-immigrant ancestors died at an older age than those who immigrated.

Looking at the data



  • My male ancestors live longer than average for their time in all four generations.
    • All men in the 4 generations died at an average age of 70.1 years. All men who survived to 20 years of age have a predicted average lifespan of 60.5 (incomplete data from site in 1800s). That means my male ancestors died on average 10.6 years later than predicted for a 20 year old of the era.
    • By generation the results for all men were:
      • 1st generation (my dad): died at 82 years of age. The average life span of a surviving male 20 year old born in 1911 is 62.5 years of age. My father lived 19 years past what would have been predicted for him as a young man.
      • 2nd generation (my 2 grandfathers): averaged 71 years of age at time of death. The average life span of a surviving 20 year old born in mid to late 1800s in the US was 6o.6 years of age. My grandfathers lived an average of 11 years longer than what would have been predicted for them as young men.
      • 3rd generation (my 4 great grandfathers): averaged 70.8 years of age at time of death. The average life span of a surviving 20 year olds born in the mid-1800s in the US is 6o.6 years of age. My grandfathers lived an average of 10 years longer than what would have been predicted for them as young men.
      • 4th generation (my 8 great great grand fathers): averaged 69.8 years of age at time of death. The average life span of a surviving 20 year old born in early 1800s  is 6o.1 years of age. My grandfathers lived and average of 9.7 years longer than what would have been predicted for them as young men.
      • There are three significant male “outliers” in generation 4. Two men live extraordinarily long lives: a Swede who died at age 91 and an Ostfriesen who died at age 84. One individual, another Ostfriesen, died early at age 47 of unknown causes.
  • My female ancestors  are much more mixed, but perhaps predictably so. Generations 2, 3 and 4 showed little change in survivability from one generation to the next. A huge increase is seen in generation 1, probably due to improved health care, survivability in childbirth, and the small sample size .  The average age at death for generations 2, 3 and 4 are statistically the same and very close to the predicted age of death.
    • By generation, the average for all females was:
      • 1st generation (my mom): died at 84 years of age. The average life span of a  20 year old female born in 1911 is 62.5 years of age. My mother lived 21.5 years longer than what would have been predicted for her as a young woman.
      • 2nd generation (my 2 grandmothers): averaged 65 years of age at time of death. The average life span of a female 20 years old and born in the US in the 1880s is 62.3 years of age. My grandmothers lived an average of 2.7 years past what would have been predicted for them as young women.
      • 3rd generation (my 4 great grandmothers): averaged 63.8 years of age at time of death. The average life span of a  20 year old born in the US in the mid 1800s was 6o.2 years of age. My grandmothers lived an average of 3.6 years beyond what would have been predicted for them as young women. Their  is one significant outlier in the 3rd generation: a female who died at age 23 in childbirth. All three others lived past the average age at time of death–13 to 24 years.
      • 4th generation (my 8 great great grandmothers): averaged 59.3 years of age at time of death. The average life span of a surviving 20 year old born in early 1800s  is 6o.2 years of age. My grandmothers died an average of 1 year earlier than what would have been predicted for them as young women.
        • In this group, 6 of the 8 died prior to their predicted time but the number of years less than the predicted times was small.  The two women who lived longer than their predicted time in this generation, lived an average of 16 years longer. These extremes of small and very large deltas create some difficulties in drawing conclusions.
  • It was hypothesized that my immigrant ancestors would live longer than the predicted life space of a 20 year old in the US than those that did not immigrate.  Only one generation and one gender seemed to benefit with increased life span from immigrating, females born in the early 1800s. Small sample size  and four generations where there were not immigrants to provide data dictates a lack of scientific predictability across families.
    • Of the 15 male candidates, nine were either born in the US or immigrated to the US.
      • 1st generation: no comparative non-immigrating ancestor
      • 2nd generation: no comparative non-immigrating ancestor
      • The 3rd generation is contrary to the hypothesis: the non-immigrating ancestor lived longer than the ancestors who immigrated.
      • The 4th generation is contrary to the hypothesis: The non-immigrating ancestor lived longer than the ancestors who immigrated.
    • Of the 15 female candidates,  nine were either born in the US or immigrated to the US.
      • 1st generation: no comparative non-immigrating ancestor
      • 2nd generation: no comparative non-immigrating ancestor
      • The 3rd generation is contrary to the hypothesis: The non-immigrating ancestor lived longer than the ancestors who immigrated.
      • The 4th generation supports the hypothesis. The immigrating ancestors lived longer than the ancestors who did not immigrate.


My brother’s hypothesis is incorrect. My hypotheses concerning age at death compared to average of the era is correct. My hypothesis that the immigrant’s average age at death would be older than those who did not immigrate was incorrect. Both the male and the recent female lines live longer than average. The average of life spans of females born in the early 1800s (4th generation) is statistically average. Immigration does not lengthen the age at time of death, but rather the non-immigrant, on average, lived longer than the predicted age of death by more than the immigrating ancestor.

There are two reasons why my brother would have the perception that our ancestors died young. Because our ancestors married late and also had children late, my brother and I were young when our known ancestors died, e.g. I was 7 when my last grandparent died. Others, whose parents married and had children in their 20’s or even earlier, would be older when their parents and grandparents died.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I recuperated from the wedding with my hubby in CO. I quit skiing about 3 years ago and instead worked on my next year’s presentations. I also started looking very seriously at the DNA kits I manage and purchased upgrades (great sale at FTDNA!). I have to wait for some test results to comeback (mid to late January) but I did upload what I had to GEDmatch, a third party tool for comparing data across companies. For Christmas I got a trip to DC for GenFed if I am quick enough on the 25th to get in.

[1] I am not particularly happy with this site and its data, so if you know a better website with more consistent coverage, let me know. I will redo the results, although I do not predict a difference in the outcomes.