here. He also posted some brief directions for the challenge:
1) We each have 16 great-great grandparents. How did their birth and death years vary? How long were their lifespans?
2) For this week, please list your 16 great-great grandparents, their birth year, their death year, and their lifespan in years. You can do it in plain text, in a table or spreadsheet, or in a graph of some sort.
3) Share your information about your 16 great-great grandparents with us in a blog post of your own.
I thought this sounded like a fine idea, but as you can see, I have a bit of a problem. The paternal ancestors are still a bit lacking. Food for future research. However, I decided that I would see what I could do with the maternal side for great-great grandparents and both sides for great-grandparents. So, here is what I found presented in a fan chart.
For the known ancestors (great-great-grands) on my maternal side the average birth year is 1828. The birth years run 47 years from 1806 (Benn) to 1853 (Johnson). The average life span was 63 years. (Men had an average of 60 years and women an average of 65) A little noodling on the internet told me that life expectancy for men born between 1800 and 1830 was 38 years at birth and by age 5 had increased to 55 years. This would be due to the large number of infant deaths, as I have discovered working on my own tree. Women could be expected to live 39 years at birth and it jumped to 59 if they survived to age 5. Overall, my maternal great-grands beat the average by almost 5 years.
When I looked at the great-grandparents on both sides things improved. Of course we can imagine that between 1850 and 1900 more women survived childbirth and more babies survived to age 5. The great-grandparents fell into the years where medical care was more available and all of the great-grands on my tree worked in occupations other than farming. The Industrial Revolution made a real difference in their lives. That had to have improved their chances.
The average birth year for the great-grandparents was 1850. This spanned 52 years between 1820 (Fitzgerald) to 1872 (Smith). The average life span for my paternal great-grandparents was 73. (70 for the men and 76 for the women) On the maternal side the average life span was 79 (80 for the men and 78 for the women). Looking again at those general statistical averages, my great-grandparents did significantly better- about 20 years.
Finally, I looked at my grandparents. The average birth year here was 1887. There was a span of 20 years in births-much closer than the previous generations. Both sides show the differences in a modern life with modern health problems; both grandfathers only lived to their 50's. This was actually just about average for men in their birth years. My grandmothers lived to be 95 and 93. These women exceeded the statistical average by almost 30 years.
So what does all of this tell me? It's interesting data, but what does it mean? When I look at my family tree now, especially at this fan chart, I see something more than numbers. I think back to my study of history in school where I was struck by the lives of our ancestors: the war, the disease, the lack of medical care, the dangers of daily life. I was amazed at our survival. Now some might say this is Darwinism in play. I see the great-great grandfather who just happened to father a child just before marching off to the Civil War- only to die. I see the great-great grandfather who lost sisters older and younger to vicious Maine winters and croup. Why the four infant sisters, but not him? And of course I think of all the women who survived 6 and 8 and 10 childbirths under the most basic conditions when other women did not. I can't help but think there is something more at play here. It first occurred to me several years ago as I began this work on the tree, although I can remember thinking about this long before. I heard someone on Finding Your Roots express just the right sentiment in almost the exact words I have said to myself for years: for of all of the war, disease, accident and happenstance, we in the current generation are the result...the very lucky result. If you're thinking this implies the need for a measure of gratitude, a bit of awe and some responsibility, I would agree.