Author Topic: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?  (Read 1732 times)

Offline stanmapstone

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #9 on: Wednesday 28 February 18 09:08 GMT (UK) »
From "Making Sense of the Census" by Edward Higgs
"........the ages reported in the census must be regarded as only rough approximations of fact. In a period before systematic record-keeping many people had only an approximate idea of their date of birth, and in some cases there may have been temptations to give incorrect information. In very general terms one can say that the majority of ages stated will be consistent from census to census."
It can be said that the recording of ages is without doubt one of the most problematic features of the census returns. Ages reported in the census must be regarded as only a rough approximation of the fact. For instance working families may put down incorrect ages in order to get round restrictions on the employment of their children. There are numerous other reasons for ages to have been 'adjusted'

There is another thread on ages at http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=658914.0
Stan
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Offline Paulo Leeds

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #10 on: Wednesday 28 February 18 12:19 GMT (UK) »
thanks guys. very interesting answers.

easy to see now how ages and year of birth's should be taken with a pinch of salt in the 1800's

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Offline groom

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #11 on: Wednesday 28 February 18 12:38 GMT (UK) »
I think up until fairly recently people weren't too worried about their age. However these days we are asked for our date of birth or age on almost every form we fill in, either on paper or on the internet -  even Rootschat has a space for age. So people know exactly when they were born. My grandmother went through the whole of her adult life thinking she was a year younger than she actually was.
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Offline Nick_Ips

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #12 on: Wednesday 28 February 18 13:07 GMT (UK) »
The same caution needs to be applied to death registrations (and burial records) and the 1939 register. Even when a date of birth is recorded it is quite common for the day and month to be correct but for the year to be out.

I'm currently reading the book Narrowboat by Tom Rolt and this morning found a reference to 'Old Tom Parr' who was claimed to be over 152 when he died https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Tom_Parr

He managed to get himself buried in Westminster Abbey on the basis of what may be an early case of an amateur family historian finding the 'wrong' entry in the parish baptism register  ;)

Offline CarolA3

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #13 on: Wednesday 28 February 18 14:07 GMT (UK) »
Women have lied about their ages for centuries!

People have lied about anything and everything since the dawn of language ::)

My first boyfriend said he was 22, then 23, then accidentally let slip that he was 25.  He didn't have a birthday during that time and I never asked for proof.  After he'd moved on I was told by a police officer that he was 27 and married :o

There was also a first name I didn't know about - apparently he chose to use his middle name.  What he might have put on a census form is anyone's guess!

Carol
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Offline chirp

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #14 on: Saturday 03 March 18 13:08 GMT (UK) »
Even as late as the early 20th century not everyone was certain of their date of birth. I have instances in my grandmother's family where an older sibling was asked to confirm the date of a younger one's birth and my grandmother herself once told me she had for some years celebrated her birthday on what turned out to be the wrong date.
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Offline Paulo Leeds

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #15 on: Saturday 03 March 18 14:17 GMT (UK) »
Even as late as the early 20th century not everyone was certain of their date of birth. I have instances in my grandmother's family where an older sibling was asked to confirm the date of a younger one's birth and my grandmother herself once told me she had for some years celebrated her birthday on what turned out to be the wrong date.

these are people who threw away or lost their birth certificates? (or their parents did)

Offline Peter V Crabb

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #16 on: Saturday 03 March 18 14:39 GMT (UK) »
I think up until fairly recently people weren't too worried about their age. However these days we are asked for our date of birth or age on almost every form we fill in, either on paper or on the internet -  even Rootschat has a space for age. So people know exactly when they were born. My grandmother went through the whole of her adult life thinking she was a year younger than she actually was.
SWMBO's grandmother added a couple of years to her age to "legally" get a job and over the years forgot that it was a lie. This only came to light when she couldn't get her pension when she expected it.

Apart from the 1841 census, which gave me a lot of grief until I found out about the rounding of ages, most seem to be accurate to within 2 years. Since middle age I have needed to stop and think if asked my own age and have to do some arithmetic to work out my childrens' so I am not surprised that my ancestors didn't always get it right.
Crabb from Laurencekirk / Fordoun and Scurry from mid Essex

Offline Dyingout

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Re: Why were ages on 1800s census's so loosely accurate?
« Reply #17 on: Saturday 03 March 18 15:01 GMT (UK) »
My father all the way through his army career, was born in 1909.You have guessed it he was born in 1910. So even in 1927 no proof of age was needed just your word. And that you looked old enough.

My father joined the army to escape a family of 8. Living in a two up two down, 10 foot wide cottage.
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