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10 October 2013

Does a Year Really Matter?

If great-grandpa says he is 50 years old in 1870 and says he's 49 in 1871, the difference is probably not significant. While the ages do not technically "match," if other details for him indicate you've found the same person, a few years difference between two stated ages is not significant.

It is difficult to say precisely when age difference goes from being insignificant to significant and means that you have the wrong person. One needs to consider all the pieces of information in  record when making that decision--and that much analysis is too long for one short tip!


  1. I always think that the earliest censuses you can find for someone are probably more likely to be closer to the age than the later ones. I have one family where the time spans are amazing--off by 7 years from earliest to latest. As an elder, I know that I can't remember how old I am sometimes! so I understand it. When you read in a census the Joseph is 4, it is hard to mistake a 4 year old for a 10 year old, e.g., so if the earlier censuses line up fairly well, I take that to be the truer ones.

    1. That's spot on advice and what I usually tell people in lectures when analyzing census ages--younger ones are more accurate. This is especially true for ages under 10, and probably for those under 20 as well.

      It's also a good reason why, when using ages to search census indexes, I try and use children when I can as people for whom to search.

  2. Toward the end of her life, my GG-grandmother aged considerably according to census records. Her obituary gave her age as 104 at the time of her death in 1895, but if you follow her through the census years, she was probably in her early 80's instead. However, a little country lady's obit would have never made the city newspaper had they not believed she was 104!

  3. I was just look at a census record last night where the Census Taker got the ages of two of my great aunts mixed up.

  4. And you ouht to consider that, like my great-grandmother, the person may have habitually lied about their age. As she aged, Grandma Soper got younger and younger.

  5. Another factor to consider in age discrepancies is the person's literacy level. Someone who can't read or write could be more likely to get their own birthdate wrong. I've seen that time and time again in censuses where my ancestors were illiterate.