Subtracting Age

My maternal grandmother died in October 1953 at what I thought was age 61 because her tombstone records 1892 as her birth date. My Mother once confided that her mother was actually born in 1891 but I found ancestry records listing 1890. Eventually Philbin relatives provided Birth Certificate and Census documents establishing September 1889 as her true birth month. So Nana continues to age in death. I keep expecting to find something with 1888 on it. Several of my female ancestors shed age between census years. Ten childhood years go by but the girl only gains eight or nine years. Since the practice seemed premeditated, I wondered why years were not erased closer to birth. But if your daughter was born in September 1889 and you are holding her when the census taker knocks on your door in early 1890, you cannot very well claim she is -2 or -3. My grandmother was a couple of years older than her husband and they married when she was thirty (1919), partly because he was away during World War I. Age was an understandably sensitive topic, considering the unflattering terms “spinster” and “old maid.” When my grandmother died at age 64, her husband was still employed as General Counsel at Union Carbide. They had a large circle of business and social friends as confirmed by the contents of a box of materials containing condolences, obituaries, and other paperwork related to her well commemorated death. My grandfather died more than 22 years later. I did the first reading at the sparsely attended Mass. Not much fanfare accompanied his departure. I still would very much prefer making it to his age of 84 and miss any extra attention I could get for leaving this party early!

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