Question on ages #lithuania


David W. Perle
 

Hi! I'm "new in town." (I just joined this group earlier today and this
is my first post.)

Given how consistently inconsistent I've found records to be of ancestors'
years of birth (i.e. one U.S. census record for an individual not
agreeing with another record or two for that person, then them not
matching the ages given on their passenger-list entries when immigrating,
and so on), I'm taking it for granted that you all have experienced the
same.
However, researching a pair of great-grandparents who immigrated to the
U.S. >from Kovno, the inconsistencies seem to be larger.

I thought I would post here to see if there's any Kovno/Lithuania-specific
reason why their ages may have been recorded as being older there than they
were considered to be after coming to the U.S. For example, would there be
any reason why they would lie about the ages, tacking on a few extra years
in Lithuania?

To show what I mean, take my great-grandfather Nathan ARONOWSKY (known as
Zusman Nakhman, or varied spellings, in Lithuania). The exact date of
birth on his 1932 death certificate was recorded as April 15, 1880, and his
headstone is chiseled with "1880" as his year of birth. However, the birth
certificates of his two children born in the United States each indicate
birth around 1878, as does the family's naturalization certificate.
But then I have Lithuanian records (I havent seen the originals; I'm
going by whats been typed into the database) >from 1898, 1900, and
1904 each showing his year of birth as around 1876. (I realize
that's not that far off >from the three U.S. records that I have indicating
1878.It's just so odd that they differ so much >from the year on his death
certificate and headstone, though! Could the family have not known his
actual age all those years? Each birthday, they celebrated the wrong new
age? Or might he have not ever cared to acknowledge his birthday)

Next, consider my great-grandmother Ida/Chaya Aronowsky. Her
death certificate and headstone each say that she was born in 1879. The
1940 census indicates either 1878 or 1879, but the 1920 census (more neatly
applying stats as of January 1 that year) indicates 1878. Those
records barely disagree with each other and so aren't too interesting,
BUT: her and Nathan's Lithuanian marriage record plus her passenger-list
entry when coming to the U.S. each indicate that she was born in 1874! The
family's naturalization certificate indicates birth in 1876. (The marriage
record shows that he was 24 and she was 26, so it's hard to imagine that
they'd have to lie about being older than they were, as if 20-year-olds
would be permitted to marry in 1900)

Thoughts?

David Perle
Washington, DC


Ernest Fine
 

Perfectly normal! And yes, we've all experienced the same. Even including
incorrect gravestone dates. For example, I've never found reliable birth
information for a great-Aunt who died about twenty years ago - so the birth
date on her gravestone is the best we could approximate.

Part of the reason is that our ancestors weren't as concerned about dates
the way we are. And another reason is that they might not know, and are
simply giving the census taker their best guess - which would vary from
time-to-time. And a third reason is that these are people who did not
generally have happy experiences with government functionaries in tsarist
Russia - so they would give misleading answers - perhaps to hide the birth
of a son, for example. (This is my theory; Howard M. - what do you think?)

These seem like very good questions to ask at the next JGSGW meeting,
conveniently scheduled for next Sunday, Oct. 13; see
http://jgsgw.org/CurrentPrograms.html#October!

Ernie Fine

-----Original Message-----
From: David W. Perle [mailto:dwperle@gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, October 06, 2013 4:40 AM
To: LitvakSIG
Subject: [litvaksig] Question on ages

Hi! I'm "new in town." (I just joined this group earlier today and this is
my first post.)

Given how consistently inconsistent I've found records to be of ancestors'
years of birth (i.e. one U.S. census record for an individual not agreeing
with another record or two for that person, then them not matching the ages
given on their passenger-list entries when immigrating, and so on), I'm
taking it for granted that you all have experienced the same.
However, researching a pair of great-grandparents who immigrated to the U.S.
from Kovno, the inconsistencies seem to be larger.
I thought I would post here to see if there's any Kovno/Lithuania-specific
reason why their ages may have been recorded as being older there than they
were considered to be after coming to the U.S. For example, would there be
any reason why they would lie about the ages, tacking on a few extra years
in Lithuania?

To show what I mean, take my great-grandfather Nathan ARONOWSKY (known as
Zusman Nakhman, or varied spellings, in Lithuania). The exact date of birth
on his 1932 death certificate was recorded as April 15, 1880, and his
headstone is chiseled with "1880" as his year of birth. However, the birth
certificates of his two children born in the United States each indicate
birth around 1878, as does the family's naturalization certificate.
But then I have Lithuanian records (I havent seen the originals; I'm going
by whats been typed into the database) >from 1898, 1900, and
1904 each showing his year of birth as around 1876. (I realize that's not
that far off >from the three U.S. records that I have indicating 1878.It's
just so odd that they differ so much >from the year on his death certificate
and headstone, though! Could the family have not known his actual age all
those years? Each birthday, they celebrated the wrong new age? Or might he
have not ever cared to acknowledge his birthday)

Next, consider my great-grandmother Ida/Chaya Aronowsky. Her death
certificate and headstone each say that she was born in 1879. The
1940 census indicates either 1878 or 1879, but the 1920 census (more neatly
applying stats as of January 1 that year) indicates 1878. Those records
barely disagree with each other and so aren't too interesting,
BUT: her and Nathan's Lithuanian marriage record plus her passenger-list
entry when coming to the U.S. each indicate that she was born in 1874! The
family's naturalization certificate indicates birth in 1876. (The marriage
record shows that he was 24 and she was 26, so it's hard to imagine that
they'd have to lie about being older than they were, as if 20-year-olds
would be permitted to marry in 1900)

Thoughts?

David Perle
Washington, DC


Lynn Saul <lynnsaul@...>
 

There are several possible reasons for changes in age:

1. Avoiding the Russian draft

2. Setting up children for having mother's citizenship once the family
arrived in the UK (many Lithuanian families emigrated temporarily or
permanently to the UK.)

3. Jews knew their birthdays according to the Hebrew calendar, and
which secular year corresponded would depend on when Rosh Hashanah fell.

Lynn Saul VESHASKY MANDLESTEIN KUPER Sereje Vilkia


Adam Goodheart
 

I think the problem of age discrepancies between sources is one that
everyone faces. I have a few rules of thumb and would be interested in
others' thoughts about them.

1) In general, I trust earlier documents over later ones. It's much
easier for a census taker or immigration official to tell the
difference between a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old than between a
50-year-old and a 55-year-old.

2) Russian revision lists and other censuses are usually pretty
accurate, especially for males -- certainly much more so than U.S.
censuses. A couple of reasons for this. First, the reason they're
called "revision lists" is that the census-takers would check them
against previous censuses, and often also against people's passports,
residence permits, draft registrations, or other documents, something
not done with the U.S. censuses. (One 1875 census that I have even
includes separate columns for "age according to documents" and "age
according to physical appearance.") Moreover, there were stiff
penalties for dishonesty, imposed not only on individual
draft-dodgers, but on the leaders of a town's Jewish community, who
were required to personally vouch for the lists' accuracy. We all have
family stories about ancestors evading the draft, but the tsarist
officials weren't stupid -- though they may have been corrupt -- and
tried to work in as many controls as possible. Again, this wasn't the
case with U.S. censuses. Finally, the Jewish community's leaders, who
participated actively in census-taking, obviously spoke Yiddish and
often knew the individuals personally.

3) Passenger manifests are also usually more accurate than U.S.
censuses. Here, too, the immigrants were in a stressful situation
where lying to an official might carry stiff penalties (i.e., getting
deported). Moreover, there were generally Yiddish interpreters at the
ports of departure and arrival. Finally, immigrants often had
passports >from their countries of origin, especially in the later
years, which may have been based on now-lost birth records.

4) U.S. censuses are very unreliable. The census-taker usually didn't
speak the immigrants' native tongue or know them personally, and had
no access to previous census data on the household. The 19th-century
U.S. government, unlike tsarist Russia, required no internal passports
or other identification documents. Its census-taking was concerned
with broad overall statistics (e.g., for congressional representation)
rather than with keeping data on individual citizens. The
census-takers didn't even need to see all the family members in person
-- simply interviewing one household member, or sometimes even a
neighbor, was considered sufficient. Finally, there was no legal
penalty for inaccuracy. Admittedly, there was also less reason to hide
family members in the U.S., so one does find fewer instances of family
members mysteriously going missing than in the Russian revision lists.

5) Death certificates and gravestones are generally the least reliable
of all -- especially since the person him/herself wasn't around to
correct them!

6) When given the opportunity, young people often round their age up a
bit (usually no more than 2 or 3 years). Old people often round their
age down (sometimes by 5-10 years or even more). Unmarried women past
their early 20s are the most likely category to round down. (One
ancestor of mine, who didn't marry until her late 30s, knocked at
least a dozen years off her age on her U.S. marriage license and
censuses. I wonder how she got away with that.)

Anyway, those are my rules of thumb. On occasions when I've later
turned up an actual birth record >from the place of origin (the best
source of all), I've found that it generally confirms these
guidelines.

Adam Goodheart
Washington, D.C.