Friday, December 19, 2008

Who is really the oldest in the 1880 census?

My Saturday Night Fun post from last week resulted in unintended consequences! I wanted readers to check the 1880 census and find the name, age and location of the oldest person enumerated. I wrote the question before I checked for the answer, and then was really surprised by the answers I found.

Three researchers took the time to respond in a comment to my blog post. Thank you to Julie, Eileen and Apple for their efforts. They taught me a lesson too!

Julie must have stayed up all night (she posted her comment at 1:31 a.m. PST) looking for birth dates year-by-year back to 1650. She found the 43 persons born in 1760 according to the index on and on FamilySearch Record Search. But then she checked the 1850-1880 Mortality schedules on and found Adil Laurf who died at age 150 in Charleston, SC in 1880.

Eileen found an entry for John Capistrano (presumably on FS Record Search) - age 133 living in San Antonio, Monterey County, California. His age was not indexed on

Apple also found the 43 persons born in 1760 on, and checked earlier years.

The FamilySearch Record Search site lists 43 entries born in 1760. It also lists 2 born in 1759, one in 1752 - Maria Winder, and one in 1747 - John Capistrano. You cannot see the actual images on the FamilySearch site. You cannot define years on the 1880 census search without a name on the web site. If you put John Capistrano into the site, you get the 1880 census transcription that says he was born in 1747.
I was intrigued by the John Capistrano entry, so I went to to look at it, and his age is shown in parentheses. I wonder if that indicates that it was an estimate given by someone, or if the census taker didn't really believe it. He is an Indian, has younger people in the household, lives by charity, and his health is listed with "old age." I cannot find him in the 1850, 1860 or 1870 census records in Monterey County CA, or anyone in that county born before 1755, although there is an Indian in San Antonio township named Josefat aged 100 in 1860.

In the 1880 Mortality Census, I couldn't find the name Adil Laurf that Julie found. However, I found an entry for Lucy Orlet, age 153 in Charleston, SC - the actual entry does look like Adil Laurf, but all the names were last name first, and I can see how they picked Lucy Orlet! The "3" digit in "153" is impossible to read - even at maximum magnification. I agree with Julie - it may well be 15 months or even 15 days and not 153 years because she was "sick from birth."

Other candidates from the 1880 Mortality Schedule on are Zilphy Gilson, aged 150 who died in Macon County, GA in October of 1879 of "dropsy of heart," and Mary Bess, aged 150 who died in Millbury, Worcester County, MA in December of 1879 from "injuries from a fall."

A check of the 1850 census for Zil* Gil* in SC showed no one born before 1770 with that name. There is a slave aged 120 owned by Daniel Huger in Charleston County SC that may be Zilphy.

A check of the 1850 census for Mary Bes* in MA shows no one by that name born before 1775, and no person born before 1736 (Bridget Wheland) in MA. amazingly, there are 19 persons over age 100 in MA in 1850.

My best guess is that the "oldest person listed in the 1880 census" records is either Zilphy Gilson or Mary Bess.

What are the lessons here? For me, they are:

* The ages in the census may not be real accurate (we all "know" that but these are good examples!)

* Check surrounding names on the schedule to see if they list them as last name first.

* There are records "hiding in plain sight" when we just blithely say "look in the census." We need to look for state census records, mortality schedules, and slave schedules (even if they don't list the names of individuals).

* It helps to have more than one set of indexes for census records.

That was fun and educational, wasn't it?

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