Ages at Death

A requirement for all deaths appearing on the Registers of Deaths is that the deceased's age at death must be stated. On the face of it this is a huge bonus for researchers, allowing us to differentiate between the several, for example, John Reynolds deaths that occur in any one year.

The reality is somewhat different. As already stated under Births and Baptisms there was a great deal of uncertainty regarding people's ages at all points during the 19th Century and indeed until well into the 20th Century. People, such as my great-grandparents, aged about 17 years in the decade between the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.

Stated ages at death are frequently wrong. The causes are many, for example:

  • Simple poor numeracy
  • The birth year of the deceased not even known with any certainty by his or her family
  • The age was entered by somebody not of the person's family. This happened frequently with people who lived alone prior to death or who died in a hospital or workhouse.

This inaccuracy is not confined by any means to Co Leitrim. A rule of thumb I developed over several years of professional research was to be immediately suspicious of any stated age that ended in a 0 or a 5, or else one that subtracted from the death year gave a birth year that ended in a 0 or a 5.

Overall this point is well worth labouring. If a death is found of a person of the expected name in the expected place, and even better when the informant is a known family member, then even if the stated age at death is wrong, I have taken this to be the correct death record and I would recommend that any researcher adopts, with necessary caution, a similar approach.