Family centenarians

Frederick Ayer
Frederick Ayer (1822-1918)

From time to time I undertake some light housekeeping on my genealogical notes, and lately I have focused on collecting stray family names and dates. My flirtation with Google continues, since an organized approach to entire family groups has yielded great dividends. I’ve also spent time on exploring the (often unsourced) family trees, ones kept by my distant cousins or their cousins, which can provide clues about what became of an uncle’s widow once she remarried and moved beyond the ken of the record-keepers on my side of the family.

One of the dividends of this little project is discovering some family centenarians. One, who died only recently, was my great-uncle’s third wife, Elizabeth Brawner Grimes (1910–2012). She was divorced from Uncle Ted Glidden more than forty years ago, and in any case I did not grow up knowing that part of my family. I’m sad I never got to meet her – she was probably the last surviving member of my maternal grandmother’s generation.

My paternal grandmother’s family was notable for being long-lived and for producing large families of children. Her grandfather (and my great-great-grandfather) Frederick Ayer (1822–1918) was married twice and had seven children, three of whom also lived into their nineties. The large families of earlier generations of the Ayer, Cook, and Herrick families meant that, in 1898, when he was 75, Frederick had a great-uncle living: Jonathan Everett Herrick (1804–1898), the youngest of his grandmother Persis Herrick Cook’s half-brothers.

Frederick Ayer’s great-great-grandfather, Isaac Herrick (1719–1818), was long thought within the family to have lived to be one hundred years old. A check of  corrects this misapprehension: Isaac was only 98 when he died! The entry includes Isaac’s obituary from the Connecticut Gazette, which notes that he had had eleven children, 92 grandchildren, 182 great-grandchildren, “and one of the fifth generation, in all 286 [descendants in February 1818].” Isaac worked for Connecticut Gazette “for a great number of years, and occasionally after he was 90 years old, to the satisfaction of his employers.”

Cornelia Wheaton Ayer
Cornelia Wheaton Ayer

My great-great-grandmother Cornelia Wheaton Ayer (1835–1878) – the eldest of seventeen children, the last survivor of whom died in 1954 – was the great-great-granddaughter of an actual centenarian, the Reverend Nathan Birdsey(e) (1714–1818). Like Isaac Herrick, Nathan had a large family, as noted in the Boston Repertory: he left “258 [descendants] – of whom 205 are now living… It is a singular fact, that of all the branches of this numerous family, not one of them has been reduced to want. Most of them are in prosperous, and all of them in comfortable circumstances… He retained his mental faculties in a remarkable manner to the day of his death; and although during the latter part of his life he was nearly blind and deaf, yet from his accurate knowledge of ancient facts and anecdotes, and his natural cheerfulness and good sense, he was able to make his conversation agreeable and entertaining to the many friends and strangers who had the curiosity to visit him… Venerable for his virtues, as well as years, he died as he had lived, without an enemy, in the hope of a happy immortality.”

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

15 thoughts on “Family centenarians

  1. My third great grandmother Susan Glidden (1772-1872) lived to over the age of 100. Lived in New Hampshire, married Samuel S. Ames. On a mission to find her parents!

  2. It is amazing how many of the northern New England genealogies and coexisting grave markers show that many of our ancestors lived to very old ages — definitely into their 90 years of age and sometimes over 100. It can be contributed to their life styles -positive social networks, fresh seasonal pesticide- free foods/ meats and the necessity of regular physical exercise — splitting wood,spinning wool, walking distances and even the horse back ride for emergency travel. And yes crossing flooded rivers on Canoe’s.

  3. I have found that true in my Huntingtons and Putnam’s. It is awesome to think of their long lives unaided by themedicines and surgical interventions available today. I do think Viola’s comment is true. Exercise, real food, real work, family and friends and community. We are not from the rich side of the families; but they made enough.

  4. Agree. At the same time as Susan Glidden Ames celebrated her 100th birthday, there was a Mrs. Bickford in her 103rd year. Both were living in or near Wakefield, NH.

  5. My third great grandfather Luther Catlin, b 25 Oct 1784 in Litchfield, CT, d 5 Feb 1885 in Bridgewater, Susquehanna, PA voted in every Presidential election from James Madison to the election in 1884, when for the first time, he didn’t vote with the winning candidate. At that election, he was accompanied by three other generations of his family, and a reception was held in his honor following the voting!

  6. My fourth great-grandfather James Tripp (1778 – 1876) made it to 98; my fifth great grandparents William McBrayer (1696 – 1795) and Rebecca Brown (?) (1704 – 1805) were 99 and 101. Amazing!

  7. I have an ancestor whose obituary, published in January 1814, says he was 124 years old. I’m still working on that one because I don’t find any records before the 1780s. And, sadly, since the early New Jersey census were lost I can’t find him in the usual places. His obit really sounded great until I did the math.

  8. You can’t always rely on inscriptions on tombstones. My entire family thought my grandfather was born in 1897, but in fact he was born in June of 1894, making him only 3 years, 7 months younger than his wife who was born in 1890! His tombstone inscription is incorrect!! My grandmother went prematurely gray and his friends used to joke that he could bring his mother along on outings. Good thing she had a sense of humor!!

  9. I have many Wheatons in my tree (three branches I think) – including a grandmother whose lineage traces back to Varient Whedon (b. 1610). Maybe ~we~ are related somehow via Cornelia Wheaton Ayer!

  10. My grandmother, Flora Hudson, was born in Merton, Surrey England, one of 11 children.
    She came to the United States and married Edward Edgland. They married and lived in Bakersfield, CA and then in Los Angeles where my mother, Carrie, was born. My mother was the youngest of their five children. I remember the big 100th birthday celebration for my grandmother with newspaper coverage and children, grandchildren and great grandchildren
    in attendance.

    1. Flora, I randomly came across this while trying to find out more about my family. Apparently my great great grandmother is Flora Hudson (aka Flora Edgland) and my mother is Edna whom was at that 100th birthday celebration. I’d love to get in contact with you sometime – if you could please respond or email me: I would really appreciate it.

    2. Flora, this is Edna, my son Matt also left you a message below. Flora Edgland was my great grandmother. I am the granddaughter of Edna Headrick (maiden name Edgland) Grandmother was the daughter of Flora Edgland and sister of Carrie. There were two other sisters and one brother. I have a lovely picture of the four daughters and their mom and managed to keep an old newspaper clipping of the mayor and great grandmother on the 100th birthday celebration. I would love to communicate with you and look forward to hearing from you soon.

  11. My children’s paternal grandmother was born in April 1905 and died in May 2010. They have better genes than I.

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