An Illustrated Family History Archive

QI: Curious Family Facts

This is a page of trivia, stats and odds and ends. It will be updated as and when I think of things. Obviously these trinketts must be placed into the context of the number of people currently enetered into my family tree (almost 4500 blood relatives), and the data I have available on them.

The letter M

My Matriarchal line all have the letter M for their first names ... Margaret, May, Minnie, Mira, Mary ... it was because of this I fixated on the letter M for my own daughter, and combined with my (and my wife's) love of Shakespeare she was named Miranda. I always wondered about who came before Mary, was she another M? Recently I discovered the answer ... Susanna, so the Ms stop in the late 1700s (but only temporarily - two Marys come next).

An average death

Going back 5 generations, the average age of death for my patriarchal line is 72.4, for my maternal patriarchal line it's 72. For my paternal matriarchal line it's 78.6 and for my matriarchal line it's 64.1. The youngest known male age at death in my direct line is 22 (drowned in 1840), for females it's 44 (in 1866), though there's an unconfirmed age of 33 (in 1827). The eldest known direct male ancestor reached the age of 91 (in 1861), while the eldest known female was 93 - reached by three of my direct ancestors (in 1897, 1978, and 2007).

Unnatural deaths

Everyone's ancestry is punctuated by the trauma of 'death before their time', not at all pleasant, but part of the complex human tale that is woven into the family story. Discounting the 28 military casualties I'm currently aware of, I've counted 44 deaths that would be categorised as 'unnatural'. One of the darkest aspects of this is the taking of one's own life, of which I've found eight cases, plus at least three unsuccessful attempts. Four cases of murder can be confirmed, whereas other common causes include drowning, work accidents, domestic accidents and traffic accidents. Railways, fire and even fist fights are also on the list.

Big families

The most number of children born to one parent, that I know of, is 16 - though it took four wives to achieve it! The biggest number born to one woman is 14. I imagine the true number is greater as many infants who died are not easy to research. I'm currently aware of 23 pairs of twins, with at least two families (related to each other) having two pairs each within the space of eight years. The earliest twins I know of were born in 1723.

The eldest father had a child at age 65. The eldest mother at 51 (though there's an unconfirmed contender at age 54).


You may hear your elder relatives lamenting the state of social affairs in modern society - not like it was in the good old days, as they frown at co-habiting and children born out of wedlock. But "illegitimate" children (a lamentable term) were not such a rarity in those 'good old days'. I can count a known 26 such offspring in my family file - ten of whom have unknown fathers, and three of whom were direct ancestors of mine.

Common and uncommon names

The top five surnames of the past 500 years are, in order: Smith, Jones, Williams, Taylor and Brown. I have no Jones in my family but cousins of various distances of all the other names. As far as direct ancestors go I can only claim one branch of Smiths (name married away in 1849) and one of Browns (name married away in 1770).

The most common male first name amongst my currently known blood relatives is William (249), followed by John (232), James (214) and then Thomas (152). For females it is Mary (197), followed by Eliza/beth (178), then Ann/e (144) and Jane/Jean (139). Certain families tend to stick to certain names - for instance William only appears twice in my Ewing family, which is otherwise full of James, Alexanders and Johns. And there is only one Thomas Horsburgh that I know of, whereas William is far more common in that line (27). Suprisingly I have 10 Moses, and six of those are within the Spittle family.

Uncommon names are most prevalent amongst my Gypsy ancestors, including names such as Spiranna, Azgad, Emporer and Zipporah, to name only a handful of the many examples. There is only one Garen, me, though 12 known relatives also share Cameron as a middle name.

Same dates

Only four relatives that I know of share my birthday (in 1812, 1874, 1896 and 1929), two of them fellow Ewings. Three share my marriage date (in 1838, 1899 and 1928). My daughter has three birthday sharers (1841, 1864 and 1902), while my son has five, including his ggg-grandfather (1852) and also twin girls born in 1765 (his 7x great-aunts).


The longest marriage among my direct ancestors was that of my 3x great-grandparents, William Phillip (1819-1900) and Betsy Meffan (1820-1899), at 60 years and 9 months. The shortest ancestral marriage was between my 4x great grandparents, John Birrell (1818-1840) and Peggy Auchterlonie (1814-1894), which lasted 2 years and 1 month - cut short by John's death by drowning.

The shortest marriage in my family file is that of John Grundy and a distant cousin, Maria Hodgkins - they were married on 17 August 1835, and before 20 hours had gone, John was dead - killed in a drunken fist fight during the 'celebrations'. Maria went on to marry the brother of the man who killed her first husband. The longest marriage is that of one of my great-uncles, as of this writing married 70 years and still going strong.

Four of my direct ancestors got married on Christmas Day - in 1820, 1824, 1848, and 1916. I'm aware of 13 pairs of first cousins who married, though this number is surely greater, especially amongst the Gypsy branches where I'm aware of one set of 6x great-grandfathers who are brothers. It can all get very complicated! I have four relatives who clocked up four marriages each.