Monday, April 11, 2011

Family History Analysis

So for the last 6 weeks I've been in a family history class for Sunday School at church. For the most part we learned how to find ancestors and what documentation to look for. This is what most people need to learn about in order to do geneology. As I was born in northern Utah to 5th or 6th generation mormons I will never need to find new people. No really. I'm serious. Let me put it this way, I have to go back 7 generations to reach a point where someone is missing, and even then it's 8 people missing out of 128 people. Not to mention that frankly I don't believe that I'm actually related to anyone in my family history once it goes back beyond the 1600's. Most of my ancestors have had LDS temple work done for them at least a few dozen times, so I guess I get to clean up that clerical mess.

In the meantime, I decided to look at my more immediate ancestry to see what kind of information I could get from it. Because I'm a nerd I like to play with numbers, and here are the results:

Plot of lifespan by year of birth:
From fam history

No real significant trends here. I wouldn't expect to see many given the small sample size. We can see a bit of the general trend of preventing premature death with the advent of modern medicine. In fact, of my ancestors, all born since about 1870 have lived to about 80 with two exceptions. One was a suicide from severe depression (a sign that we while we've improved much with physical health, we largely ignore mental health) and the other was from a farming accident. Anyway, I started wondering if if some countries had better life-expectancies than others:

Same plot but identifying country of birth:
From fam history
As I said before, the sample size is just too small to see anything. I should also note that there are no lifespans shorter than about 25 which is because these are only people who are my direct ancestors, therefore they were all old enough to procreate.

So I found that all the incidents of polygamy were with my great-great-great grandparents. For those who are unaware, my church officially practiced polygamy from the 1852 until 1890. So I thought I'd look into how my family practiced polygamy and assume that it was perhaps representative of the general practice. Probably a bad assumption again given the sample size. Here were the results:
Did they practice polygamy?
From fam history
The maybes were two couples. One of them shows online that they practiced polygamy, but some of the details look really suspicious and I frankly doubt that one of the marriages is real. The other case is suspect because there are no divorce records or dates of death for the husband's first marriage, but it seems likely that one of those two things occurred. So now ignoring the "maybe"s, I looked at lifespan broken down by gender
Average lifespan:
Men        75.8
Women  62.9

If I separate the polygamists from the monogamists:
Men      69.0
Women 58.7

Men      83.3
Women 63.1

I was surprised at how drastic the difference was for the men. It reminded me of studies like this which show that the death rate for unmarried men is twice as high the death rate for married men. There were similar results seen with women, but not nearly as dramatic. Perhaps polygamy continues this trend. Hopefully someone has done or will do such a study.

Here is the breakdown of my great-great-great grandfathers based on the number of their wives:
From fam history
The inner circle represents the number of wives upon my first glance over the records. As I looked into it more I had to update it. One of the men with five wives was sealed to 3 girls posthumously. He was the leader of a settlement both ecclesiastically and civilly and it appears that some of the people in the settlement had him be married to their daughters who had died when crossing the plains. The other man with 5 wives had one of his wives leave him and get divorced, which actually happened back when he was married to 2 women (thus making him monogamous again until he married a few more women; crazy). So the outer circle shows the adjusted number of wives. So if I had to generalize based on my ancestors, about half of men in Utah had two wives, close to half just had one, and leaders in the church hierarchy had more than two wives.

The man who originally had 3 wives had at least one of them run away and divorce him. It was a crazy story. I can't find a written narrative of it, but based on marriage, census and church ordinance records I've been able to piece much of it together. I really want to find more info on this woman, her story would be incredible. She was born into an average family in Denmark. Her father died when she was two and her mother was left a widow with 6 kids. Her mother remarried a little over a year later to a Danish mormon guy. Then the whole family moved to the US and made the trek to Utah. Her mother had no children with her step-father. I don't know if this was part of the motivation behind this, but 4 days before she turned 15 she was married to her step-father, thus becoming her mother's sister-wife. The same day she was married, her step-father/husband was married to another woman too. She had a son a year later, another 2.5 years later, and a daughter 1.5 years after that. Based on census records, it appears that right after her daughter was born, at age 20/21, she left with the daughter. She was remarried several months later. I would love to find more info on this. It would make an incredible historical novel.

So there is my haphazard, nerdy review of my family history. 


Ashton Hosford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashton Hosford said...

I totally want to do this now. I guess that means I'm a nerd too! Count me in! What gives count me in! I've been wanting to take Bro. Barrus' class for some time. I'm not a I'm a 3rd generationer on one side, and a 7th generationer on the other (something like that). That's an interesting perspective of the polygamy issue. I'd be surprised that 1/2 of mormons during the time were polygamists. I should find a reference but I seem to remember something like 10% most of whom were leaders. Perhaps you come from a stock of natural spiritual leaders? I love the lifespan plot. It really does show a significant improvement in healthcare. I think it also seems to show a trend toward waiting till later in life to have children.
Love the anecdote on the runaway bride. I'm looking forward to a future post on it.


geoffsn said...

Just so you know, this stuff was largely unrelated to the class. It's just something I got the idea for and did during the class.

I too would love to see some statistics on polygamy and its practice in the time period I mentioned. I've heard people say that it was mostly just leaders who practiced polygamy, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case. However it was certainly true pre-1852 before the church publicly announced the practice of polygamy. But from the 1850's to 1890 the church taught that polygamy was necessary for exaltation. I have some journals of those who were involved in polygamy and it wasn't like they were directly asked to practice it. They just talked to each other about the fact that they had been taught that it was something necessary and then discussed proposing to an additional wife.

My limited survey did show that the only person with more than 2 wives was a major church leader. Wilford Woodruff was the one mentioned in the post whose 2nd wife divorced him and then he eventually had 4 wives. I've actually a descendant of this last wife. So I think there's a good chance that this is representative of the membership during that era. I'd love be to proven wrong because it'd mean I'd get to see better stats on it.