Problems of age

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The next Early New England Families sketch to be uploaded, as soon as it clears review, will be for John Fuller of Cambridge. I am still nit-picking at it before sending it out to one of my volunteer readers.[1] Mr. Fuller kept dropping complications – beginning with the date of his family’s arrival in New England and moving on to his age, birth places of children, identification of their (in several cases three) spouses, and other annoying details.

The last annoyance, I hope, has been figuring out when he was born. His date of death appears in the inventory of his estate as 7 February 1697/98. According to the published town records of Newton, his gravestone in the Centre Street Cemetery listed his age as 87. Unfortunately, his stone does not survive. A replacement stone in the cemetery appears as if it had a space carved out to hold an original, broken stone, no longer there.[2]

Normally, we tend to depend on an age carved into a gravestone as fairly accurate – always excepting such cases where the stone mason carved the wrong number (after all, how can you erase a gravestone?). If John was 87 when he died in 1698, then his birth year would have been 1611, but other sources seem to make that date too early. Without the gravestone, we cannot tell whether the Newton vital record abstracted the age correctly.

Without the gravestone, we cannot tell whether the Newton vital record abstracted the age correctly.

If John was born in 1611, he would have been 12 years older than his wife, whose baptism is on record in January 1623, and he would have been age 34 when his eldest child is purported to have been born in 1645. Not impossible, but we also have five ages he gave for himself in testimony at the Middlesex Court between 1656 and 1673. These ages convert to birth years of 1614, 1615, 1616, or 1617, with an average of 1615.4. The earliest calculation for his birth is before 2 April 1614, per his testimony in 1673.

If he was born in 1614, he would have been about 84 at his death, a number that might easily have been mis-transcribed from an old stone as 87. This would make him 9 years older than his wife and 31 at the birth of his eldest child. Not a big difference, but it seems more satisfactory.


[1] A much overdue thank you to my two volunteer proof readers: Robin Mason of Bedford, Massachusetts, and Gordon Adams of Sacramento, who cheerfully make up for this author’s ofttimes misguided grammar and punctuation.


Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams