Tuesday 9 August 2016

The End of the Line

I was at a birthday party Sunday for my brother-in-law, George, who just turned 80. We don’t give it a lot of thought sometimes, but that is an amazing age to reach.

In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, male individuals born in the 1930s, as George was, had a life expectancy at birth of about 62. Those born in the early 1940s could look forward only to about 65 years on the planet. If they had reached the age of 65 by 2007, they could expect to live, on average, another 18.5 years – to 83. OK, these are just numbers. The age people reach depends on a lot of factors, not the least is genetics. A life expectancy of over 80 is certainly a long way from where it was a couple of hundred years ago – about 33 to 40 years in 18th century England.

Living into your 80s even in today’s world is still an accomplishment. Two of George’s siblings did not survive their 60s and one died in her 50s. And being as clear-headed as he is, is particularly noteworthy. We all know people whose mental capacity has significantly diminished with age.

As George and I were talking about various things we had encountered in our lives, he mentioned that there was a possibility that his family line might end with his grandchildren as he said that many of them (all?) had expressed the opinion that they did not want or expect to have children of their own. Now, they range in age from 23 to 31, so there is still a lot of time for them to come to different positions in their lives and find they do want to raise families.

But what if they don’t? Then George’s family line, along with those of his children, and their spouses, will die out – literally. George’s son-in-law also expressed his disappointment in seeing his line end if he does not end up having grandchildren. As a genealogist himself he found that possibility a little strange to contemplate.

When we look at family lines, most of us consider mainly just the male side. That’s probably a function of our British heritage as well as how we think and study family history. If you want to see the total history, though, you need to look at both paternal and maternal branches. They obviously both contribute to whatever longevity you might expect to have.

Anyway, the idea of The End of the Line started me thinking about how many branches ended in my family tree over the years. Mine is actually going strong as are those of my parents and grandparents. My parents lost one child of the five they had, my little brother Jimmy; my paternal grandparents lost two of five; my maternal grandparents lost one of six children.

My three sisters all married and had children, grandchildren and, in the case of my oldest sister, two great-grandchildren. My second oldest sister has five grandchildren. My youngest sister was just recently blessed with her first grandchild.

My father’s surviving brother and sister both had families and those children have gone on to have many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Three of my mother’s siblings also have many descendants, but one sister did not have children so her line ended.

My paternal grandfather was an only child. Four of his father’s siblings had children, extending their branches; three died without issue. Four of my paternal grandmother’s siblings had children; two died as infants.

My maternal grandfather had two sisters only one of which had children; a twin brother died at birth. That line is still going strong. My maternal grandmother had twelve siblings, only one of whom died young. They were very prolific. With what I know at present, my grandmother had 86 nieces and nephews, produced by six sisters and five brothers!

In the previous post about my brother, who died at the age of two years, I commented about my ancestors that “in every generation, babies and young children were lost.” There were also quite a number of individuals who did not have children, ending their particular lines.

I have a striking example in my paternal ancestral line. In looking at it now I am surprised how close we came to seeing the end of the Shepheard line of which I am part. In February, I wrote about the marriage of my 4th great-grandparents, John Shepheard and Jane Treby Shepheard, who were first cousins. That union resulted in a reduction in the number of my potential ancestors.

While John and Jane Treby had eight children, only three of them eventually married and had children of their own. One other daughter had a baby out of wedlock but I have not yet found where she ended up. So John and Jane had only 15 grandchildren, 13 of them carrying the Shepheard name. Thank goodness my 3rd great-grandfather, John, was one of those sons who had children – six of them.

John Shepheard (1768-1845) & Jane Treby Shepheard (1769-1851)

John Shepheard (1792-1870)
6 children, 42 grandchildren

James Shepheard (1794-1856)
unmarried, no children

Jane Shepheard (1797-1883)
married, no children

Jenny Shepheard (1799-c1855)
unmarried, 1 child

Julia Shepheard (1801-1863)
unmarried, no children

Mary Shepheard (1803-1804
died in infancy

Richard Shepheard (1805-1886)
7 children, 17 grandchildren

Thomasin Shepheard (1807-1841)
married, 1 child

The table shows that four branches ended in this family and only two carried on with the Shepheard surname. In contrast, all six children of my 3rd great-grandparents married and had children. They also ended up with 42 grandchildren pretty much guaranteeing the Shepheard family would survive.

In the generation previous to John and Jane Treby, with included both of their fathers, Nicholas (1675-1756) and Amey Prideaux (1687-1751) Shepheard had nine children. Only four lived to adulthood and married, and only three of them had children. Of the 16 grandchildren of Nicholas and Amey, 15 of them were in the two families from which John and Jane Treby sprung. Here, too, six of nine branches failed to survive.

I think that most family historians will find they have many broken branches in their trees, individuals who died very young or others that did not have children. It’s just a very common outcome. It does give you pause, as it has my brother-in-law, George, though, if it is your line that is in danger of reaching its end.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated