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Summary of an Investigation on Centenarianism, circa 1878

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This report was included in the five volume "Census of Canada, 1871" statistical summary. It was an investigation into the claims of people that they had lived for one hundred years or longer.

The name of the committee, the names of members of the committee, when the investigation was undertaken or what branch of the government conducted the investigation are not given. The volumes were published between 1873 and 1878 and the latest date in the report was 19 September 1877 (death of Catherine Desfonds). Therefore it would appear that the committee reported in late 1877 or early 1878.

In the introduction to volume five there is a nine page summary, in English, of the facts and at the back of the book with tables of miscellaneous statistics there are a four pages (Table XIX) that contains the facts. The summary was also printed in French. I have broken Table XIX down into records on each person and have added any comments pertaining to the individual that were entered into the summary. As any further facts become evident from any other source they will be added to the remarks section of each record.

The purpose of the investigation and the methods used are best described by the committee's summary:

"Table XIX, and last of this volume, may be called a necessary complement to the whole of the second part of the Canadian statistics. It summarises the results of an investigation of longevity in Canada, in relation to which it is necessary to offer a few remarks and explanations in detail."

"The first labour performed on entering into the investigation of this question of longevity has been to collect the names of persons reported as dying after having reached the age of a hundred and upwards. For this purpose the schedules of censuses, parts of the registers of parishes, books, journals, and reviews have been consulted. This has produced a total of 421 names of reputed centenarians, and a note was taken of all the indications respecting each individual named by the documents making mention of the case. These 421 names belong to the Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; they also belong to the different nationalities composing the population; Aborigines, Germans, English, Scotch, French, Irish, and to the different religious beliefs."

"The majority of these 421 individuals reputed centenarians, belong to the class of people born out of the country, and whose antecedents (before immigration) remain absolutely unknown. For the greatest number of them no information bearing on the question exists beyond the assertion, pure and simple, that they had exceeded the age of 100 years at death, giving the alleged age at the time the death occurred. The greatest age thus assigned in the whole list was 130, that of a woman of French origin, supposed to have been born in Canada, and who died in the State of New York. Not even a semblance of proof could be found to corroborate the information given by the journal which announced her death."

"The error or falsity of the assertion of the extreme age indicated, is deduced in many of these cases of alleged centenarians, from the examination of circumstances in their lives, of which information has been obtained. In this way, by examining the schedules of the censuses of 1851, of 1861, and of 1871, it has been discovered that many of these centenarians, having continued to live in the same locality, whose identity could be ascertained, have become 15, 20 and even, in one case, 31 years, older, in the interval of ten years between one census and the other. The rigorous signification of the elimination of so many names from the first list means only, that there is no proof of the precise ages of these people, or that it, has been impossible to identify the persons; there is a moral certainty that a few centenarians exist among all those alleged to be so, without the possibility of obtaining proof of the age which has been reached, but that the number is very small.

As the question here is of the admission into the definitive list, of only individuals whose ages could be proved by authentic documents, examined with a rigorous scrutiny, in short, as it is a question of establishing facts, the number of 412 names has been reduced to 82 names, which are to be found in Table XIX of this volume."

"To understand rally the difficulties, delays, impediments, researches and care involved, it is necessary to have personally shared in this labour. Often many records, not relating to the individual in question, must be examined owing to the complication produced by the same names; obstacles, besides, arising from the variations in the names or Christian names of the same families and of the same individuals; several names have been forcibly thrown aside on account of such difficulties."

"Only the names of those are inserted in the Table whose identity could be established: 1. By the record of birth. 2. By the record of death. 3. By the records of marriage of the persons themselves, or of parents, when necessary. 4. 4. By the record of births and deaths of brothers and sisters. In the case of some of these names certain details could not be met with, although perhaps existing; but in these instances the information wanting has been supplied by the records of births, marriages and deaths of the parents, or by rigorously ascertained collateral facts, presenting direct and conclusive proof of the identity of the person and of the necessary dates. This investigation has the greater value in the important question of longevity, that it refers to a population which, more than any other, perhaps, presents frequent examples of long life."

"To execute this labour faithfully, several thousand records of marriages, births and deaths were examined, and over 1,000 of such acts were studied and verified, directly relating to the 82 old people whose names are inserted in Table XIX. This table, giving the name of the person, the sex, the place of birth, the occupation (in the case of the men), the alleged age, the verified age at the moment of death, the day, the month and the year of birth, the day, the month and the year of the marriage or marriages (with some exceptions), the place of burial, the day, month and year of death, requires only a few remarks as to details to form a complete report of the whole investigation. The records of those cases are deposited in the Department of Agriculture. These papers contain authentic copies of registration and such remarks and information as concern the person to whom each package relates. Besides what is contained in the records of cases, extensive information was derived from the repertory of, the registers of the whole Province of Quebec, which constitute the Dictionaire Généalogique of M. Tanguay, both from the manuscript as well as from the printed parts: this work is still far from being terminated. In fact, if it bad not been for that source of investigation, the result of many years of labour, the number on the list would have been very considerably reduced. The indications of the repertoire have been verified by reference to the register."

"Before entering into a few interesting details of these researches, it may be well to notice that out of 82 cases verified, there were found only nine centenarians, five men and four women; that in 2.13 verifications per cent of the total presumed or alleged number of 421, and 10.97 centenarians per cent of the number of those whose ages are proved."

"The two extreme verified ages are 113 and 109 years, numbers 38 and 48 of the Table. Among the individuals given in the table who have not attained or exceeded the age of 100 years, seven have lived to the age of 99, and among these 82 pretended centenarians several were not even nonagenarians and one not even an octogenarian. One, not born in the country, who was reputed to be 112 was only 81 years of age, as was ascertained by the authentic copy of his record of birth, obtained from the registers of the City of Bordeaux (France), from indications left by himself of the name of his natal parish, with the names and surnames of his father and mother."

"It is of importance to give certain details of a few of the names on Table XIX, some as instances of the proceedings according to the method adopted in every case, the, others for some special circumstances which call for more particular attention."

At this point almost five pages of the details of fourteen individual investigations were given. I have inserted these comments as remarks into the record of each person.

The last part of the summary was a conclusion.

" All the information contained in these two documents are the summary of an enquiry which could never have been made so extensive, except with the concurrence of the following circumstances:- the existence of well kept registers containing uninterrupted records for upwards of two centuries; the concomitant labour of an examination of all the register; the fact that the enquiry has been conducted on a small population having well preserved traditions; the advantage of having the services, in collecting the requisite information, of a genealogist engaged for upwards of twenty
years in preparing a Genealogical Dictionary of that population; the assistance of Messieurs the curés of the different parishes, guardians and keepers of the registers; the determination of all those participating in the work to regard only facts apart from any theory."

"Besides the examination of the registers, and to be able to search them so as to obtain the desired result, it has been necessary to investigate the information supplied by tradition and by publications in which mention is made of the persons or families in question. Whatever did not stand the test of scrutiny and produce an irresistible conviction was set aside. It was for this reason that, of the 421 cases selected at the beginning of the enquiry, 339 were rejected for want of proof, or from the evidence being insufficient to decide the cases, and only eighty-two cases reported on, as answering to the conditions demanded by the method adopted. For each of these cases, it is believed that it can be said, with the assurance which the subject allows: "There is only one individual who could have been the person designated, and that individual was born at such a date, in such a place, of such father and mother, and died at such a date and at such a place." To insert each case on the list, there has been required:- The knowledge of the family and Christian names of the father and mother; the names of the person or persons to whom the individual has been married; the authentic records of the birth, death and all other conditions of the individual according to circumstances; the records of birth and death of the brothers and sisters, the age of parents when required."

"When the existence of two families with the same name might lead to confusion, the registers of both families have been consulted, as in the case of Rosalie Lisotte (No. 48), for instance: Two brothers Lisotte were married to two Miville, cousins, but the two heads of the family, were named respectively Nicholas and Joseph, the two women respectively Magdeleine and Marie Josephte. The first pair were married in 1724, the other in 1730. Nicholas-Magdeleine had fifteen children of whom Rosalie was one; Joseph-Josephte had twelve children none of whom was called Rosalie. No girl Lisotte, other than Rosalie, was married, first, to Joseph Mignault dit Labry, and the second time to Joseph Lagacé. Tradition and evidence have traced the history of this woman, living in the midst of the members of her family and amongst her acquaintances, in the Parish of St. Roch des Aulnets, where she was born, and in the Parish of Riviére du Loup, to which she afterwards went with some of her relations and where she died. So with the others.

Evidence is given here of facts, ascertained not with the absolute certainty of having committed no mistake, but with the firm belief that no fatal errors have been made and the certainty of its being, on the whole, correct. This work is given with the solemn declaration of its not being that of deceiving or unscrupulous witnesses, and with the solid guarantee of its not being that of witnesses who have been deceived.

"This question of the human longevity of our times is one of the highest importance in biological investigations, and the furnishing of a considerable number of well-established facts, and contributing to clear it of the confusion produced by the gratuitous assertions by which it is surrounded, appears to be a service to science.

The greatest number of errors ascertained by this enquiry, in Table XIX., have been errors committed in good faith, several even were based on authentic records, honestly interpreted, but about which mistakes of identity had taken place. Oftentimes, however, these assertions of extreme ages are deceits, which are looked upon as being of no importance; being prompted by a vanity which leads some persons to underrate their age till the limits of old age are reached, and which leads to exaggerating one's age when the evidence of time can no longer be concealed. Sometimes also, these statements are positive impostures. A recent case is well known in Canada of an old man still alive, who, like many of his predecessor macrobites, was deriving revenue, dinners, and feasting, from his profession of centenarianism. He was armed with the authentic copy of registration of his birth, but in which the two last figures of the date had been altered. The parish priest who had certified the copy, having seen reproduced in the newspapers that copy of registration thus falsified, protested against such a use of his signature, and the so-called centenarian, whose stomach was the stronger that it had not lasted one hundred years by a good many, had to desist from a trade which be was prosecuting by deceit practised on his customers and victims."

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