The life expectancies of our ancestors

My grandmother never told her age. Ever. When I was a kid, she made it into a game but would never give me enough hints to guess. She said she’d be dead by the time I was 21, but that she would leave a note for me which I could open on my 21st birthday letting me know how old she was.  (She didn’t need to – I was nearly 40 by the time she died!)  Obviously, my grandmother clearly thought she would die young, and as her own mother was only 61 when she passed away from a heart attack.  I can understand – my own mother was only 63 when she died, and now that I’ve reached the half-century mark myself, my own mortality is even more real.   So….I decided to do a simple pedigree chart showing  my ancestors’ ages at death:

death genogram

Of course, while I’m pleased to see those who enjoyed extended golden years, like most families, I also have my fair share of ancestors who went to the pearly gates in their 50s and 60s.  Analyzing this a bit further, the life expectancy of my grand parents, great grandparents and great-great grandparents looks like this:

excel of ancestors deaths

The ages of my ancestors at death, sorted by generation and by year of death.

The average life expectancy of my ancestors by generation is as follows:

  • Grandparents – 75.25
  • Great grandparents – 70.12
  • Great great grandparents – 68.25

As expected, most of my ancestors enjoyed longer lives as medicine progressed near the end of the 20th century.  So how does that compare to the average life expectancies for their generations?

Given the wide range of ages by generation, some of my ancestors fared much better than others.  Some died while they still had young children in the house, while others lived well past the ages of their contemporaries.

While statistics are fun, and a family’s medical history is interesting to study, one thing is certain – knowing we each have an “expiration date,” it’s important to spend our days being thankful for the time we do have here on earth with our present day families, and appreciating the sacrifices made by the ancestors who went before us.


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