Thursday, February 13, 2014

One Hundred Years? Or Not?

In reading the letter sent by Mary Nellie Broyles Jones to my grandmother, Ruby McClellan Davis, you may have wondered about the couple times I mentioned her age as “ninety-something.”

There is a reason for this.

Apparently, depending on which document—and which year—you use to verify her age, she either is recorded as being born in 1875 or 1876.

This may not matter much to you—after all, Aunt Nellie is long gone, now. However, for anyone living long enough to reach the ripe old age of one hundred, it does become a matter of interest—especially when said centenarian has been feted for arrival at that magical number when she was, indeed, only ninety-nine years of age.


Let’s take a look at the records:

Our first hint, as this series unraveled, was Nellie’s own mention—quoting strictly from her father’s diligent entries in the Broyles family Bible, of course—that she was three years younger than her older sister, Sarah. Sarah, by the way, Nellie had just mentioned as having been born on “13 November 1873.”

In the first available official document, other than the Broyles family Bible—wherever that is—the young child was listed in the 1880 census as being three years of age. Before you jump to the conclusion that that produced a birth year of not 1876 but 1877, let’s notice that the census enumerator didn’t stop at the Broyles family dwelling until the nineteenth day of June—falling short of Nellie’s fourth birthday by a matter of less than a month. Technically, she would still have been three years of age at that point, if her birth year were 1876.

Granted, people back then didn’t always remember such pesky little details when the census enumerator came knocking at the door. So let’s take a look at the next census record. After all, Nellie wasn’t yet married, so we’d expect to find her in her father’s household for the 1900 census, too.

There, at the point at which the census record was taken—again, on the nineteenth day of June, just shy of her birthday—young “Nillie” was listed as being twenty three years of age, just what you would expect from someone born in July of 1876. Conveniently, this census also included a category for month and year of birth, which was confirmed to be July of 1876.

Social Security records agree with that conclusion, too, giving her date of birth on record as July 6, 1876

Even in my grandmother’s own records, she had noted:

            Aunt Nellie’s birthday July 6th. She will be 95 on July 6/71.

Do the math on that one, and you will see it indicates a birth year of 1876.

So where did these reports of 1875 come from? They were certainly out there for people to notice.

The most puzzling confirmation of date confusion is Nellie’s own cemetery records. A handy entry on Find A Grave displays the full dates of birth and death—obviously gleaned from another source, as the headstone itself only included the years and not specific dates. The report there was that Nellie was born on July 6, 1876, and died on June 14, 1976.

Yet, her headstone itself gave the dates 1875-1976. If you are in doubt, take a look at the photograph of that marker here. I know I have trouble with my eyesight, but that picture looks pretty clear to me.

The legend was further perpetuated by the city’s newspaper, itself. In her obituary, published in the Johnson City Press on Sunday, June 16, 1976, it was noted that Nellie was “just a month shy of being 101 years old.” Yes, I am well aware that some newspapers allow family members to entirely compose an obituary to their own liking, and that very well may have been the case with this report.

However, note their mention of a hundredth birthday party given for her on July 6, 1975, in which the Johnson City Press published a feature article on that very event.

In all likelihood, they were reporting the celebration of a ninety-ninth birthday and didn’t even know it—which is why I prefer taking the route of non-committal and designating her my ninety-something year old relative.  
            Mrs. Nellie Broyles Jones was just a month shy of being 101 years old. Mrs. Jones died at 5:05 p.m. Friday at Range Hall. On her 100th birthday on July 6 last year, an open house was observed for her at Range Hall and she was featured in an article in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle.
            Mrs. Jones was born in Chuckey Valley near Embreeville in 1875. She had been active in many areas during her long life. She was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a past matron of the Nolachuckey Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. She had also been an active Girl Scout leader.
            The widow of T. F. Jones, she was a member of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church.
            Mrs. Jones continued to drive her own car until she reached the age of 97.
            Survivors include two sons, Thomas F. Jones Jr. and Eugene B. Jones, both of Johnson City; a nephew, William B. McClellan, Tampa, Fla., and a niece, Mrs. Jack Davis, Arlington, O.; eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Woodall is in charge.


  1. Either way, I hope she got a birthday wish from Willard Scott and Smuckers. Or maybe the President of the United States.

    1. Hmmm...that would have been President Gerald Ford. I wonder...

      Smuckers? I'll have to remember that for when I turn one hundred ;)

  2. The headstone would both me...but you know what they say about things written in stone:(

    1. Oh, I sure do, Far Side. I just wish there was a way to see the old family Bible--or that there were church records of the birth date or something else to go by.

  3. Well, she should have done what my grandfather did... make it to 102 just to be "sure"!

    :) What a confusing situation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...