This is an unfailingly accurate, if not exactly helpful, answer to the question ‘How old are you?’. It’s also the answer my mother sometimes uses as an alternative to ‘Mind your own business’ and she is not alone in that!
Ages, or supposed ages, appear in many historical records, and are of particular importance to the genealogist – or at least they would be if we could rely on them. There’s a lot of inaccuracy out there, as many of us discover very early in our research. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and they don’t all involve dishonesty. It’s virtually impossible to get through life these days without having to provide, and often prove, your date of birth; we should all have birth certificates, and many of us also have driving licences, passports and other official documents.
But if you go back only a couple of generations, things were very different. As recently as a century ago you could travel overseas without needing a passport, hardly anyone had a driving licence and there were not many situations where a person might be required to prove their age. These were mostly related to starting or leaving school, and in some cases to employment.
Going back further still, before compulsory education, there were fewer occasions still when a person might need to prove their age, although there were times when they would be required simply to state it, notably when they married, or when the census enumerator called. So we should bear in mind that when we look at historical documents for evidences of age, the information may not be accurate. Even birth, marriage and death certificates, which are admissible as evidence in courts of law, are not free of inaccuracies, for a number of reasons. Continue reading »