Thursday, 10 December 2009

Time Passes

Kent's comment on WW1 in my previous post ("Hard to believe that war is almost one hundred years in the past") reminded me of something I have had in my (rather overstuffed) back pocket for a future post. Through my professional life, I came to know a man -- let's call him Michael -- whose family has an odd trait: all the men have their children very late in life.

This was once not uncommon: unmarried seafarers and soldiers might only return to these shores in later life, often with more wear and tear than was normal even for those more abrasive times (those eyepatches and wooden legs are not imaginary*), and thus not prime candidates in the marriage market. It might take a few years to find a woman willing to take on a particularly salty old seadog or vinegary old sweat. My own great-grandfather Henry Mabbitt was one such, a Victorian soldier who returned to his home town from overseas, and married a kind-hearted younger woman who had been disfigured in a domestic fire but had a winning way with home-brewed beer and wine (see the post Stick It In The Family Album, Part 1).

But to return to my colleague's family. What was unusual was how very late in life his forebears had left it to start families, and how this had been a serial occurrence. Michael was the son of a man of sixty plus. So was his father, and his grandfather before him. In other words, Michael was born in 1954, his father was born in 1894, his grandfather around 1834, and his great-grandfather perhaps in 1774 ...

Those dates are astonishing, aren't they? For comparison, a more typical sequence (where, let's say, the father is aged 30) would run 1954, 1924, 1894, 1864. Michael is a man of exactly my own age, but his father had fought in WW1, and his grandfather had fought in the Crimean War -- the Crimean War!

Now that is a long time ago.

* A favourite joke:

Q: Why are pirates called pirates?
A: Because they "aarrrrr!


Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Interesting; curious to see how far back that goes, when life spans were shorter. Maybe late children is conducive to a long life. I screw up that by having kids young, then having more kids in my 50s.

My feeling is that kids are a PITA, though sometimes, worth having around. Probably help if the youngest kid weren't crazy.

Kent Wiley said...

Hate to say it, but that's a pair of patchwork photos you've got there, Mike. Not necessarily a bad thing...

You know this "Michael?" This is not genealogical theory? Having a grandfather who fought in the Crimean War - or bloody Kansas - would be a disorienting family history. But there'd be no chance of knowing that granddad personally!

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...


Liked the joke!

Poetry24 said...


For me it has sort of worked the other way around. My mother was 19 when I was born, my grandmother was 21 when my mother was born. I lost my grandfather in 2002, aged 92. I remember getting some strange looks on a Monday mornings, when I counted playing snooker with my grandad among my weekend activities. I was then in my late 40s!

Mike C. said...


You'll have to explain the "patchwork" comment -- don't understand! Yes, I know M., and his story checks out (I was sceptical, too). In a similar case someone told me about a woman had family stories, only a couple of generations old, about the capture of Napoleon and Waterloo.


There are definite downsides to late parenthood (medically and socially) but, as a moderately late parent myself, I think there's a lot to be said for it. Leaving it to 60 plus, though, is downright strange... The very thought of picking up toys when you should be picking up your pension...


Reminds me of collecting my kids from school, standing in the playground, aged 47,and realising the other parents assumed I was a grandparent... Where we live now, having kids young (sometimes very young) is the norm. By those standards, the dates could have been 1954, 1938, and 1922 i.e. my grandfather would have been too young for WW1, but would have fought WW2!


Gavin McL said...

Despite having several seafarers in my family all have managed to marry and produce children relatively young. In fact we have photographs of four generations (great grandchild, grandchild, daughter and mother) dating back four generations (does that make sense). Though it looks like I may have spoiled it by having my children later rather than sooner (in my mid thirties) and I don't know if we'll manage a fifth. Though my Maternal Grandmother is 90 tomorrow which bodes well for my Mum.
On balance though I'm glad I had the children later, I'm much more relaxed
Received my Christmas card today, many thanks