Longevity Pedigree Chart

The longevity pedigree isn’t my original idea, but it’s fun and can be quite useful, so I’ve created a longevity pedigree chart for both my mother’s and father’s lines.

Longevity pedigree mother

People are taking different approaches. Some people are just putting the age at death on a blank pedigree chart.  You can find a nice selection of blank forms here.

One person created a new “tree” in their genealogy software with the death ages, which is very crisp and attractive. I thought about that approach, but I would have added their cause of death, and then I would want to know who died.  So rather than recreate all of that, I just printed the first several generations of what I have, which of course includes their name, and wrote in the age at death and cause of death by hand.  I know, not very high tech, but sometimes the best solution is just plain old fashioned.

This exercise was interesting in several ways.

First, I never realized that my mother lost both of her grandfathers to tuberculosis before the days of antibiotics. One died years before her birth and the other when she was a toddler.  I always thought that my grandfather, her father, had contracted tuberculosis from his father-in-law, but it could have been from his father instead.

Looking at these pedigree charts and realizing how many lives could have been saved with antibiotics certainly gives me pause to reflect.

Tuberculosis is not genetic, but other diseases and conditions are. Of course, the generations closest to you are the most likely to have a genetic effect.  The good news is that those are the generations for whom you’re most likely to be able to obtain cause of death information.

I never realized until I put together this chart that I don’t know my mother’s grandmother’s cause of death. Nora died in 1949, so it’s certainly available.  I’ve just never sent for her death certificate.

Longevity pedigree father

In my father’s line, his two sisters, his father William George Estes, John R. Estes and John R.’s father, George Estes (generation 7, off the chart) all lived to be within sniffing distance of 100.  Some were a couple of years older, some a couple of years younger.  Anyone who lived that long has earned the right to have “old age” as a cause of death.

Sometimes, I didn’t know an exact cause of death, but I did know something of the person’s health and I was “betting” that their disease was involved in some way with their death. Ruthy Dodson was so disabled by arthritis that she had to be carried out of her house down the mountain to live with her son – so she wasn’t very mobile and that had to affect her health.

And then there was poor Joel Vannoy. That poor man truly was “insane” and the family did everything they could to protect him from himself.  He couldn’t be left alone for a minute for fear he’s burn the house down or create some other dangerous situation.  Now, he could have just died of being an old man eating too much bacon and good gravy in Appalachia – or he could have died of something more directly related to his disease.  I’ll never know because, believe me, that situation was NOT discussed.  I found the evidence in the court records.  I’m just hoping I didn’t inherit that insanity part.  Hold the comments please!

One disease was quite unusual and I couldn’t find any references online. Looking at Lazarus Dodson who died at 66 of “breast disease,” I have to wonder about male breast cancer.

Wars were devastating to families. Samuel Claxton died of either tuberculosis or “bronchitis” that he contracted during the Civil War.  It wasn’t counted as a war fatality, because he didn’t die until a few years later after he returned home.

Lots of women disappeared from pedigree charts during their child-bearing years. We don’t know why, and it might not have been related to childbirth, but that’s the best bet.

After Elizabeth Campbell’s untimely death between 25 and 28, of unknown causes, her husband brought their children back from Alabama and left them with her parents in Tennessee to raise. I don’t know if she would have been relieved or appalled.

And what happened to Charles Speak and Ann McKee who both died between 1840 and 1850, between the ages of 36-46, leaving a passel of children for relatives to raise. This makes me wonder about epidemics.

And speaking of epidemics, both Joseph Bolton and his wife Margaret Claxton died of the Spanish flu within a few days of each other. The family story says that they put Old Joseph’s body in the barn, since it was winter and the ground was frozen, until Margaret died so they would only have to have one funeral and put off digging in the frozen ground as long as possible.

Some causes of death are really suggestive of other things. For example, George Drechsel died of pneumonia, but he had been becoming increasingly senile and weak.  Even today, pneumonia is often an official cause of death, but something like cancer or heart disease is actually underlying the situation.  Pneumonia isn’t hereditary, but the proclivity for cancer and heart disease certainly can be.

Now that I’ve created these longevity pedigree charts, what am I going to do with them? I’m going to give them to my children for one thing, so that they can have this information for their own medical records.  I will probably give it to my physician as well.

Have fun creating your own longevity pedigree chart. You’ll assuredly learn something about your family that you didn’t know!



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17 thoughts on “Longevity Pedigree Chart

  1. Re: George Drechsel: Senility and weakness are frequently the precursors of aspiration (food/drink/saliva going down the wrong tube), which directly leads to “aspiration pneumonia”. I believe it’s the most common final cause if death in dementia. Thus, I would believe that diagnosis of pneumonia – no matter what caused it.

    A blog follower and nurse practitioner, Cheryl


  2. I know someone whose parents died relatively early from heart disease. Yet the parents’ siblings (3 each) lived healthily into their 90s (3 to 4 decades longer). Wonder how that affects his inherited heart disease propensities. Any ideas?

    • That’s exactly why people need to view genetics perhaps as a warning of what to watch for, but not as any kind of a forgone conclusion, with only a few exceptions.

  3. I forgot to send in my consent form when I mailed my swabs in. I am in the middle of a move from St. Louis to Sacramento and the form was put in another box. Can I still send it in? I just mailed the swabs in a week ago.

  4. Roberta,

    Attached is my version of a longevity chart with world milestones, but no causes of death.


    Marty Prather

  5. If you can, it is useful to add in the ages at death and reasons for death for all the aunts and uncles as well, as you share their DNA – you know how. Some doctors also mentioned additional long term conditions that were present but did not cause death. Put them in too.
    I had just put one of these charts together for my doctor, to help assess health risks, when someone else in the family called me as the family genealogist for the same information. My overall impression was that our ancestors faced great dangers from infectious disease (sometimes brought on by poor nutrition, sanitation or housing), danger or poisoning from their employment and general accident. Some had genetic conditions that medicine now largely counteracts.
    Living in Australia, some of our ancestors were probably more likely to suffer near-ship-wreck on the way here, and some saw partners and children buried at sea on the journey from infection and common childhood diseases that are now preventable.
    Compared with them we are very lucky people.

  6. Accoring to the 23andMe Health report,a procilivity for Lung disease and liver disease is geneticly inherited. I presume that a long-term irritant has to be present in order to turn the genetic proclivity into a chronic illness. I inherited one copy of the gene for both lung and liver disease. Since – until nearly 20 years ago – i used to both smoke and drink heavily, (i also inherited two copies of a gene which contributes to alcohol addiction), it wouldn’t surpise me if i end up dying from lung disease. In my family tree there too are those who lived to be very old, and those who died not so old from heart disease, liver cirrhosis due to alcoholism, diabetes and esophogal cancer – all with a genetic factor contributing to causation. It is very sad in deed to read about how many of my direct ancestors’ siblings died young due to consumption, which was rampant before the discovery of antibiotica. The obituaries of these young people make me weep, and be thankful for the medical advances of our times..

  7. Another great post, Roberta. Thanks.
    About 20 years ago, I started a spreadsheet of my Ancestors – it has grown a lot over the years, and has become my “go-to” tool. Some key data elements include: Ahnentafel numbers (which allows an easy sort); bmd info with additional columns for year only which gives me calculated columns for age at marriage and age at death [also used for data QC check]; columns for: Immigration date; profession, military rank, wars, cause of death, religion, burial, cemetery, Find-a-Grave link, gravesite GPS, number of children, Y and mt haplotypes, LDS ancestor code, links to one-family Trees on-line, etc. It turns out to be a great place to store, sort, analyze ancestor data. Sorting on names provides an easy method to determine duplicate ancestors and so note them. I even add in “alternative” ancestors, when there is some doubt. Some work to create, but a valuable time saver thereafter.

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