#52Ancestors – Longevity

2018 Week 3

The theme for Week 3 of #52ancestors is ‘Longevity’. The obvious person to talk about this week is my 4x great grandmother Kezia JENKINS (nee SMITH). Her death certificate gave her age as 104 when she died on 20 February 1870 of ‘Natural Decay’.

Kezia Jenkins Death Certificate – reproduced under Crown Copyright

This was accompanied by a number of newspaper articles. The Hampshire Telegraph on 2 March 1870 stated (noting they got the death date wrong):

JENKINS – On 26th ult., at Gurnard, Cowes, Kezia, widow of the late Mr. James Jenkins, of Duke’s Farm, aged 104 years.

The Hampshire Advertiser on 26 February 1870 wrote the following item:

DEATH OF A CENTENARIAN. On Sunday “old Mrs Jenkins”, as she was generally called, died at Gurnard, near this town, at the advanced age of 104. Born in the year 1766, or six years after George III came to the Crown, she lived through his long and eventful reign, and saw the fourth George and the fourth William seated on the throne of England, and by the time she was 71 years of age our present Sovereign, Her most gracious Majesty, took the reins of power. Another such a life would have taken us back almost to the days of Cromwell. Such lives as these are very rare, but one cannot help thinking that if the old lady who is now gone and whom death seemed so long to have forgotten had only had the means of information we now have, how very entertaining a history would hers have been of incidents that had happened that she could recollect long before our fathers were born or our grandsires had emerged from boyhood. Her recollections, from the sphere in which she lived, were, however, purely local, and as such were only of interest to those who were endeared to her by ties of relationship.

In addition, a local book on Cowes (Cowes & Northwood Isle of Wight 1750-1914 Book 3 by Rosetta Brading) stated:

1870 – Grannie Jenkins of Gunnard died in her 106th year.

Her burial was on 24 February 1870 at Northwood parish church near Cowes, Hampshire and again gave her age as 104 years. If she was 104 when she died, she would have been born in 1765 or early 1766.

So the big question is, was she really as old as 104 which would have probably made her one of the oldest living person in the UK at that time? The evidence I have for Kezia is limited however it does point to her having exaggerated her age over the years.

Unfortunately she (and the rest of her family) are missing from the 1861 census. It was the year that enumerators were paid poorly and there is a high likelihood that they could not be bothered to walk up to the farm (Dukes Farm, Gunard, Isle of Wight, Hampshire) that she lived at with her son William (1820-1903) and his family. None of the family nor an entry for Dukes Farm can be found despite a manual search through the census returns.

In the 1851 census, Kezia was recorded as being 80. This would mean she was born in 1770 or 1771.

In the 1841 census, Kezia was recorded as being 75 – noting that the instruction was to round down your age, this would mean she was born between 1760 and 1766.

Kezia SMITH was married in 1814 to James JENKINS at Saint Mary’s, Portsea, Hampshire. If born in 1765, she would have been 49 at her marriage – this is old to be married for the first time, noting she is given as a Spinster on the marriage record.

She then had three children James (baptised in 1814), Mary Ann (baptised in 1816 – she married Joseph RICHARDS and was my 3xgreat grandmother) and William (baptised in 1820). From census returns and other records, these dates of baptism are consistent with their dates of birth. This would have made her between the ages of 49 and 55 when she had her children. This seems very unlikely.

The only clue to Kezia’s place of birth is from the 1851 census. Ancestry had transcribed her place of birth as Eversley, Wiltshire. Even though Eversley is in Hampshire, in my naivety, I trawled the parish registers for Eversley and could not find a Kezia SMITH being baptised in the date range 1765 to 1790. This was left as a brick wall for a number of years. With much more experience, I returned to this brick wall and looked at the original image for her place of birth in detail. So even though it looked correct at a first glance, it was then that I realised it was Everley without the ‘s’. Everley, just over the border in Wiltshire, is normally spelt Everleigh but it is not uncommon to be heard by the enumerator and written down with either spelling. This is also a better fit as in the 1841 census her place of birth is recorded as not in Hampshire (e.g. ‘N’ in ‘Born in County’ column).

I then did a search through the Everleigh parish registers for the same date range and found only one Kezia SMITH who was baptised on 7 June 1780. She had a sister Jemima who was baptised on the same day. Her parents were John Smith and Repentence O’BRIANT (one of the most unusual family names) and they were married on 25 December 1773 in Collingbourne Kingston, Wiltshire. They had two other children; Elizabeth baptised in 1775 and Thomas baptised in 1778. This means it is unlikely Kezia was born any early than about 1779.

So assuming she was born in 1780 rather than 1765/6, she would have been 34 at her marriage and aged between 34 and 40 at the time her children were born. This is older than most parents but is much more realistic. It would have meant she was about 90 at her death which is still very old for 1870 but not quite so newsworthy as 104.

I continue to build up evidence for her life and look for further proof but I feel relatively sure I have found the correct Kezia.

Footnote: Kezia is related to me through my father, whose father Percy James Bennett was the subject of Week 1. His mother was Florence RICHARDS and her father was Joseph RICHARDS. Joseph’s mother was Mary Ann JENKINS who was Kezia’s daughter. More details will be available on the BENNETT family pages.

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