Saturday, March 1, 2008

100 Year Old Twins -- I Don't Buy it

One of the more intriguing mysteries of the Lowmaster family surrounds that of the twin girls, Maria Anna (Mary Ann) and Leah, born to George Lowmaster Sr. and his wife, Mary Magdalena Shirey/Shirley (this is a topic for another day). Not surprisingly, through the years different family historians have listed them with different dates of birth. That raises the question as to when they were born.

On the surface, the most "authoritarian" source on this subject seems to be the obituary of Leah Keith. I have come across two differing accounts and am unsure if they both reference the same article and have been edited or if they were two separate printed accounts. Both are from the Indiana (Pa.) Progress.

The first was printed in Lowmaster, the private printing authored by Rev. Vane H. Lowmaster in 1972. Vane's account was from the Progress, and was sent to him by Mrs. Dorothy Sellers of Anderson, Missouri, a great-granddaughter of Levi Lowmaster and grand-daughter of William Dick Lowmaster, son of Levi.

Mrs. Leah Keith of Green Township, the oldest resident of this area and/or adjoining counties, died Friday, after an illness of four weeks. During the illness, she refused to leave her rocking chair or to remain in bed until she became too weak to sit up. She was residing with her daughter, Mrs. Joseph McDonnell. The funeral was at Nebo Presbyterian Church near Grisemore; buried in McDowell Cemetery beside her husband. The deceased was of German descent, born in September 1802; York County, Pennsylvania; the daughter of George and Mary (Magdalena) Shirey Lowmaster, Sr. When about 8 years of age, she came to this county with her parents, who located in what is now known as East Mahoning Township. In 1822, she was married to Lewis Keith, who was a local preacher. Soon after marriage they located in Green Township, in the neighborhood of Grip. Her husband died in 1859, and she continued to live in her house till four years ago. She went to the house of her daughter. Five children survive: Mrs. Mary Ann Boring of Grip; Mrs. Joseph McDonnell of Grisemore; Levi Keith of Grip; Mrs. John McDonnell and Jacob Keith of Greensburg. Her twin sister, Mary Ann Dehaven, died at Grip four years ago. Two brothers and three sisters survive: Levi Lowmaster, 89; John Lowmaster 80; Mrs. Betsy Rishel, 77; Mrs. Katherine Snyder, all of East Mahoning Township, near the old Lowmaster homestead. A sister (?) Mrs. John Keith, 97 of Grip. Until a few months before her death, she assisted with light housework. During pleasant weather, she lived much of the time outdoors, taking long walks and roaming the hills, commuting with nature. She had never traveled more than 10 miles from her house nor visited Indiana. She was a Christian woman; and while she had never attended public service for many years, she found great pleasure reading the Bible. Prayer Meeting was often held in her home at her request. The only photograph ever taken was when a representative of the Progress visited her home near Grisemore, in June.

Vane stated that this was part of the article. So it is possible that he paraphrased the complete article. The second article is attributed to a newspaper clipping contributed by Francis Stron Helman, 733 Locust St., Indiana, Pa., July 5, 1960.

Death came easily and peacefully to Mrs. Leah Keith of Green Township, the oldest resident of this or adjoining counties, on Friday afternoon, at 2 o'clock, and brought an end to a career covering over 102 years. The illness leading up to the death of this remarkable character dated back to about four weeks ago, but she rallied and for a time she promised to recover. During all her illness she refused to leave her rocking chair until she became too weak to sit up, although the family entreated her to occupy her bed. Much of her time was spent in her chair. On Tuesday last she asked that a certain dish be prepared for her meal and she ate heartily, but that night she became noticeably weaker and went to her bed never to arise again. Her decline was rapid from that time. Her mind began to waver, and on Wednesday she sank into unconsciousness from which she did not rally, the remarkable vitality which she possessed during her life did not desert her until the death stupor was approaching. No special disease could lay claim to the life which had weathered so many long and busy years. Although she suffered from general disabilities, she was just "worn out", as she retained all her faculties until the last except her sight, which became dim months ago.. There was no one in the home when the end came except her daughter, Mrs. Joseph McDonnell, her husband, and their child.

The funeral services which were held yesterday afternoon in the Nebo Presbyterian Church, near Grisemore, were largely attended, and in addition to relatives and friends of the old lady, many were attracted to the services through curiosity and a desire to get a glimpse of one who had completed an earthly pilgrimage of over 102 years. She died on January 20, 1904.
The funeral services were in charge of Rev. Hetrick, pastor of the Caldwell Church of God. A singular coincidence is the fact that just 45 years ago, to the very day, the funeral of her husband took place. The remains were interred in the McDowell Cemetery in Green Township, alongside those of her husband. On account of her advanced age, the deceased attracted no little public interest. Last June, a representative of The Progress visited her home near Grisemore, and succeeded in taking the first photograph ever made of Mrs. Keith. At that time the detailed history of her life was published in the paper. Since many have visited her home. The deceased was of German descent and was born in September, 1802, in York County, Pennsylvania, a daughter of George and Mary Shirley Lowmaster. When she was 8 years old she came to this county with her parents, and located in the neighborhood which was known in the early days of the county as "Mahoning", now East Mahoning township. The entire county was then almost an unbroken wilderness and she often entertained those about her by reciting the experiences encounter in those days. At the age of 20, or in 1822, she married Lewis Keith, who carried his bride shortly afterward over the hills to Green Township. The couple located in the neighborhood of Grip, known for many years as Keith's Hollow. Her husband preached in log cabins to gatherings of the citizens for years. In 1859 her husband died, but the widow continued to make her home in the neighborhood of Grip, until four years ago. Since then she has resided with her daughter, Mrs. Joseph McDonnell, near Grisemore, at whose home she died. Five children survive her, as well as 32 grandchildren, 93 great grandchildren and three great great grandchildren. The children living are: Mrs. Mary Ann Boring, near Grip, who is almost 70 years of age. Mrs. Joseph McDonnell, 58 years old. Levi Keith of near Grip. Mrs. John McDonnell, near Greensburg, Westmoreland Co. Jacob Keith, same address as above. The late Mrs. Mary Ann DeHaven, who died at Grip, Green Township, 4 years ago was a twin sister of the deceased. Two brothers and three sister survive: Levi Lowmaster, age 89 years; John Lowmaster, age 80 years; Mrs. Betsy Rishel, age 77 years; Mrs. Katherine Snyder; Mrs. John Keith, living near Grip, age 97 years.
Before we accept that everything that is printed in newspapers is true, let's examine the facts a little closer. The obituary writer for the Progress would have received his "facts" from the family. It was not required then, or now, for obituary writers to do a full and complete review of the dates contained within an obituary.

It would appear that the second obituary is the complete obituary and I will work from that. The obituary stated that she was 102 years old. One thing to keep in mind is that as one ages it becomes fashionable to be old. Certainly to be 100 years old is a true badge of honor and is and was not uncommon then, or now, to inflate one's age.

The article stated that Leah married "at the age of 20, or in 1822." Of course if she were born in 1802 and was 20 years old when she married then she would have married in 1822. Likewise, if she was born in 1809 and was 20 years old when she married she would have married in 1829.

Leah married Rev. Lewis Keith. Her children were born as follows: Peter (ca. 1829/1830); Mary Ann (ca. 1832); Catherine (ca. 1839); Levi (ca. 1842); Lena (ca. 1844); Jacob (ca. 1845). Peter's age, established by the census for Green Township, Indiana Co., Pa. was 20 years old (in 1850) and 30 years old (in 1860) which makes his date of birth around 1830.

Women of this era tended to marry around the age of 18-20 and began to have children immediately (after the required nine month delay, that is - WINK). It is doubtful that Leah would have married in 1822 – at 20 years of age – then waited 8 years to begin having children. More likely is that she married in 1829 and had Peter in 1830.

What about Leah's twin? Mary Ann married John DeHaven. Her children were born as follows: Absalom (ca. 1828); Elizabeth (ca. 1829); John (1831); Abraham (1835); and Martha (1837). Like her sister, she probably married when she was around 18 or 20 years of age. Most compelling to establish the age of Mary Ann is the 1870 census of Bell Township, Clearfield Co., Pa. on which she is listed as 60 years of age. Had she been born in the fall of 1809 she would have been 60 years old on that census. And so would have her sister, Leah.

The twins' mother, Mary Magdalena Shirey/Shirley was born around 1786 or 1787. This date comes from Shirley family records and is supported, in part, by census data. She was listed on the 1850 census for Canoe Twp., Indiana Co., Pa. as age 67. That would place her year of birth as 1783.

According to records of this family, the other children were born in the years 1807, 1810, 1813, 1815, 1816, 1819, 1820, 1823, and 1825. While certainly not impossible, it is doubtful that a woman of child bearing age would have her first child in 1802 then go five more years before having children at the rate of one every other year. This account would suggest that the oldest child in the family was Lena, born 1807, but only according to family records.

Let's continue to look at the facts. The Progress stated that she was eight years old when she and her parents came to Indiana Co. That would be consistent with the birth records of George Lowmaster's children. The older children were born in York County, Pa. The younger children were born in Indiana County, Pa. As best can be established (or guessed at) Levi (b. ca. 1814) and John (b. ca. 1816) may have been born in Virginia. (Yes, there is lots more work to do and a logical place to start would be to study the records of Berkeley County, West Virginia to discover the presence of the Lowmaster family around 1815.) 

We have to discount the obituary account that the girls were 8 when they moved to Indiana Co. along with being born in 1802. It was not 1810 when this family moved and there is documented credible evidence in the church records as late as 1813 with the birth of Magdalena that the Lowmasters were still living in York. In 1817 Leah and Mary Ann would have been eight years old when they moved but only if they had been born in 1809. If they had been born in 1802 the evidence doesn't support the notion that they moved in 1810.

Moreover, in 1820 this family was recorded on the census of Bath, Morgan Co., Virginia. This is what is now Berkeley Springs, Morgan Co., West Virginia. It would have been around 1820 the family moved to Indiana Co., Pa. and the twins would have been about 11 years of age.,

The 1850 census for Green Township, Indiana Co., Pa. listed Leah Keith as age 41 – consistent with an 1809 date of birth. The 1860 census listed her as age 55.

While it is easy to accept a newspaper's account of someone's life and accept their story that our ancestor or relative was 100 years old, I would suggest that there is enough conflicting evidence to suggest otherwise. If the anecdotal evidence as well as census records doesn't persuade you, perhaps church records in York will. In the records of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in York are the Baptismal Records of Volume III (1802-1824). These records list Maria Anna and Leah (twins) of Geo. Laumeister and wife, Magdalena. Their birth is listed as 27 Feb 1809 and baptism is recorded as 3 Apr 1809.

One can accept whatever dates they want to believe but the evidence seems to support the 1809 date of birth which would mean that Leah was just short of her 95th birthday and not the 102 years reported in the Indiana Progress.