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Genealogical Number-Crunching

© by Felix G. Game

There are times when we get curious about the numerical aspects of our family's history. The most common example is when we wonder "did everybody have 18 children?!" What has always been my personal weak spot is the recurring evidence of high child mortality. I found myself taking statistics when I came across the six weeks of the 1830 Cholera epidemic, and learned that 10% of the village was wiped out within that short period, with no age group exempted. Even at other, more normal times, child mortality was always a depressing aspect of my research that I had difficulty adjusting to, and never did get used to. While we know that our ancestors did not have the health care services available that we take for granted, we may be wondering how well our particular family performed in the daily struggle to keep their children alive. When looking for an answer we hope, of course, that the statistics will confirm that our ancestors had fewer of their children die before puberty than other families, and if we get lucky enough to find such answers, we will then get carried away and theorize that our ancestors were smarter, cleaner, sturdier, and we may jump to other irrational conclusions. Take my word for it, all that has gone through my mind, even while I was telling myself to get serious.

Because I was curious about two aspects of birth statistics, I did some number-crunching the other day, and am reporting my findings here because they may be somewhat representative of Hungarian villages, and because they may give you some ideas of how you can flesh-out your family histories a bit. The numbers are true and actual data taken from the registers of the Catholic parishes of Budaörs, Etyek and Pázmánd. The questions I asked myself were:

(a) Why do some families seem to be providing more of the brides than other families? If some families really produce more children of one sex, and if a village were to get too many of such families, how unbalanced can the distribution of sexes become in any one locality?

(b) How did my own ancestors fare on the question of child mortality?

Finding the answers was not difficult, but it was labor-intensive. I was, however, in the process of cranking through some microfilm anyway, so jotting down this additional information was not a big deal. This point should be remembered in case someone feels that I should have more data; I was not doing statistical research, I was looking for names in the baptismal registers. Luckily some parish priests had the habit of providing a count after the last entry for the year. I will not bore you with a reproduction of the actual table I built, just give you the results of the tabulation.

Answer to (a)  (using  Budaörs data 1864-1887 which has occasional gaps):

Male and Female Numbers in Balance? Numbers %
Male births 2103 52
Female births 1956 48
All births 4059 100

The answer is that in the village overall the distribution of male and female births balanced itself out based on some divine programming. That some families seem to have more of one sex than the other is not evident in the parish totals, but became very obvious when I tabulated six generations of my own direct line. There the individual family percentages for male births ran 66, 58, 78, 66, 50, 33 - for an overall six families percentage of 62%. Compare that to the 52% above and this number seems high, and leads to the conclusion that this particular group of families (my direct line) produced more boys than girls. There is no question that these six families did. But that is only part of the answer. When combining the numbers of these six Fasching families with a further 18 Fasching families, I got an astonishingly precise 50% boys and 50% girls over something like a 200 year period! I can only conclude that our celestial programmer did a terrific job, and that our species will continue to exist for a while yet. We saw that there is, miraculously, no significant imbalance. We shall see in the next table that the slightly higher male numbers are compensated for by a higher death rate among male children.

Answer to (b) takes in all 24 Fasching families from three different villages. Please keep in mind that to make meaningful comparisons to the rest of the village inhabitants, global statistics would be required for the three villages. Since that was not my goal, I have tabulated 24 Fasching families straight out of my tree, and am comparing only these related families to each other. I also have isolated the scores of the main 6 direct-line families and compare it to the overall score of all 24 families (which includes the 6):

6 Family Sample
All births 52 100%
Births: Male children 32    62%
Deaths: Male children 16   50%
Births: Female children 20    38%
Deaths: Female children 8    40%
Death: All children 24   46%
24 Family Sample
All births 158 100%
Births: Male 79 50%
Deaths: Male children 33 42%
Births: Female 79 50%
Deaths: Female children 27 34%
Death: All children 60 38%

Comparison of 6 direct-line Fasching families to a total of 24 Fasching families

 

 

 

My own direct line (the "main 6 families") as a group had a higher child mortality (46%) than the 24 families as a combined group (38%). You can see why this has upset me; losing about ˝ of your children, and considering it "the norm" has me talking to myself! There were a number of reasons that could explain this. The six main families were larger, averaging 8.7 children per family compared to the overall average of 6.6 children for all 24 families. More of the sample's other 18 families lived in a later period of time and must have benefitted from additional enlightenment.

 

Could they have done anything to see fewer of their children die? It is impossible to say, and detailed research would be needed to analyze the causes of death. We know that many died at birth or very shortly after, that many died of common childhood diseases like measles and whooping cough. There were others who suffered accidents (the death registers are not my favorite reading). Yet some mothers seemed to have better skills than others, and I am basing this on the observation that among the 24 sample families, the three mothers who had the lowest rate of child mortality, all had the same maiden name: Kerkuska. Just a coincidence?
Send comments to: fggame@rogers.com

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