Death Has a Preference for Birthdays

This is a morbid post, but I have to do it!  The other night while perusing my feed reader, I saw this article from the Annals of Epidemiology.  (yeah, I have scientific journals in my feed reader – how else is a gal supposed to keep up with the medical literature for work! :-))

Ajdacic-Gross V, et al., Death has a preference for birthdaysdan analysis of death time series, Annals of Epidemiology (2012), doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2012.04.016

I was ecstatic to see this because it presents research around something that I and my mother have talked about for years now.  As we look at the dates of death in our family trees, we seemed to have seen a pattern of people dying around their birthdays.  I was fascinated that a research group has set out to examine this on a large-scale basis. 

Here’s the overview of the research this team from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Zurich.  (you can look more closely at the article here)

Why did they do this research? Whether or not deaths occur more frequently around birthdays has been a controversial for 40 years. Some research on suicides has shown there is a relationship; some has shown there is not. Some research on cancer deaths has also had mixed results. The problem has been though that all of these studies have looked at small groups of people or had flaws in how the research was conducted.  This research team has access to a very large database of deaths, so wanted to study it and see if they observed a relationship. 

Who did they study? They used a Swiss database of computerized death records that spanned 1969-2008. Excluding infants less than 1  year of age and people who were born or died on February 29th, they had 2,380,997 deaths of all causes to examine.  Wow.

What did they find out?  When looking at all the deaths, they saw that there was a peak in the data set for deaths that occurred the same day as the person’s birthday.  The “peak” was statistically significant (e.g. higher than you would expect to occur on average).  Deaths from all cause occurred almost 14% more often on the person’s birthday than any other time of the year.  This was pretty much the case for both men and women. Taking suicides out of the equation and looking at only natural causes (because people make conscious decisions about when to commit suicide and may or may not purposefully do it around their birthday), the effect was still significant.  Deaths on the person’s birthday occurred 18.6% more often than other times of the year in cardiovascular disease, and in women with cerebrovascular disease 21.5% more often than any other time of the year.  In cancer, death occurred 10.8% more often on birthdays than any other time of the year.  Significant excesses of death on birthdays were also found for deaths from accidents (vehicular + falls) and endocrine diseases.

What does it mean? It means be careful around your birthday! Nah, seriously, it confirms what my mother and I have suspected for several years now.  Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve seen too many cases of death ON the birthday, but usually somewhere  AROUND the birthday.  Of course, all research has its limitations, so it will remain to be seen if others reproduce these findings.  For example, there are properties of the data set that may sway the results — when  the exact date of death is not known, it is not uncommon to put the 1st or 15th of the month.  If the the exact date of birth is not known, it is not uncommon to put the same date as the date of death.  In this study, the investigators were aware of these trends and did adjust for it. I find it fascinating nevertheless.  

To quote a line from Randy Quaid in Independence Day when the television is showing the alien invasions around the world:

Good God! I’ve been sayin’ it. I’ve been sayin’ it for ten **** years. Ain’t I been sayin’ it, Miguel? Yeah, I’ve been sayin’ it.

Minus the *expletive deleted,* that was precisely my reaction reading this study!  Case in point, my ancestor Rufus Tannahill McNair.  According to his headstone he was born June 11, 1823 and died June 11, 1910.  I was always a suspicious of those two dates; a little *too* convenient and I suspect it was a case as described above – they didn’t really know his birth date.  But, I do have plenty of other family members that did die around their birthdays. Hmm.. I should run a report in my database and see if I see any observable trends or if I’m just making it up.  

I’m in total MPH geekdom right now applying this epidemiological study to genealogy research. Kewl. :-)

 

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – My 16

I’m going to take Randy up on his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun for August 8, 2009.  Not because of the intent to document my ethnicity for that is very easy – to the best of my current knowledge, all (with the exception of 1) of my ancestors as far as I can trace have been black and former slaves. But for the intent of serving as a great way for others to find me should we have any shared ancestry I think this is an excellent idea!

My 16 great-great grandparents are:

1.  Unknown? – I am not exactly sure who the father is of my great-grandfather Barfield Koonce. No name is given on his death certificate, and I’ve only found Barfield enumerated with grandparents. Maybe if we had the 1890 census I’d know more, but this is one of my genealogy brickwalls.  Whomever it is, he would have likely been born around the 1850s in Craven County, North Carolina.

2.  Caroline KOONCE was the daughter of James & Isaih Koonce. Caroline was born around January 1851 in either Jones or Craven County, North Carolina.  After having my great-grandfather and at least one other child, Caroline married George C. West on March 18, 1891 in Craven County.  She died August 12, 1928 in Dover, Craven County, North Carolina.

3.  Thomas HOLLOWAY Jr. was born around 1853 in Wayne County, North Carolina.  He was the son of Thomas & Phillis HOLLOWAY.  He married Polly Hood around the late 1870s.  The family lived in Wayne County in 1880 and I do not know when he died.

4. Polly HOOD was born abt. 1860 likely in Wayne County, North Carolina.  Her mother’s name was Caroline.  Polly died in Ft. Barnwell, Craven County July 16, 1916.

5. Samuel Becton LAWHORN was born abt. 1871 in Craven County, North Carolina.  He was the son of Valentine & Harriett Lawhorn.  He married Cora Cox on May 28, 1899 and according to the Lawhorn Family Bible died April 11, 1917.

6. Cora COX was born March 3, 1876 in Craven County, North Carolina.  She was the daughter of Robert & Amanda Cox. Cora’s first husband was Samuel Becton Lawhorn whom she married May 28, 1899. After his death, she married neighbor Willie Morton on December 23, 1924.  She died November 26, 1949 in Craven County, North Carolina.

7. Randolph KILPATRICK was born September 2, 1885 in Craven County, North Carolina.  He was the son of Edward Kilpatrick & Violetta DONALD.  In 1905 Randolph married Mary Maggie HARVEY.  He died September 24, 1966 in Craven County, North Carolina.   (His mother Violetta is reported by family to be half Native American, and her grandson told me a few years ago that she had hair all the way down her back, a trait that was carried down to all of her daughters.  He remembers her from when she lived with him and his family and she died when he was about 15 years old.  So, this would make Randolph 25% Native American.)

8. Mary Maggie HARVEY was born August 4, 1889.  Her exact parentage is not exactly known, but according to family information, she was the daughter of two individuals that were both married to other people.  Her father was Clayton HARVEY and her mother is said to be a DAWSON, but I’m unsure if that was her mother’s married name or maiden name.  Mary died August 21, 1940, likely in Craven County, North Carolina.

9. William ROBINSON was born in September of 1830, likely in Columbus County, North Carolina.  He may have been the son of Bob & Hagar Robinson.  In 1855 he married Rebecca Toon. His date of death is unknown.

10.  Rebecca TOON was born in May 1841, likely in Columbus County, North Carolina. Her parentage is unknown as is her date of death.

11. John LENNON was born approximately in 1854, likely in Columbus County, North Carolina.  Another researcher has informed me that his parents were Josh & Barbary Lennon.  John married Etta Lennon March 30, 1882 in Columbus County, North Carolina.  His date of death is unknown.

12. Etta LENNON was born approximately in 1862, likely in Columbus County, North Carolina.  The current thought on her parentage is that she was the daughter of Council & Elizabeth Abigail Lennon though I am not 100% sure on this.  She married John Lennon in 1882 and married Isaac ROBINSON May 25, 1905.  Her date of death is unknown.

13. Andrew D. MCNAIR was born May 5, 1866 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. He was the son of Rufus Tannahill McNair and Mariah Wimberly.  Andrew married Gracy Bullock around 1893, then after her death, married Bennie Slade.  Andrew died February 10, 1930 in Washington County, North Carolina.

14. Gracy BULLOCK was born in March 1874 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina.  She was the daughter of Lawrence & Chanie Bullock.  Gracy’s date of death is unknown, but it was prior to 1910.

15. Anthony WALKER was born in May 1850, likely in Washington County, North Carolina.  He was the son of Prince Walker & Lovey Boston.  Anthony married Martha Jane Baker on December 29, 1881.  He married Winnie Walker between 1910 & 1920.  Anthony died January 10, 1921.

16. Martha Jane BAKER was born in August 1853, likely in Washington County, North Carolina.  She was the duaghter of Daniel & Frances Baker.  Martha died between 1900-1910.

Results from my State Archives Visit

Okay – here is a summary of what I retrieved today at the TN State Archives. Today I focused on Edgecombe County, NC where I am most heavily researching my McNair, Wimberly and Tannahill surnames as I look for possible slave owners.

1. I have a few counties photocopied from Somebody Knows My Name, but went today to look for the records of cohabitation for Jones County, North Carolina. I need to order the CD so that I can have my own copy. Unfortunately, Jones County is not included. However, I did go ahead and photocopy Nash County. I learned yesterday that Rocky Mount,NC is split in the middle of town, between Edgecombe County and Nash County. I have had family in Rocky Mount, and so I decided I should have this county as well. Good thing too – I found another Wimberly!

2. From the book, Heritage of Lenoir County, I photocopied the entry for Richard H. Koonce & Eliza King. Richard is the son of Wiley Benjamen Koonce. I still am not sure how Wiley fits into the family tree for the white Koonce family I am specifically tracking, but I figure I will get there eventually. Good to have it for later reference.

3. Abstracts 0f Wills, Edgecombe County by David B. Gammon – This was wonderful! It is a four-volume set that covers wills from 1732-1910. I photocopied almost every will that had a mention of any McNair, Wimberly, or Tannahill person. I see now that there were two I missed, so I’m making a note to get those when I go back. I also photocopied the indexes of volumes 3 & 4. I plan to make them PDFs and put them online so that others will know if the person of interest is at least mentioned. I’ll go back another time to get the indexes for Volumes 1-2.

4. Marriages of Early Edgecombe County 1733-1868 – Another great book. The authors have compiled early marriage bans, marriages as proved by county wills, as published in newspapers, and other various sources. I photocopied every page that had a reference to a Wimberly, McNair or Tannahill. I also copied the indexes from this book as well.

5. Tombstone & Census Records of Early Edgecombe County - This is a compilation of cemeteries throughout Edgecombe County. Again – I photocopied every reference to a McNair, Tannahill or Wimberly that I could find. I do see that I skipped one, so I’ll have to go back to get it.

Overall, a wonderful morning. I think however, that I am going to now have to create formal trees to track everyone I want!