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Old 04-19-2011, 07:48 AM
 
Location: Everywhere and Nowhere
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I was always told that that Americans of the 18th and 19th century were smaller than we are on average. According the tour guides there, this explained the shorter beds and smaller clothes displayed in museums and at historic sites. However, in looking through my family tree all the way back to Colonial days, many of the guys in it are described as 5'11 or taller, often weighing about 200 pounds. That's bigger than I am. Perhaps the smaller people back then were more recent immigrants from underdeveloped countries who did not get the same level of nutrition? Just curious what others have noted in their research.
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Old 04-19-2011, 07:59 AM
 
Location: Beautiful Rhode Island
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You are right- it's a myth. Along with everyone dying at 40- also a huge myth.

http://historymyths.wordpress.com/20...-were-shorter/

Last edited by Hollytree; 04-19-2011 at 08:26 AM..
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:02 AM
 
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If I compare my male ancestors with myself and brothers, I think the average size has increased somewhat. I'm 6 feet tall, my dad (born in the 40s) 6 feet, his dad (born in 10) was about 5'8, his dad (born in 1878) about 5'7, his dad (born in 1854) 6 feet. My mother's side tends to be a bit more consistent, all in an average between about 5'8 and 6'3. I don't know anything before the mid 1800s though.

If I compare that with my male first cousins, brothers, and myself, there's barely any comparison. By order of height, my cousins are 6'4, 6'3, 6'2; and my brothers are 6'3, 6', and I'm 6'. So the average has gone up.
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:10 AM
 
Location: Beautiful Rhode Island
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Individual cases don't mean much in these things- it takes a large sample size to have statistical significance.
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:16 AM
bjh
 
Location: Memphis - home of the king
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George Washington, among others, was supposed to be something like 6'4". I think height has gone up a bit with better availability of food, especially during growing years. But not by as much as some make it out to be.

And Hollytree mentions there's an aspect of myth involved. From time to time I talk to people who think the average lifespan at some point in time was about 25. If that was the case, we would still be living in caves.

In my family it was typical for our New England ancestors to live into their 70s or 80s, sometimes even 90s. Not everyone did of course, but many did. And their births were well recorded. Our lineage is Puritan, and they wrote down every time they farted.
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:33 AM
 
Location: Wisconsin
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I suppose it's like nowadays. If you survive infancy and childhood, you'll typically live many more years (barring some freak accident). The human body has never just suddenly broken down when you hit your 40's, as some tend to believe.

Looking at my ancestors, most of them lived into their 80's, which is typical even today.
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:42 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaseMan View Post
I suppose it's like nowadays. If you survive infancy and childhood, you'll typically live many more years (barring some freak accident). The human body has never just suddenly broken down when you hit your 40's, as some tend to believe.

Looking at my ancestors, most of them lived into their 80's, which is typical even today.
Exactly. The decline of things like cholera and typhoid have dramatically reduced the risk of untimely adult death, too.
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Old 04-19-2011, 08:59 AM
 
Location: Everywhere and Nowhere
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Yes. I noticed the age thing as well. Most lived to 70s or 80s. Maybe the littler people lived in the cities? Mine were mostly VA and NC farmers, like Washington.
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Old 04-19-2011, 01:36 PM
 
Location: Georgia, USA
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As far as the life expectancy thing is concerned, remember your family tree is only a small part of the total population, and a segment of that population that was hardy enough to reproduce, at that. The fact that your ancestors lived to their 70s or 80s does not mean that was the average life expectancy.

Life expectancy is generally reported for a group born in a certain time frame and reported as life expectancy at birth.

It can be recalculated for other ages, too.

See here:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus10.pdf#022

For example, a white female who was 65 yrs old in 2007 could on the average expect to live almost another twenty years. In other words, the older you get, the more likely you are to get older than the average person born when you were! Ain't statistics wonderful!
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Old 04-19-2011, 01:40 PM
 
Location: Georgia, USA
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See here for how big a role genetics plays in height:

How much of human height is genetic and how much is due to nutrition?: Scientific American
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