When researching, there are a number of rules of thumb we go by. For example
- Men usually get married for the first time around 24.
- Women don’t give birth after age 44.
- People usually marry someone who lives relatively close to them geographically.
- A generation is usually about 25-35 years.
The important thing to remember about these rules of thumb is that they are not concrete, and they are not correct 100% of the time. They are only rough guidelines.
One example is the icon of motherhood to a generation of Americans, Carol Brady. Actress Florence Henderson was born in Indiana on Valentine’s Day, 1934, youngest of the ten children of Joseph Roberts and Elizabeth Pauline (Elder) Henderson. Joseph was a tobacco sharecropper from Kentucky. Elizabeth was 37 years old when Florence was born. Joseph, however, was far older than his wife. Born about 1870, he was 64 years old when his youngest daughter was born.
Now Joseph was the second-eldest of his parents’ eight children. His father, Thomas, was 28 when Joseph was born. At Thomas’ birth sometime around 1842–1844, there were only 26 states, and John Tyler was the president.
John Tyler was the tenth president of the United States. In 1840 he was elected vice-president on the ticket with William Henry Harrison. Harrison was only in office for a month when he caught a cold, which quickly turned into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, Harrison became the first of our presidents to die in office and Tyler became the first man to become president who was not elected to that office.
This was not the only distinction that Tyler would hold in the history books. A native Virginian, he was elected as a strict states-rights Whig. In 1861, when the first states were starting to secede, he tried to broker a compromise that would preserve the Union. Unfortunately, his efforts failed, and he went on to become one of the architects of the Confederacy. He was a member of the House of Representatives of the Confederate States of America at the time of his death in 1862, giving him the distinction of being the only American president to be part of the Confederate government.
John Tyler holds another distinction in the history books as well. He was born in 1790, and in 1853 fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler with his second wife. Lyon would also go on to marry twice. At the age of 71, with his second wife, he fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and at 75, Ruffin Tyler. 89-year-old Lyon, Jr., and his 85-year-old brother Ruffin are still with us and going strong, 223 years after their grandfather was born. Lyon recently made a presentation about his family to the DAR chapter in Dyersburg, Tennessee. He started by talking about his grandfather’s father, who was the roommate of Thomas Jefferson at the College of William and Mary. You can read more about his visit in the Dyersburg State Gazette.
Remember that it is important to follow rules of thumb in your research. But it is important not to make them so hard and fast that you miss the truth. The real story may be far more interesting.