Jesse and Elizabeth (Goodell) Sawyer of Belvidere, Illinois, were married 11 February 1819 in Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. He was twenty-three and she twenty-five when they were married. On 11 February 1869, their family and friends gathered with them in Belvidere, Illinois, to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. It was such a rare occasion that a pamphlet was published telling their story, and tracing their family back to the earliest New England settlers: Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marriage of Jesse Sawyer and Elizabeth Goodell (Utica, N.Y.: Roberts, Book and Job Printer, 1869).
Their son Joel read a speech that said, in part “ In behalf of your children and more remote relatives and other friends, I congratulate you on this hopeful beginning of the second half century of your married life. You have now reached a point that few of us can ever hope to reach. You have passed a period of life, that few individually and fewer still in pairs, can hope to pass. . .” (p. 8)
Now we think nothing of people living well into their 70s and 80s. Even the 90s are not hugely unusual, and centenarians are not as rare as they once were, although it is still a remarkable achievement. My paternal grandparents were married for 68 years before my grandfather, Joseph Alfred Leclerc, died in 2000. My grandmother, Marie Laura Dube, was just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday when she passed away. Today marks 102 years since she was born. At the time she was born in 1911, the average life expectancy of a woman in America was 54 years. She lived almost twice that.
As we live longer and longer, these stories are becoming more and more frequent. Marshall Kuykendall was twenty years old when he eloped with nineteen-year-old Winnie MacNab and got married before a justice of the peace on February 14, 1929. In 2012 they celebrated their 83rd wedding anniversary. Their daughter, herself, celebrated 56 years of marriage last year as well. The Catholic News Agency reported on their long marriage in 2011.
In addition to increased stories of people married for longer and longer, increased life expectancy means another change in genealogical research. We have to keep our eyes open for marriages that occur much later in life than they used to.
Ted Parsons’ wife Linda passed away in the early 1980s. One of his friends, Jean Reed, was a staunch support for him. Eventually they fell in love. They have lived together ever since, and finally married recently in New Malden, Surrey, in England. This is a fairly common story, but what makes it more interesting is that Ted and Linda were married for 50 years before she died. And Ted is now 98, while his never-before-married blushing bride Jean is 90. Their combined age is 188 years. You can read about them in the Mirror.
As amazing as that sounds, they do not hold the record for the couple with the largest combined age to marry. That distinction was awarded last year to Americans Allan Marks and Lillian Hartley of Palm Springs, California. He was 98 and she 95 when they married last year on February 29; a combined age of 193 years. You can read their story in USA Today.