What your ancestors can tell you about your life expectancy

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In the two previous articles of this series, “Quebec mortality rate under the French regime” and “The first French-Canadian centenarians in Quebec“, we successively mentioned the high mortality which afflicted our ancestors at all ages of life and the scarcity of people reaching extreme ages. Today, we will present some factors underlying these realities.

As a first step, we used the PRDH (What is the PRDH?) database to establish the list of native-born French-Canadians who reached the venerable age of 97 before 1850.

Deaths of Native-born French-Canadians at age 97 and older which occurred before 1850

SEX Year of birth Year of death Age at death
F 1648 1748 99 ans
F 1691 1789 97 ans
F 1701 1800 98 ans
F 1703 1800 97 ans
M 1703 1802 98 ans
F 1709 1806 97 ans
M 1714 1811 97 ans
F 1714 1813 99 ans
F 1722 1819 97 ans
F 1725 1832 107 ans
F 1726 1825 98 ans
F 1731 1828 97 ans
F 1731 1835 103 ans
F 1732 1829 97 ans
M 1734 1834 99 ans
F 1736 1834 98 ans
F 1736 1838 101 ans
F 1738 1847 108 ans
F 1740 1838 97 ans
F 1740 1839 98 ans
F 1741 1840 98 ans
M 1741 1840 98 ans
F 1741 1841 100 ans
F 1741 1841 99 ans
F 1742 1840 98 ans
M 1743 1842 98 ans
M 1743 1842 98 ans
M 1744 1841 97 ans
F 1744 1842 97 ans
F 1744 1843 99 ans
M 1745 1844 98 ans
Men: 8 ; Women: 23

Thirty-one people accomplished the feat, twenty-three women and eight men. Why such an imbalance in favor of women, when their life expectancy at age 25 is 2.5 years less than that of men?

It is that beyond the reproductive period, when mothers were at a significant risk of dying in childbirth, women have a survival advantage over their partners. We know that part of this benefit is biological because male mortality is higher than female mortality from the very beginning of life, including in-utero. This genetic difference is especially associated with a better resistance of women to biological aging, as well as an hormonal advantage.

Indeed, for example, estrogen facilitates the elimination of bad cholesterol and thus reduces the risk of heart problems; testosterone, on the other hand, is associated with violence and risk taking.

That said, regardless of sex, why do some individuals reach higher ages than their contemporaries? While we know that there is more to it than chance, no explanation of this reality is currently unanimous. The study of extreme cases of longevity does not really reveal much: the “little glasses of gin before dinner” and other recipes of the kind  have no serious basis.

It is tempting to believe, however, that some individuals initially have an advantage over others; Is it not said that the best chance of living old is to have parents and grandparents who have themselves reached an old age?

In this regard, I submit to you the extraordinary family of Nicolas Lizotte and Marie-Madeliene Miville-Deschênes, who married on May 3, 1724 in La Pocatière. Out of the 5 French Canadians who became centenarians before 1850, two of them were born of this couple, and one of their sisters is also part of our above-mentioned list, since she died at 98 years of age!

Nicolas Lizotte and Marie Madeleine Miville Deschesnes’ Family File sourced from PRDH-IGD.com

And it doesn’t stop there! The father, Nicolas Lizotte, died at 98 years old, making him the second oldest French Canadian male who died before 1850. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind being a Lizotte right now!


Bertrand Desjardins and François Desjardins

August 2018