When Did Royalty Begin Giving Recognition to Centenarians?
My 5th great grandfather lived to the age of 106 and died in 1883. Did centenarians at that time receive recognition from Royalty and if so, are there any records that I could research?
Celebrations of age, especially milestones like a century, have long been part of humankind, although those who live to 100 and beyond are still few and far between. For many years the parties were restricted to family or community, but eventually the monarch did start the tradition of sending greetings to any British or Commonwealth citizen who reached 100 years of age, then again at 105 and every year thereafter.
Unfortunately for you, however, it didn’t start until 1917, when George V sent out the first of these now-famous telegrams, which were delivered by bicycle, and actually written by a secretary.
These days it’s not a telegram – those were phased out in 1982 – but a card, which, although not actually penned by the Queen, would seem to be coming from her, delivered in a special blue envelope, the card itself bearing the coat of arms, a photograph and a scan of the Queen’s signature. These celebrations are also sent out for diamond wedding anniversaries – that’s 60 years.
Whilst the first few years of the scheme saw very few of the congratulations sent, by now they number a few thousand a year as life expectancy increases. Originally the problem was compounded by the fact that centralised birth records – the birth certificates – didn’t begin until 1837, meaning that for the first 20 years, people were reliant on old parish baptismal records to officially know a person’s age.
It could well be that the early years of the 100th birthday telegrams saw some who were qualified not receiving them because of the inexactness of the records. Of course, none of this helps your researching, since there are no records to research.
For someone to live past 100 in the 19th century was indeed a rare event. To offer a standard, in 1901, if you were 65, then you could reasonably expect another 10.5 years of life if you were a man, 11.5 if you were a woman. However, that’s assuming you reached 65, as most didn’t; in the 19th century, life expectancy was just 37 years, meaning many didn’t live past that age.