Rosanna’s Birth and Death

By | 5 August 2016

Rosanna's Grave MarkerRosanna Toy’s age has always been a bit difficult to pin down. The 1941 genealogy written by Eugene Toy gives her birth year as 1780 and her year of death as 1878, making her 98 years old when she died and 9 years older than her husband. This is consistent with her grave marker, which gives her date of death as 21 Nov 1878 and states that she was ‘Aged 98 Year’. I feel that the grave marker is the likely source for the 1941 genealogy.

What the Census Says

This birth year is in conflict with with the census records, however, where she is generally shown to be younger than a birth year of 1780 would suggest. In the 1820 census, she is in the age range of 26-44, indicating a birth year of 1776-1794. In 1830, she is in the age range of 30-39, indicating a birth year of 1790-1820. She is missing from the 1840 record. The 1850 census gives her age as 53, which gives a birth year of 1797. In 1860, her age is given as 70 (1790 birth) and in 1870, her age is given as 80 (1790 birth).

To summarize, most of the census records show her to be 10 years younger than her grave marker suggests. Maybe women in the 1800s wanted to present themselves as younger than they actually are, but the pattern in the census records has always made me question the 1780 birth year.

New Information

All of this brings me to the point of this story, which involves a new piece of information that muddies the record even further.

Until recently, there were almost no newspapers from northern Delaware that had been digitized, made searchable and made available online. This changed in March of this year, when started releasing the major papers from Wilmington, Delaware, with issues going back to 1871. You can read more about this on the blog of the Delaware Genealogical Society here and here.

Earlier this week, I was informed by folks at the University of Delaware Library that they were also making papers available through Chronicling America as part of the Delaware Digital Newspaper Project.  Investigating further, I found that pages from the Wilmington Daily Gazette (1874-1873) were available and searchable!

I started a series of searches based on names and relations in the Toy family and quickly got a match for Rosanna. I had never found a mention of Rosanna in the papers, so this was pretty exciting. But the excitement led to confusion as I read through what I had found. This was a death notice for Rosanna, saying that she had died ‘On the 7th instant … in the 101th year of her age.’ This was published on page 3 of the paper for 9 Aug 1879, making her date of death 7 Aug 1879, almost 9 months after the date on her grave marker! It also says she was over 100, making her birth year 1779 or 1780.

Rosanna Toy Death

Daily Gazette, Wilmington, Delaware, 9 Aug 1879; Image provided by University of Delaware Library, Newark, DE via Chronicling America

Here is a link to the page image that contains this notice on Chronicaling America.

What Do You Think?

It’s good that this supports the 1780 birth year recorded in the genealogy, but how to explain the later date of death? Clearly they can’t both be correct! Here are my thoughts on the discrepancy:

  • The stone carver messed up, and no one cared enough to get it changed. Maybe the carver had too many stones to complete and dates got confused. Someone else has Rosanna’s dates. Maybe the stone was added a considerable time after the funeral, and the wrong information was provided. I have come across this scenario several times.
  • This is a different Rosanna, but the name Rosanna Toy, living in DuPont’s Banks, with burial at St Joseph’s Cemetery are all correct.
  • The paper messed up, but I can’t come up with a reason that they would have published a death notice almost a year after the death.

That’s all I have! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all this.

One thought on “Rosanna’s Birth and Death

  1. Nancy Van Dyke-Dickison

    Here is another bit of information to throw into the mix. I requested a copy of Rosanna Toy’s will and received a two page document entitled “Thomas Toy, Administrator of First and Final settlement of Rosanna Toy late of Christiana Hundred deceased.” It is dated October 25, 1880. Names includes Anna B. Toy, Paul Bogan, and others. Unfortunately, it does not give a date of death. I think when an individual dies at a very old age, the remaining descendants don’t always remember the birth date of the one who died. An Oral Interview of Richard Toy (and I think his wife) done by Hagley Museum states a death of 1978. There is some discussion back and forth about all the family dates mentioned. He seems to be reading from another document.

    I can request permission from Delaware archives to send you a copy of you are interested.


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