Tuesday, March 26, 2013

George Vance the Vicequicentenarian

While compiling his book in 1860 on the Irish Vances, William Balbirnie interviewed several members of the family of John Vance (a Dublin politician and Member of Parliament at that time) who all said that the first Vance in their family who came to Ireland

…was named George, that in 1662 he fled from Wigtonshire [in Cumberland in northern England near the border with Scotland] to the North of Ireland, in consequence of having married his cousin Grace, a rich heiress, and settled near Dungannon in County Tyrone…Further, that this George was born in Scotland about 1637…and died about 1757, aged about 120 years [Balbirnie, p. 57].

Balbirnie dismisses the whole story partly because he couldn’t quite believe someone would live to be 120:

The great age to which it is stated that this refugee lived…seems an incredible statement. ..after the most diligent enquiry…we have not been able to receive any confirmation of this astounding statement…We do think this story is incredible [Balbirnie, p. 58].

It’s a shame Balbirnie didn’t have Internet.  It turns out that George Vance’s advanced age actually WAS remembered starting all the way back in 1758 when the Scots Magazine in that year even gave a little extra personal health information in his obituary under Deaths:

Another publication from 1758, the Gentlemen’s Monthly Intelligencer, also gave an obituary for George.   Then in 1799 he was included in a book about supercentenarians (those over 100 years old) called Human Longevity.  In 1820, he was one of Kirby Magazine’s Remarkable Characters.  John O’Hart also mentions George Vance in his famous 1881 book Irish Pedigrees – and O’Hart even mentions his new set of teeth (except he says at the age of 90)!  George has even made it in modern times into Wikipedia on a list of reported supercentenarians.   In fact, although he’s not much remembered in genealogy circles, the George Vance who died in 1758 in Tyrone, Ireland has had some of the longest-running media coverage of any Vance in history.

Was George really a vicequicentenarian (literally, “20 and 100 years old”)?  Who knows?  But it does seem incredible if he lived almost three and a half times as long as the average human lifespan at that time.  John O’Hart claims to have found George’s baptism record from 1640, which would certainly support the story if it were the same George Vance.  

George Vance’s real age (and the health of his teeth) may never be known for sure.  But his story also raises a very possible second immigrant ancestor to Ireland for the Vances.  John O’Hart says George’s father was named Joseph Vans, probably born around 1590 and from either Cumberland or Scotland, and he also documents some of George’s descendants in Ireland and England up to about 1877, several of whom became prominent Vances in Dublin or London.   The origin of this Vance family could certainly be from another de Vaux/Vans family line, since both the English Vaux and the Scottish Vans families lived in areas close to Wigton for centuries.  Or they could be from a completely different origin of the Vance surname.

No modern Vances have connected their family trees to George yet, but it is certainly a possible ancestry for any of the Irish Vance DNA groups.   It would be interesting if we could find a male descendant of George’s to test and see what DNA Group he was from.   Or maybe we should just check if any of our older relatives have noticed any new teeth…

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