Margaret Ann Neve: the supercentenarian who lived in three centuries

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06 February 2020
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Have you found a long-living ancestor on your family tree? One unique lady, Margaret Ann Neve, lived to just a month short of age 111, with her life spanning countless globally-important events.

A supercentenarian is a person who achieved the age of 110, and Margaret Ann Neve certainly deserves the ‘super’ tag, with a long life that included surviving a shipwreck, recovering from a three-day concussion, seeing the Waterloo battlefield shortly after the hostilities ended, and meeting a general from the French Revolution.

What historic events did our ancestors live through?

However long or short the life of our ancestors, the very fact that their life was recorded – because we’ve found their birth certificate, census record, etc – means that they have their place in history.

Of course, people who lived a long life are an object of fascination simply because of the many changes they would have seen during their lifespan.

Margaret Ann Neve is a great example – born in 1792 and living until 1903, she is one of just a handful of individuals to have lived during three centuries. She was born Margaret Ann Harvey on 18 May 1792 at St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey, to John and Margaret Ann (nee Parker) Harvey. The eldest of seven children, Margaret’s mother Margaret Ann senior would herself live to the age of 99.

The family’s Channel Island location put them directly into the path of the French Revolution, which had been underway for three years when Margaret was born. Her father was commander of the militia charged with protecting the island of Guernsey and Margaret would later meet French general Charles Francois Dumouriez, as well as visiting the battlefield of Waterloo soon after it had been cleared of its casualties.

Marriage and later life

Margaret married John Neve of Kent in her home town St Peter Port in 1823, moving to England and then back to Guernsey after John’s death in 1849 – she would surely never have expected to be a widow for 54 years.

The islanders marked Margaret’s 107th birthday with a civic reception attended by 250 guests and right through until her final months she seems to have been active, reportedly climbing a tree at the age of 110 to enjoy a freshly-picked apple.

Ancestral timelines

No matter how long or short your ancestor’s life was, creating a timeline for your ancestor is a fascinating way to understand that person’s life in the context of wider events. Armed with your ancestor’s birth and death dates, the following ideas could help you draw up an interesting timeline?

  • Which king or queen was on the throne when your ancestor was born? And how many reigns did this ancestor live through?
  • Can you identify national events that your ancestors might have read about in a newspaper or talked about with friends or family, eg inventions, conflicts, civil unrest, national celebrations, notable anniversaries?
  • What was the population of the town where your ancestor was born at the time of their birth and how had that changed by the time of his/her death?
  • Did your ancestor’s lifespan include any discoveries or inventions that might have impacted everyday life, eg the introduction of electricity, the power loom,  the invention of the telephone, the discovery of penicillin?

Looking for more ideas for adding colour to your family tree? Come along to Family Tree Live and enjoy a weekend of family history fun with genealogy workshops and lectures, family history games, living history demonstrations, family history societies, family history traders, face-to-face help & advice and lots more!