When judging a document to determine whether or not it applies to your ancestor, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind how old they were. If they weren’t old enough to buy land, then maybe that deed belongs to someone else.
But do you know how old they had to be?
Today, we need to be eighteen to vote or join the military, twenty-one (in most states) to drink alcohol legally, and sixteen in order to obtain a driver’s license. In colonial times, there were also age-based restrictions and they often varied from state to state.
If you’re researching in colonial Pennsylvania like me, you’re pretty lucky; it’s very clear cut. A person obtained legal age at 21. Before that they were required to have a guardian for their estate and that guardian was responsible for all legal actions on their behalf. Before the age of 14, the Orphans Court chose and appointed a guardian for a child. After the age of 14, a child could request a specific person to be appointed as their guardian by the court.
But what if you don’t know how old they were?
Knowing the age-based legal restrictions can help you to estimate a time frame for person’s birth. A child who requested a guardian would have to be between the ages of 14 and 21, giving you a seven year date range for their birth. A man who appears in a Pennsylvania tax list would have to be 21 years-old, giving you a year that he would’ve been born in or before.