The Dunn Genes

danmaryaliceRindgeThere were a few comments about the “Dunn genes” last week, referring to Mom and Uncle Bud’s longevity. If you take a look at the Dunn family tree, though, you might wonder if genes had anything to do with it.

Grandfather Dunn was just 62 when he died in 1958. Nana had died the previous year at 68. All but one of Mom’s grandparents had even shorter lives. Her maternal grandfather, Daniel Farrar, died just two days shy of his 70th birthday- but the rest of Mom’s grandparents all died at the age of 52! Nana Dunn’s mother, Catherine (Creegan) Farrar died in 1905 of “nephritis”, a disease of the kidneys that I’d never heard of before, but which, according to Wikipedia, is the eighth leading cause of death in the world. (Catherine, incidentally, was Daniel’s third wife- the first two, Jane McKee and Florence McQuire, having died at the ages of 28 and 40, respectively.)

Nana had two brothers- Daniel, who died at 55 in 1940, and James Everett (“Uncle Happy”), who lived to be 79.

momtreeDaniel and Mary Alice (Smith) Dunn both died of heart disease, and both at the age of 52- Daniel in 1918, Mary Alice in 1922, just a few months after Mom’s birth. Grandfather Dunn’s 62 years was actually the longest lifespan of any of Daniel and Mary’s sons. Reinald (or Rosswill), the Dunn’s first child, died from spinal meningitis at the age of nine, just a few days after Grandfather Dunn was born.

Grandfather Dunn’s twin brother Carl died of “paralysis”, or what we would call cerebral palsy, at the age of 14. (He didn’t die, as Mom and Bud had been led to believe, when he jumped off the barn roof using an umbrella as a parachute!) His older brother Guy, who would later change his name to Charles McCray for reasons that are unknown to me, lived to be just 54. Daniel and Mary’s last born child was a daughter, Mildred. She died in Worcester in 1981 at the age of 80.

The shortest life in the Dunn family was that of Mom’s sister, Katheryne Jane, who was born in Rindge on January 8, 1921, and apparently died soon after. Her birth is recorded in the Rindge town records, but I’ve never been able to locate a death certificate.

Based on all of that, I suspect that Mom and Uncle Bud’s long lives have less to do with genes than with the advance of medical technology. Mom’s diabetes was kept under control thanks to insulin, which wasn’t widely available until shortly after Mom was born. Conversely, it’s likely that Daniel and Mary Alice Dunn’s heart disease could have been successfully treated, and their lives extended, had they lived in our time.

Genes can only get you so far!

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