Just How Many of Us Are ‘Out There?’ 3,800? 17,000? 146,000?

Malthus’ essay on population

This post is mainly for statistics geeks, and possibly insurance actuaries, and maybe also those with morbid curiosity. Keep in mind that I was a journalism major in college, not a mathematician.

Ever since starting into the Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor genealogy quest decades ago, one question among many has stayed on my mind — just how many of us are “out there?”

Hoping for some expert guidance, recently I read An Essay on the Principle of Population, authored in 1798 by church parson Thomas Robert Malthus, an Englishman. He observed that a population grows at a geometric rate and doubles every 25 years.

Applied to the Jacob and Maria (Nein) Minerd Sr. family, starting in the year 1791, when they settled in southwestern Pennsylvania, the couple and their family of children and spouses numbered about 15. If we double that “15” number nine times – the number of 25-year blocks of time in which the doubling theoretically occurred – it brings us to a possible MMMM population today of 3,840 cousins and spouses.

That number does not seem accurate for us, and was wholly unsatisfying to me. Our MMMMs reproduced at a rate far greater than Malthus’ prediction.

Actual facts show that Jacob and Maria had 12 children (of whom eight are known) who in turn bore 87 grandchildren, 469 great-grandchildren and 1,344 great-great grandchildren, for a total of 1,912 lives, virtually all before the year 1900.

So I looked elsewhere for a better way to make an estimate.

As dark and strange as it may sound, the death statistics posted on our website over more than 20 years may just help us estimate a reasonably accurate range of possibilities.

Work with me here. At year-end 2020, our Minerd.com “In Lasting Memory” webpage listed the names of 3,000 known cousins and spouses who had passed since July 1, 2000, the date 20.5 years earlier when I began counting in earnest.

Since 7,488 days had elapsed over that time period, to New Year’s Eve 2020, it means we lost one cousin or spouse about every 2.5 days.

Slicing and dicing those numbers another way, it means an average of 146.3 cousins have passed away every year since 2000.

But that’s only a fraction of the true total of deaths which have occurred in every nook and cranny of the extended family near and far. We still do not know many, many of the branches who are alive today.

Here’s why that matters in the pursuit of our big question.

The United States Center for Disease Control reports that 2,845,838 Americans died in the 2019 calendar year, which calculates to 869.7 for every 100,000. [More on the CDC website]

So if my math is correct – and please point out any errors of my ways if found – just under one in 100 Americans died the past year, which translates to a figure of 0.869 percent. So … if we assume that our MMMMS die at the same rate as the rest of their fellow Americans, then the 146.3 relatives we lose on average means our total population alive today could be 16,835 cousins and spouses.

Whoa. That’s a big number. But believe it or not, perhaps it’s not big enough. Our data might not match the CDC’s. Let’s look at another batch of statistics.

Sadly, I’ve observed that on a handful of days, our death rates were much higher than one every 2.5 days. In fact, on these calendar dates, the number was actually four per day – March 3, 2004 — Oct. 14, 2007 – March 11, 2008 — May 31, 2008 – and April 12, 2013 — totaling 10 every 2.5 days.

Is it possible that four deaths per day are closer to the reality?

Let’s run the numbers. If we truly lose an average of four cousins every day, or 1,460 a year, our total living population could be as high as 146,000. That blows my mind.

This count does not include the massive families of Jacob’s sister Maria Elisabeth Gaumer and brother Friedrich Meinert Jr. (Meinder) and their other siblings, which would propel the totals into the stratosphere.

The truth is that we will never know the actual number. I’m not sure God wants us to know. It’s just impossible. But the question is one of the first I plan to ask St. Peter at the Pearly Gates someday when it’s my turn to become a statistic.

What do you think?

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