John II: Centenarian

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Finding a headline that appears to have some resonance can unlock a story for the genealogist.

These days when someone in the UK reaches the venerable age of one hundred years they get a birthday card from Her Majesty. This may be reported in the local paper, but it has become so frequent an event that it would only make national news if it were to be someone well-known. According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK in 2014 there were 14,450 people aged 100 or older.

It was a different story in the ‘twenties. The Derby Daily Telegraph, Friday, 12 May 1922 reported that on Thursday [11 May] was 103rd birthday of John Dennis of Derby Road, Alfreton [Derbyshire]. He had spent most of his working life as a miner at Swanwick Collieries and was a native of Oakthorpe, Leicestershire. I already had this John in my tree and Ancestry tells me he was my 2nd cousin 4x removed, the common ancestor being his great grandfather Henry Dennis (1718-1793). So, that was the local paper, but there were reports the length and breadth of Britain, some of which added more detail. I guess John had a certain amount of celebrity thrust upon him.

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The Cornishman, 21 May 1919: “Mr John Dennis, an Alfreton coal miner, and Miss Pattison of Bath, were both 100 last week”. This was also reported in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph 17 May 1919.

The Hartlepool Mail, 27 May 1922: “Born in the same year as Queen Victoria at Oakthorpe, Leicestershire, Mr John Dennis, coal miner, has died in his sleep at Alfreton, Derbyshire, aged 103”.

The Gloucestershire Echo, 12 May 1921, reported John’s 102nd birthday.

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dundee evening telegraph 103 today

Strangely, the most detailed account was from Scotland! The Dundee Evening Telegraph, 16 May 1921: Former Miner celebrates his 102nd birthday. The main points: lives with married granddaughter at Derby Road;An Alfreton Centenarian; still hale and hearty, enjoys his pipe; slight deafness and occasional rheumatism; likes to grow plants and nurse great grandchildren; went to Alfreton aged 20, worked on sinking operations for Swanwick Old Pit; accustomed to leave home at 3.30 a.m. for the pit, and to arrive home at 6.30 p.m., dinner, bed by 8.30. Saturday – pay day – two pints of ale.

The story is rounded off by the local paper: Derby Daily Telegraph 31 May 1922.


The remains of Mr. John Dennis, of Alfreton, who reached his 103rd birthday on May 11th, were interred in Alfreton Cemetery on Monday afternoon. The Rev. W. Green (Primitive Methodist) was the officiating minister. The numerous descendants present included four sons and three daughters, eight grandsons and three granddaughters, and four great grandaughters. [So he was buried on 29 May 1922.]

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