This website describes what is actually known about Max Jukes and the Jukes family, based on Richard Dugdale's actual book on them. There was a disreputable family called the Jukes, but the Jukes family has become an urban myth and none of the information you read about them is likely to be true.

The Jukes-Edwards Story: Truth and Myth of Max Jukes

This is a common version of the Jukes-Edwards story.

"Max Jukes, the atheist, lived a godless life. He married an ungodly girl, and from the union there were 310 who died as paupers, 150 were criminals, 7 were murderers, 100 were drunkards, and more than half of the women were prostitutes. His 540 descendants cost the State one and a quarter million dollars."

"But, praise the Lord, it works both ways!...[description of Jonathan Edwards family]."

The Jonathan Edwards half of the story is discussed below. It is reasonably correct. The Max Jukes half of the story is mostly wrong.

The Jukes family was first studied by Richard Dugdale and reported in a book published in 1877. The study of the Jukes was later extended by Estabrook, but this extension apparently has not influenced any of the stories. I used the 4th edition of Dugdale's book.

Details about Max

"Max Jukes.."
Dugdale gave the family he studied the last name of Juke. Therefore, proper terminology is Max Juke. This is an irrelevant point, but it is a bad sign that everyone makes the same mistake.

From other stories:

"Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards lived in the same state"
Max Jukes lived in New York. Jonathan Edwards was raised in Connecticut and spent most of his working life in Massachusetts.


"..the atheist, lived a godless life. He married an ungodly girl.."
The idea that Max was an atheist is a fabrication. This is everything Dugdale said about Max: "He lived much as the backwoodsmen upon our frontiers [in 1877] now do. He is described as 'a hunter and fisher, a hard drinker, jolly and companionable, averse to steady toil,' working hard by spurts and idling by turns, becoming blind in his old age. He had a numerous progeny, some of them almost certainly illegitimate."

This does not say Max was an atheist. It gives the impression, to me, of a person who did not think about such issues. Obviously, he had his faults and did not live a particularly admirable life, but I do not see how one could then conclude he was an atheist. And even if he was an atheist, the point is that we don't know that. Nothing is known about Max's wife or family life.

The following stories enhance his atheism. Again, these are fabrications.

"Max Jukes, on the other hand, was a man who didn't give God the time of day. He had no use for faith in God and he married a woman just like him."

"Max Jukes did not believe in Christ or in Christian training. He refused to take his children to church, even when they asked to go."

"Max Jukes was an Atheist that believed in the abolition of laws and rules. Mr. Jukes formed an organization called the Freedom Movement that preached free sex, no laws, no formal education and no responsibilities."

To me, the final quote gives the impression that Max Jukes, like Jonathan Edwards, was an intellectual, which apparently is the opposite from the truth.

The Patriarch?

Richard Dugdale defined the Juke family as the descendants of five sisters. These sisters were called the second generation. Max Jukes is the only member of the first generation. From this, you might reasonable think that Max was the father of these sisters, hence the patriarch of the Juke family.

But he was not. Two of Max's sons married two of the Juke sisters. There was intermarrying, so we cannot know exactly what proportion of the Jukes were related by blood to Max. But, the worst of the Juke line was from the sister code-named Ada, and her husband was not one of Max Juke's sons.

Nothing is know about the parents of these sisters.

Curiously, in his book, Dugdale at one point refers to the Jukes as Max Juke's descendants. I would guess that Dugdale initially thought Max was the patriarch and later learned otherwise.

Number of Jukes

"His 540 descendants"

Dugdale studied 540 blood descendants of the original five sisters. Dugdale also studied 169 people who married into the family, so 709 is the total number of Jukes who were studied. Not all the Jukes could be traced, because some moved out of the county and their fate was unknown. Dugdale estimated a total of 1200 Jukes, counting the ones who could not be traced. It is very common to say that Jukes had 1,026 descendants. I do not know where this number came from.

The Numbers

There were 310 who died as paupers, 150 were criminals, 7 were murderers, 100 were drunkards
From the estimated cost of all (estimated) 1200 Jukes, Dugdale reports 280 pauperized adults and 140 criminals. Either 310 and 150 are slight exaggerations, or Dugdale reported larger numbers in an earlier edition of his report. I doubt that it is accurate to say that they died as paupers, but this is difficult to check.

I do not know where the figure of 100 drunkards comes from. 7 muderers is essentially accurate, but again it applies to all 1200 Jukes; only 2 of the 540 blood Jukes were murderers, and four of the 169 Jukes who married into the family were murderers.

"and more than half of the women were prostitutes"
A reasonable error, but wrong. Dugdale used "prostitute" to mean women who were paid for sex and "harlot" for women who were merely "impudent" but not paid. Of the 540 blood descendants of the Juke sisters, 52.4% of the female were "harlots", in Dugdale's terminology. Given the normal meaning of "harlot", it is reasonable but wrong to read this and conclude that 52.4% were prostitutes.

The number of estimated common prostitutes in all 1200 Jukes was 50. However, from another table, 128 of the 709 studied Jukes were prostitutes. The 50 common prostitutes averaged 15 years of prostitution, so I suspect the 128 Jukes who prostituted themselves includes Jukes who were prostitutes for a short period of time. These are large percentages, to be sure, but not 50%.

From other stories:
"310 became professional vagrants."
The statistical summary of 709 Jukes lists 64 Jukes in the poorhouse for an average of about 1.5 years, and 142 Jukes receiving state aid for an average of about 5 years. These are not all professional vagrants.

"440 physically wrecked their lives by living a drunken existence."
Various numbers are given for the number of alcoholics in the Jukes. Again, I have no idea of the source of any of these numbers. (The report of 1146 confirmed alcoholics in 903 descendants is surely wrong.) The number 440 is mentioned in one table, but this was a count of non-Jukes who were given diseases by the prostitutes in the Juke family.

"130 were sent to jail for an average of 13 years apiece"
I do not know why 140 or 150 was changed to 130 criminals. The average jail time was 1 year, not 10.

"60 became thieves"

"190 became prostitutes."
I do not know where the number of 190 came from.

"Of the 20 who learned a trade, 10 learned it in a state prison."

This is a fairly accurate quote from Dugdale's book.

"300 of whom died early in life"
This is a correct number. It applies to the estimated 1200 Jukes.

"285 Evil disease"
67 of the 709 Jukes were reported to have syphilis. I do not know where the number 285 comes from except that it seems to be an extreme exaggeration.

The Cost

"His 540 descendants cost the State one and a quarter million dollars."
The cost of the Jukes family was based on projections to all 1200 members, so the number 540 is not correct here. But what about the total cost? The exact number was $1,308,000, which Dugdale paraphrases as "Over a million and a quarter dollars".

However, this number is not an estimate of how much it cost the State of New York. Instead, it is an estimate of the total cost of the Juke family. You might think that this cost is primarily supporting the paupers and criminals. It is not. Over one million dollars of this money was an estimated cost of prostitution (most of which was the cost of venereal disease passed through prostitution). The total cost for crime and pauperism, including the cost of trials and money given to the Jukes by the church and from begging, was about $126,000.

The origin of all the numbers below is unknown.

"His family, thus far, has cost the state in excess of $420,000."

"It cost the state of New York $1,500,000 to pay for their incarcerations"


The Jukes family was, at one time, used to illustrate the effect of heridity. It is reasonable to suspect heridity as having some influence though there is no solid evidence for this. The Jukes usually did not marry well, so the incoming genes were probably not very good. Parental upbringing was no doubt a factor too.

Dugdale stresses environmental factors (and Dugdale notes that other families of crime came from that area). Again, these would be just contributing factors, but they may have made the largest contribution.

  • When the father goes to prison, the wife is likely to take up prositution or the family is likely to be sent to the poor house.
  • There was a pattern of state aid to the poor in that county, in an effort to entice votes.
  • The work in the area was primarily simple labor, and there was less work in the winter, leaving time for debauchery and creating more need for public assistance.
  • The Jukes reputation did not help either -- people were probably reluctant to hire the Jukes. Estabrook says that one factory manager kept a list of all the last names of the Jukes and automatically rejected any job applicant with one of those last names.
  • Disease, especially syphilis, was another important factor.

How Did We Get Here

How can we have such extensive reproduction of a story that is essentially wrong? Part of the problem is that Dugdale's original report is confusing and difficult to understand. He uses words in unfamiliar ways ("descendants", "harlot"). He has three different counts for the total number of Jukes. He includes Max even though Max is not the patriarch.

We are all familiar with the game where a message is passed down the line and becomes distorted. IO expected the find this for the Jukes story. But I did not. For the most part, when someone reproduces this story as a reliable source (for example, as part of a book), they try to be accurate. And, for the most part, people seem not to replicate unreliable sources.

Instead, what seems to happen is intentional fabrication. Consider this version of the story: "Around 40 years ago, Yale University conducted an extensive seven-year study on how a persons actions in life effects the lives of his or her children. This study was focused around the lives of two men: Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards. Max Jukes was an Atheist that believed in the abolition of laws and rules. Mr. Jukes formed an organization called the Freedom Movement that preached free sex, no laws, no formal education and no responsibilities. Both of these men ... fathered 13 children. Max Jukes: 1026 descendants, 300 convicts, 27 murderers, 190 prostitutes, 509 alcoholics & drug addicts "

This story contains at least 7 details that are not found in any other stories: "40 years ago" is wrong and unique. (The original study of Edwards was reported by Winship in 1900.) Yale is the second unique fabrication. As already noted, the Freedom Movement is a fabrication. We do not know how many children Max Jukes had, and I know of no study mentioning this detail. 27 muderers is unique, as is 509 alcoholics. Drug addiction presumably was minor in the Jukes family, given the times and their financial situation and I know of no other story mentioning this detail.

This story fits a model of one person fabricating several details. Other people then replicate this story. Of course, the more powerful the story, the more likely it is to be replicated. So, it seems that there are a lot of good people accurately retelling a story they believe to be true, and a few "bad apples" fabricating details of the story.

What Can You Do?

Of course, don't tell the Jukes story. If you link to this page, it is more likely to show up in a Google search if someone is checking the veracity of this story.

What about other stories? It is impractical to research every story to its original source, so you usually have to trust a story. However, if a story seems suspicious, you can check the internet. Also, it is a good sign when an author mentions the source of the story -- I think an author will not list a source and then intentionally fabricate details.

Jonathan Edwards

I have read the 1925 reprint of Winship's 1900 report on the descendants of Jonathan Edwards. It is an interesting book -- Jonathan Edwards was an interesting man, he had an interesting wife, and his descendants included an amazing number of successful people. (These successful descendants however include people who married into the family.)

Of course, not all descendants could be found, and I think there was no effort to detail the lives of all of the descendants. Therefore, the claim that the descendants never cost the state one penny is probably a fabrication. Winship almost invariable reports that there were more than 1400 descendants. The exception is that he once reported 1394 descendants (other than the 2 under discussion). Therefore, the number 1,394 is at least a true number from the book, and it might correspond to earlier reports by Winship. I do not know the origin of the number 729 in the claim that Edwards had 729 descendants.

The contrast to Jukes is stunning. The successful Jukes were farmers or tradesmen, and they were not that easy to find; the farmers and tradesmen almost count as failures among the Edwards descendants. The true numbers:

  • "practically no lawbreakers"
  • more than 100 lawyers, 30 judges
  • 13 college presidents, and hundred and more professors
  • sixty physicians
  • 100 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors
  • 80 elected to public office, including 3 mayors, 3 governors, several members of congress, 3 senators, and 1 vice president (Aaron Burr)
  • 60 have attained prominance in authorship or editorial life, with 135 books of merit
  • 75 army or navy officers
  • An addendum of a family found after the book was in type reports 2 more physicians and a comptroller of the U.S. treasury.
How to explain this? Yes, Jonathan Edwards was very godly. But he was also uncommonly hard-working, intelligent, and moral. And Winship says about his wife, "Much of the capacity and talent, intensity and character of the more than 1,400 of the Edwards family is due to Mrs. Edwards." From his description of her, I suspect this is true.

Final Word

If you are planning on fabricating a detail of a story or reporting a story you know not to be true, remember that Jonathan Edwards would not have done that.

Robert Frick (Ph.D.)

My best website: Focusing: An essential tool for understanding your thoughts/feelings.