The greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (b. 1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets.
Numerous contemporaneous sources exist, which suggest that this seemingly improbably and statistically unlikely story is true.
The case was reported to Moscow by the Monastery of Nikolsk on 27 Feb 1782, which had recorded every birth. It is noted that, by this time, only two of the children who were born in the period c. 1725–65 failed to survive their infancy.
The Gentleman's Magazine (1783, 53, 753) recounts: "In an original letter now before me, dated St Petersburg, Aug 13, 1782, O. S. Feodor Wassilief [sic], aged 75, a peasant, said to be now alive and in perfect health, in the Government of Moscow, has had–
By his first wife:
4 x 4 = 16
7 x 3 = 21
16 x 2 = 32
27 births 69 children
By his second wife:
6 x 2 = 12
2 x 3 = 6
8 births 18 children
In all, 35 births, 87 children, of which 84 are living and only three buried. . . The above relation, however astonishing, may be depended upon, as it came directly from an English merchant at St Petersburg to his relatives in England, who added that the peasant was to be introduced to the Empress."
In Saint Petersburg Panorama, Bashutski, 1834, the author notes that:
"In the day of 27 February 1782, the list from Nikolskiy monastery came to Moscow containing the information that a peasant of the Shuya district, Feodor Vassilyev, married twice, had 87 children. His first wife in 27 confinements gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. His second wife in eight confinements gave birth to six pairs of twins and two sets of triplets. F. Vassilyev was 75 at that time with 82 of his children alive."
And the Lancet (1878) refers to a twin study carried out by the French Academy and:
"Apropos of the enquiry, the Committee of the Academy recall an account of a quite extraordinary fecundity that was published by M. Hermann in his "Travaux Statistiques de la Russie," for Fedor Vassilet [sic]. . . who, in 1782, was aged 75 years, had had, by two wives, 87 children."
Aside from this, not much is known about the first Mrs Vassilyev - even her first name (although some sources claim her name was Valentina).
It is thought she lived to the age of 76.
Although this historic record should be taken with a pinch of salt, it is certainly conceivable that Mrs Vassilyev could have had a genetic predisposition to hyper-ovulate (release multiple eggs in one cycle), which significantly increases the chance of having twins or multiple children.
It is also not impossible for a woman to have 27 pregnancies during her fertile years.