Longevity claims

Longevity claims

Longevity claims are claims to extreme longevity (usually 110 or older) that either cannot be verified or for whom only some evidence is available. Longevity claims differ from existing verified supercentenarian cases, and also from longevity myths in that either some evidence exists, the case has not been proven false, and/or the claim was not constructed as a result of a longevity myth, which tends to focus on the village elder concept, fountain of youth concept, nationalist mythology, racial mythology, patriarchal mythology, etc. One test of this is the idea, put forth by William Thoms in the 1870s, of the 100th birthday test: is there evidence of the person claiming to be age 100 some 10 or more years prior to their claim? This test does not prove a person's age (indeed, Susie Brunson passed this test, but later was shown to have exaggerated her age well before this time). However, this test does separate the typical pension-claim longevity exaggeration (which tends to run to about age 115 up to 125) and the myth of longevity claim, whereby a spontaneous claim is made that a certain village elder is 150 or 167. E.g.: Bir Narayan Chaudhuri may have claimed to be 141 years old in 1998, but there was no evidence of a 100th birthday party 41 years earlier.

Problems with the documentation process

In the transitional period of record-keeping, records tend to exist for the wealthy and upper-middle classes, but are often spotty and non-existent for the poor. In the United States, birth registration did not begin in Mississippi until 1912 and was not universal until 1933. Hence, there is the problem of many cases whereby no actual birth record exists. Since some were recorded in the census, however, there may be obtainable evidence that tends to support the age claim. Sometimes, however, a single year may be off. In the case of Susie Gibson, for example, the family (and Susie herself) claimed her to be born on October 31, 1889, but no birth document has (yet) been located. The earliest record available, the 1900 census, lists her as born in October 1890. Hence, since the 1900 census is a proximate record (not written in 1890), it can be said that there is a near-certainty that Susie was at least 115, and it's still possible that she was in fact 116. In a similar, related case, inconsistent records suggested that Maggie Barnes was at least 115, but possibly a year older. Documentarians tend to "err on the side of caution". Thus, Barnes claimed to be 117, and was at least 115, but could have been 116.

In some cases a person may just miss the standards required for acceptance. For example, Rosa Williams of College Park, Georgia died in January 2001, allegedly born in May 1886. The 1910 census listed her as 22, suggesting she was born in May 1887 or May 1888. Hence, we cannot be certain of her age, but some evidence exists to support the claim. This type of case is said to be partially validated, although she was at least 112, so a supercentenarian regardless.

In another type of case, the only records that exist are late-life documents. Because age inflation often occurs in adulthood (to avoid military service; to apply for a pension early, or because the government began record-keeping during their mid-lifetime), unverified claims also exist. Unverified claims are less likely to be true (because the records are written later), but are still possible. However, because demographic mortality tables show ages above 130 to be extremely unlikely to be true (on the order of trillions to one odds), it would be best to assume that unverified claims to age 130 and above are automatically false, and hence best served by longevity myths. The purpose of longevity claims, then, is to serve as an inventory for the grey area between validated (certainly true cases) and mythical (cases improbable in the extreme that nonetheless may be accepted as valid under non-scientific discourses, such as religion). For example, Hanna Barysevich of Belarus, who claimed to have been 118, can neither be verified nor debunked, and the age claim was within the realm of possibility (the maximum proven age being 122). Hence, her case was a longevity claim.

Lists of longevity claims

The below lists are meant to show the present and past range of longevity claims, in the grey area between verified and impossible. The lists should be viewed as a spectrum, with the lower ages being more likely to be true and the higher ages less likely to be true.

These lists also serve the purpose of showing the wide range of distribution of extreme claims, which refutes the contention that such claims are particular to only certain "longevity villages". The lists also help to dispel the notion that one claimant should be accepted (without records) while ignoring all the other claims out there (which would also have to be accepted if records weren't required). Finally, because a few of the claims may be true but records do not exist or have not been found, the lists serve the third purpose of categorizing those grey area cases (such as the one of Maria Strelnikova of Russia) that could be true, but have not (yet) been proven as such.

Recent claims with no records (presumed to be living)

These cases have no publicly available early-life records to support them, but have been made in the press. At the very least, the person should have a claimed year, month and day of birth to be listed here. Claims that don't should be listed in the article about longevity myths. Only claims of at least 113 are included here. If a case has not been brought up to date in the last two years, it is moved to the "limbo" list (a one-year window is used for validated cases; the issue here is tracking alternative claims, not providing statistical information). Note: The current oldest verified living person is Edna Parker from the United States.

False and exaggerated claims (living)

These are claims that have been shown to be exaggerated:

* Rosa Brown of Pleasantville, New Jersey, allegedly born March 15, 1890; now said to be born in 1901


External links

* The idea of the demographic transition of longevity claims can be found in books published by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research at [http://www.demogr.mpg.de/] .
* Lists and further discussion of cases may be found at [http://www.grg.org/] or [http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Worlds_Oldest_People/] .

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