Gertrude Weaver of Camden became known as the world’s oldest living person on Wednesday with the death of Misao Okawa in Osaka, Japan.
Press reports said that Okawa died at 6:58 a.m. Wednesday, April 1, local time, at the nursing home where she lived. Okawa was born March 5, 1898 and died at the age of 117.
Mrs. Weaver was born July 4, 1898 and as of today, is 116 years, 271 days old. She currently resides at Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation in Camden.
Other press reports say that Mrs. Weaver enjoys using her wheelchair, and likes manicures and Bible study.
A Wikipedia profile says that Weaver was born to Charles Gaines and Ophelia Jeffreys, who were sharecroppers in Southwestern Arkansas. She told an interviewer in 2014 that her secret for a long life was “Trusting in the Lord, hard working and loving everybody.”
The Gerontology Research Group of Los Angeles recognizes Mrs. Weaver as the oldest living American, retroactive to December 17, 2012, when Dina Manfredini of Iowa passed away at age 115.
The GRG says that an investigation into Mrs. Weaver’s case showed that she was listed as age 2 in the 1900 census, age 17 in a 1915 marriage record, and born July 4, 1898, according to her Social Security documentation, thus meeting the three requirements of case validation: original proof of birth issued within 20 years of the birth event; proof of identification; proof of name change/proof that the person in the birth document is the person in the recent ID records.
The GRG said the acceptance of Gertrude Weaver’s claim to birth July 4, 1898 also displaced Mamie Rearden (114) and Elsie Thompson (113), who were briefly recognized as the GRG “Oldest Living American” titleholders in 2012-2013.
The government of the United States currently has no central registry listing this nation’s oldest living citizens, the GRG says.
“Birth registration in the United States was not compulsory until 1933. Social Security records began in 1935, but these offer mid-life proof of age and later, not original proof of birth. Social Security records, while covering 95% of the current U.S. population, are also confidential until the death of the recipient. Thus, the GRG relies upon families to apply for the ‘Oldest Living American’ title. While the GRG was aware of media reports of Gertrude Weaver from 2010, it was not until March 28, 2014 that we received an application from the family,” the GRG said.
The GRG website said that it learned about Weaver’s case when she celebrated her 112th birthday on July 4, 2010, stating that she was born July 4, 1898. After her 113th birthday in July 2011, family-tree information allowed the GRG to identify the potential 1900 through 1930 Census matches, located by Mark Muir.
“Though the census matches were not clear-cut or consistent in their report especially when a nickname was used for Gertrude Weaver (and some other family members) in the 1900 Census, it was clear as to the identity of Ms. Weaver in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census records. However, because the oldest record, closest to the birth event, is most-likely to be correct, we wanted to focus on the potential 1900 census match. The 1900 Census was the only census to record the month of birth as well as year of birth; in her case, it said ‘Apr 1898,’ requiring further investigation as well. Comparing the 1900 and 1910 censuses, we also had evidence that her mother did not have any more children and that Gertrude was the last child. With help of others, we located her marriage record in 2012, which showed that she was listed as age 17 on her marriage application on July 17, 1915, supporting her birth year of 1898. We also located her parents’ marriage record in 2013.
“Ultimately, we needed to tie all of the documentation together to prove that Gertrude Weaver of 2014 was the child listed in June 1900 Census (enumerator visited on July 4, 1900) as a 2-year-old with an ‘Apr 1898’ birth having a nickname. With help of other outside researchers, Robert Young was able to interview a family member of Gertrude Weaver in March 2014, and the information shared strongly provided sufficient evidence that Gertrude Weaver was the child listed in question on the June 1900 Census.
“While these earlier interviews were unrecorded, when the GRG visited Ms. Weaver’s 116th birthday party in July 2014, GRG Tech Support Admin Mark Muir was able to record an interview with Ms. Weaver’s 93-year-old son, Joe Weaver, and her 78-year-old granddaughter, Gracie Welch. These oral history records help to confirm that the 1900 census listing of ‘Touhon’ Gaines was indeed Gertrude Weaver. When comparing the 1910 census, the same number of children are listed (6 living, 1 deceased), showing that the nicknames used in the 1900 census referred to the same children,” the website said.