Find the Oldest People to Ever Live, as Reported in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary looks through newspaper articles to find stories about the oldest people to have ever lived—and issues a challenge to readers to find even greater claims of longevity in the newspapers.

With the Baby Boomers aging and advances in medicine, longevity is a hot topic in the news these days. There’s a lot of talk about how long people lived in the past—and speculation about how long people will live in the near future.

Newspapers are a great resource to research how long our ancestors lived—and a good way to keep up with current health, medicine and aging issues going forward. According to knowledgeable sources, the oldest verified person to have ever lived attained the astonishing age of 122 years, 164 days!

Her name was Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), a resident of France. According to this 1997 Georgia newspaper article, she was interred in Trinquetaille Cemetery in Arles, France.

Honoring the Eldest, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 7 August 1997

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 7 August 1997, page 53

Several groups track longevity, including Wikipedia on this Oldest People webpage. Guinness World Records tracks the oldest person by specific activities. Some oldest-person GWR listings include the oldest person to have a total hip replacement, the oldest person to obtain a pilot’s license, and the oldest person to sail around the world.

Those Guinness senior citizen records are all interesting, but it is more intriguing to focus on overall longevity.

Jeanne Calment, who received her certificate from Guinness Records in 1988 at the age of 113, passed away on 4 August 1997. This 1988 South Dakota newspaper article shows her in her ripe old age holding a large certificate noting her birth on 21 February 1875.

Guinness Record, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 June 1988

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 June 1988, page 2

After her in the rankings of greatest longevity are three other centenarian women: Sarah Knauss (119 years), Lucy Hannah (117 years) and Marie-Louise Meilleur (117 years), although some verification of their ages is disputed.

Another entry in the greatest-longevity rankings whose age is disputed is Carrie White, who was supposedly 116 when she died in 1991. She was said to have been born in 1874, a time “when Ulysses S. Grant was president and Gen. George Armstrong Custer was still two years away from his last stand” according to this 1991 newspaper article from Illinois.

Oldest Woman, Register Star newspaper article 15 February 1991

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 15 February 1991, page 6

In 1998, when Sarah Knauss was informed of her honor as the oldest person alive, she reacted with a simple “So what?” according to this 1998 Illinois newspaper story found in the online archives.

Woman Unfazed by Oldest Designation, Register Star newspaper article 19 April 1998

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 19 April 1998, page 3

Genealogical Challenge: Find the Oldest People to Ever Live

But who’s really counting when you are a centenarian of distinction?

We are, that’s who! So readers, we challenge you to verify the life of a centenarian older than any of the women mentioned above—or, alternatively, find the oldest claimed age at death. You’ll find an outrageous assortment of longevity claims reported in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, though certainly none as old as the Bible figure Methuselah—who reportedly attained an age of 969 years!

By browsing this collage of obituaries, you can review a succession of extraordinary longevity claims.

collage of obituaries claiming extreme old age

Collage of obituaries claiming extreme old age

It’s as if each newspaper wanted the bragging rights for the oldest centenarian. Did Andy Roark and Cato Pidgeon really attain the age of 130 years? Was it possible for Nancy Lawton to reach 140, and who was R. Sarman, reported to have lived to 160?

  • Andy Roark: 130 years
  • Cato Pidgeon: 130 years
  • John Hannah: 136 years
  • Nancy Lawton: 140 years
  • Antionio Infante: 150 years
  • Mary Tecuyas: 150 years
  • R. Sarman: 160 years

I tried to verify these age claims, but was not successful. See if you can verify any of these ages—or, if not, see what other incredible age claims you can find in the newspapers.

Follow these guidelines and let us know what you find in the comments on our FaceBook or Blog page. There are two ways to participate in this longevity challenge.

Part 1: Verify a previously unknown oldest person

Submit evidence to prove and verify a centenarian’s age older than Jeanne Calment.

Show supporting documentation, supported by generally accepted genealogical records (GAGR).

These may include civil and church registration, census, family records, and other documentation to show longevity. Tombstone photos alone do not suffice as evidence, as errors in birth years are often caused by confusion between persons of the same name.

Part 2: Find the oldest person as reported in an obituary

Even if you can’t verify the longevity, let’s see who can find the oldest reported person in an obituary or other newspaper article. No evidence is required—just an obituary or newspaper article from GenealogyBank, printed around the time of death. Recollections or reprints from long afterwards do not count.

Let’s see who can come up with the most convincing proof of extreme longevity—and who can come up with the most incredible and unbelievable claim of extreme old age!

Good luck! We look forward to your responses.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1817)

painting of Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis

Painting: Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis (1725–1802). Credit: National Portrait Gallery; Wikipedia.

Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors

Old newspapers provide the stories of our ancestors’ lives, helping to flesh out the names and dates on our family trees.

What kind of family history can be found in historical newspapers? Let’s pick a typical, ordinary family and find out.

For example, what can I discover about the Crofoot family that lived in Connecticut back to colonial times? Did they appear in the old newspapers?

Let’s see.

I’ll do a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the family surname Crofoot.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page for Crofoot

Let’s take a look at some of the surname search results.

Here is a wedding announcement article I found in an old newspaper for Ephraim Crofoot.

wedding announcement for Ephrim Crofoot and Elizabeth Winship, Connecticut Mirror newspaper article 1 May 1830

Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 May 1830, page 3

OK. The core facts: Ephraim Crofoot married Miss Elizabeth W. Winship about April 1830 in Middletown, Connecticut.

Here is another reference to Ephraim Crofoot I found in an old newspaper death notice.

death notice for Esther Elizabeth Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 4 October 1848

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 4 October 1848, page 3

Ephraim’s daughter Esther Elizabeth, aged 17 years, died 29 September 1848. Calculating back, this means she was born about 1831.

OK. That piece seems to fit nicely in the family puzzle, since Ephraim was married the year before in 1830. Esther Elizabeth probably was the daughter of Ephraim and Elizabeth W. (Winship) Crofoot. We’ll need to do more genealogy research to confirm that.

Here is another old newspaper reference to a child of Ephraim’s: Thomas S. Crofoot.

death notice for Thomas Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 25 August 1852

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3

This death notice tells us that Ephraim’s son, Thomas S. Crofoot, was 19 years, 4 months old when he died in August 1852. Calculating back, that would put his birth at about April 1833. Again, that fits Ephraim’s 1830 marriage.

There is another clue: this newspaper article refers to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

So—had our Ephraim Crofoot died by August 1852?

More genealogical facts to double check.

But, look at this old newspaper article. It is another marriage announcement for an Ephraim Crofoot, to a Betsey Sampson.

wedding announcement for Ephraim Crofoot and Betsey Sampson, Constitution newspaper article 27 February 1850

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 27 February 1850, page 3

Is this the same Ephraim Crofoot? A different Ephraim Crofoot?

Had something happened to Elizabeth (Winship) Crofoot? Had she died? Was there a divorce?

It takes time to piece together all the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree. As you can see, there are many articles in old newspapers that can help us discover the stories of our ancestors’ lives.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar case study examples from other typical American families to help you better understand how to find newspaper articles about your ancestors—and how you can use them to fill in your family tree.

Does GenealogyBank Have Newspapers from Non-U.S. Countries?

We are often asked if GenealogyBank includes newspapers published in other countries, such as Canada, various countries in Europe, or in the Americas. No, we don’t.

But, there is a bright side.

U.S. newspapers routinely published news of marriages and deaths from overseas that they felt were of high interest to their U.S.-based readers. These were selective, so look to see if there were any news articles that targeted your relatives.

For example, look at this 1766 obituary from a Rhode Island newspaper.

Margaret Pullen obituary, Newport Mercury newspaper article 1 September 1766

Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), 1 September 1766, page 1

Newport, Rhode Island, is a seaport town that had many people involved in the sea. Because of this maritime involvement, news from the Caribbean islands was of high interest to the readers of Rhode Island newspapers like the Newport Mercury. This obituary of Mrs. Margaret Pullen, who died at age 100 in Antigua, would have been of interest in the Newport, RI, area—not only for her longevity and good health, but also because she was from the Caribbean, and for her family’s support of Queen Anne (1665-1714) who had been popular in the colonies.

Here is another obituary from the island of Antigua that was published in a U.S. newspaper.

James Hutchison obituary, Maryland Journal newspaper article 25 April 1788

Maryland Journal (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 April 1788, page 2

James Hutchison died 28 February 1788 a wealthy man. The obituary mentions that his sister Margaret of Paisley, Scotland, is the sole executrix of his will.

Publishing genealogy records from overseas is also common with ethnic U.S. newspapers like the Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York).

collage of marriage and death notices from Irish American newspapers

Collage of marriage and death notices from Irish American newspapers

The Irish American Weekly routinely published news of marriages and deaths from back in Ireland. Did it capture every Irish marriage? No—but it did publish tens of thousands of Irish marriage announcements and death notices. It is essential that you look there and in the other Irish American newspapers in our online archives to discover the marriage and death records of your Irish ancestors.

There is also a wealth of genealogical material to research your Hispanic ancestry in our Hispanic American newspapers. Dig in and trace your family tree around the world now!

Find Your Female Ancestors This Women’s History Month

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena helps celebrate Women’s History Month by providing search tips to help you find your female ancestors in old newspapers.

One of the biggest roadblocks genealogists find when researching female ancestors is the lack of resources that document their lives. This is especially true of government records, which don’t always tell us what we want to know about our ancestresses’ lives. Fortunately, there is a good source for information about the women members of our family: old newspapers. The great thing about using historical newspapers is that they document the lives of common people and their everyday events, special occasions and activities—for women as well as men.

Where can you find your female ancestor in the newspaper? A complete discussion of all newspaper article types would be too lengthy for a blog post—but to start with let’s consider the following three categories (Death, Milestones & Activities) that you can find in the newspaper pages of GenealogyBank.

One caution before you start your female ancestor search. As you will notice from the following articles, it’s important to consider how you will search for your female ancestor’s name. Until very recently married women were most likely identified by their husband’s names. So searching for Mary Jane Smith might not yield any hits, but a search for Mrs. Aaron Smith or Mrs. A.P. Smith very well might. As you search, keep an Internet research log and note the variations of your ancestor’s name that you find and the date of the newspaper. GenealogyBank adds more newspapers to its online archive collections daily, so what you don’t find today might appear tomorrow or next week.

Female Ancestor Death Records in Newspapers

An obvious place to start researching any ancestor’s life is with their death. While we often equate death with obituaries, remember that other types of notices and articles about someone’s death may also exist in newspapers.

This list of death notices from a Philadelphia newspaper provides information about each individual’s death and funeral.

death notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 March 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1904, page 7

Throughout this list many women are identified—such as Anne C. Winkworth, wife of the late Thomas A. Winkworth, who died in her 80th year.

death notice for Anne C. Winkworth, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 March 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1904, page 7

Major Life Milestones in Newspapers

Milestone wedding anniversaries are something to celebrate and newspapers have done that with photos and articles about the wedding anniversary couple. If your ancestors celebrated 50 or more years of marriage, you may want to see if their golden anniversary was documented in the newspaper.

This old wedding anniversary article from a Portland newspaper doesn’t give us too many clues about Mrs. Austin H. Gates—in fact, her birth name is never printed. However, we are provided with her photo, as well as her descendants’ names.

Mr. and Mrs. Austin H. Gates Celebrate 50th Wedding Anniversary, Oregonian newspaper article 20 March 1908

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 March 1908, page 6

Do you have an ancestor who lived to be the ripe old age of 100 years or beyond? That significant milestone is often documented in the newspaper, as in this old Philadelphia newspaper article reporting that Mrs. Eliza Stranahan survived an entire century—from 1800-1900!

Mrs. Eliza Stranahan Today Celebrates Her 100th Birthday Anniversary at Sharon, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 5 September 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 September 1900, page 4

As you create a timeline of your female ancestor’s life, note any milestones she may have achieved and look for these in the newspaper.

Women’s Activities Are Recorded in Newspapers

What organizations, activities or events was your female ancestor a part of? Her name could appear in articles associated with those activities.

Women were members of all types of groups. Consider church groups, auxiliaries to male membership organizations, benevolent groups, and social causes as you search for records of your ancestor.

In this small article about the Women’s Relief Corps in Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania, an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, the occasion of their elections provides us with the names of members.

Officers Elected by Women's Relief Corrps, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 3 December 1912

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania), 3 December 1912, page 13

Women and their church activities were often published in the local newspaper. In this article highlighting the fundraising efforts of female church members, even a few street addresses are included. It’s interesting to note that even though the women failed in their three-day fast (most suffered from thirst and hunger after a dozen hours), the article was still published.

women Fast to Raise Money to Repair Their Church, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 19 November 1899

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 November 1899, page 26

The great thing about old newspapers is that your ancestor didn’t have to be wealthy or famous to be mentioned. Newspapers document communities, and it is in that documentation that you just might find mentions of your female ancestors.

Enjoy the Women’s History Month celebrations and good luck with your own female ancestry research!

More Newspapers, from California to Washington, D.C., Coming Soon!

GenealogyBank adds more records to several thousand newspapers every day to provide you with enhanced coverage for your family research. Our next batch of current newspaper additions will span across the U.S., from California to Washington, D.C., including some recent newspapers from the heartland in Iowa and South Dakota.

illustration of men pointing to a map showing Washington, D.C., Patriot newspaper 29 July 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 29 July 1919, page 2

This round of expansion, we’ll be adding many more recent obituaries and death notices to help you discover more about your ancestors. Here are just a few of the new newspapers that we are adding to our archives from 11 states:

Mohave Valley Daily News (Bullhead City, AZ)

  • Death Notices:  06/30/2009 – Current

California Newswire (CA)

  • Obituaries:  07/09/2009 – Current

Ridgefield Press (Ridgefield, CT)

  • Obituaries: 6/12/2003 – 1/27/2010

Washington Times (Washington, DC)

  • Death Notices:  1/27/2004 – Current

Beacon News (Aurora, IL)

  • Obituaries:  9/24/2006 – Current

Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest (Oak Park, IL)

  • Obituaries:  12/21/2004 – Current

Decorah Newspapers (Decorah, IA)

  • Obituaries:  9/06/2001 – Current

Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA)

  • Obituaries:  4/25/2012 to Current

Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, SC)

  • Obituaries:  2/27/2012 – Current

Black Hills Pioneer (Spearfish, SD)

  • Obituaries:  12/20/1999 – Current

Mexia News (Mexia, TX)

  • Obituaries:  9/13/2012 – Current plus selected coverage from 6/30/2008 – 9/2/2008

Recent Obituaries Coming Online for 25 Newspapers!

GenealogyBank is constantly expanding, putting more newspaper records online to help with your family history research.

screenshot of GenealogyBank home page showing link to obituaries search form

Screenshot of GenealogyBank home page showing link to obituaries search form

Over the next week we will be adding more coverage from 11 states, with 25 titles ranging from Alaska to Florida, adding these newspapers to our Recent Obituaries collection. Michigan will expand by a whopping 8 new newspaper titles and Pennsylvania by 6 titles, significantly increasing our obituary coverage for genealogy researchers exploring their ancestry in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast. Here are the details of our recent obituaries additions:

Cordova Times (Cordova, AK)

  • Obituaries:  04/27/2011 – Current

Juneau Empire (Juneau, AK)

  • Death Notices:  03/03/2011 – Current

St. Augustine Record (St. Augustine, FL)

  • Death Notices:  02/16/2002 – Current

Chicago Journal (Chicago, IL)

  • Obituaries:  09/30/2009 – Current

South Bend Tribune (South Bend, IN)

  • Obituaries: 1/1/1994 – 1/1/2006

AnnArbor.com (Ann Arbor, MI)

  • Death Notices:  08/05/2012 – Current

Bay City Times (Bay City, MI)

  • Death Notices:  7/17/2007 – 1/31/2012; 8/10/2012 – Current

Flint Journal (Flint, MI)

  • Death Notices:  9/5/2007 – 1/31/2012; 8/5/2012 – Current

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI)

  • Death Notices:  5/12/2010 – 2/1/2012; 8/2/2012 – Current

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, MI)

  • Death Notices:  9/11/2007 – 2/1/2012; 8/5/2012 – Current

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, MI)

  • Death Notices:  08/05/2012 – Current

Muskegon Chronicle (Muskegon, MI)

  • Death Notices:  08/07/2012 – Current

Saginaw News (Saginaw, MI)

  • Death Notices:  7/30/2007 – 1/31/2012; 8/8/2012 – Current

Columbus Packet (Columbus, MS)

  • Obituaries:  12/12/2010 – Current

Citizen (Auburn, NY)

  • Obituaries:  07/09/2002 – Current

Daily Reporter (Columbus, OH)

  • Obituaries:  01/09/2002 – Current

Bridgeville Area News (Monroeville, PA)

  • Obituaries:  09/06/2012 – Current

Murrysville Star (Monroeville, PA)

  • Obituaries:  09/20/2012 – Current

Norwin Star (Monroeville, PA)

  • Obituaries:  09/20/2012 – Current

Penn Trafford Star (Monroeville, PA)

  • Obituaries:  09/13/2012 – Current

Sewickley Herald (Sewickley, PA)

  • Obituaries:  09/13/2012 – Current

Signal Item (Carnegie, PA)

  • Obituaries:  09/19/2012 – Current

Valley Voice (Hellertown, PA)

  • Obituaries:  07/13/2012 – Current

Uintah Basin Standard (Roosevelt, UT)

  • Death Notices:  04/03/2009 – Current

Bainbridge Islander (Bainbridge Island, WA)

  • Obituaries:  11/11/2006 – Current

More Recent Newspaper Obituaries Going Online at GenealogyBank

We recently added 16 million more records to our historical newspaper archives—and already this month we are working on putting more recent newspaper obituaries online to keep adding resources for your family history research.

Obituaries and death notices from newspapers in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are being added to our Recent Obituaries Collection (1977 – Today), adding thousands more obituaries for your genealogy research. Look for these recent obits to go live online soon on the New Content page.

Newton Press Mentor (Newton, IL)

Obituaries: added 11/10/2005 – 10/5/2009

Death Notices: added 7/25/2005 – 10/6/2010

Wood Dale Press (Wood Dale, IL)

Obituaries: added 8/16/2007 – 1/21/2011

Death Notices: added 3/4/2011 – 7/13/2012

Benzie County Record Patriot (Frankfort, MI)

Obituaries: added 8/12/2009 – 1/19/2011

Death Notices: added 6/24/2009 – 1/5/2011

Harbor Country News (New Buffalo, MI)

Obituaries: added 3/3/2005 – 4/12/2012

Death Notices: added 4/8/2004 – 1/5/2011

Lake County Star (Baldwin, MI)

Obituaries: added 3/26/2009 – 6/7/2012

Death Notices: added 1/1/2009 – 1/6/2011

Minnetonka Sun-Sailor (Minnetonka, MN)

Obituaries: added 4/8/2010 – 06/23/2010

Death Notices: added 2/22/2010 – 1/26/2011

Norwood Young America Times (Norwood, MN)

Obituaries: added 7/26/2006 – 2/9/2011

Death Notices: added 8/4/2005 – 1/5/2011

Pioneer (Waconia, MN)

Obituaries: added 11/2/2007 – 9/23/2011

Death Notices: added 9/15/2005 – 1/19/2007

Indianola Enterprise-Tocsin (Indianola, MS)

Obituaries: 09/16/2010 – Current

Chowan Herald (Edenton, NC)

Obituaries: 07/12/2011 – Current

Duplin Times (Kenansville, NC)

Obituaries: 09/29/2011 – Current

Martin County Enterprise and Weekly Herald (Williamston, NC)

Obituaries: 08/02/2011 – Current

Nashville Graphic (Nashville, NC)

Obituaries: added 1/6/2009 – 1/28/2010

Death Notices: added 1/6/2009 – 6/22/2010

Statesman: SUNY, Stony Brook (Stony Brook, NY)

Obituaries: 12/08/2008 – Current

Sentinel-Tribune (Bowling Green, OH)

Obituaries: 06/02/2012 – Current

Index-Journal (Greenwood, SC)

Obituaries: 07/01/2012 – Current

Chattanooga Times Free Press (Chattanooga, TN)

Obituaries: added 4/3/1995 – 4/1/2011

Death Notices: added 4/1/1995 – 4/1/2011

Herald Democrat (Sherman, TX)

Obituaries: added 12/10/2004 – 1/26/2011

Death Notices: added 12/1/2004 – 3/11/2008

Note: Scattered earlier data also available

 

 

GenealogyBank adds newspapers from LA, NE and TN

GenealogyBank adds more newspapers from Louisiana, Nebraska & Tennessee.

Donaldsonville Chief (Donaldsonville, LA)
Obituaries: 07/02/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 06/11/2008 – Current

Nebraska City News-Press (Nebraska City, NE)
Obituaries: 04/11/2009 – Current
Death Notices: 04/06/2009 – Current

Daily Post-Athenian (Athens, TN)
Obituaries: 04/13/2009 – Current
Death Notices: 03/28/2009 – Current

Newport Plain Talk (Newport, TN)
Obituaries: 08/31/1998 – Current
Death Notices: 07/01/1998 – Current

.

GenealogyBank.com adds 5 newspapers from 2 states

GenealogyBank.com adds 5 newspapers from 2 states – Delaware & Illinois.


Delaware
Dover Post (Dover, DE)
Obituaries: 06/04/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 06/06/2008 – Current

Hockessin Community News (Hockessin, DE)
Obituaries: 06/04/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 06/12/2008 – Current
Middletown Transcript (Middletown, DE)
Obituaries: 06/04/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 06/11/2008 – Current

Illinois

Benton Evening News (Benton, IL)
Obituaries: 03/24/2009 – Current:
Death Notices: 03/24/2009 – Current:

Daily Leader (Pontiac, IL)
Obituaries: 05/05/2009 – Current
Death Notices: 03/30/2009 – Current
.

GenealogyBank adds Texas & Oklahoma newspapers

GenealogyBank has added newspapers from Texas and Oklahoma.

Enid News and Eagle (Englewood, OK)
Obituaries: 08/01/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 08/06/2008 – Current

Del Rio News-Herald (Del Rio, TX)
Obituaries: 10/21/2001 – Current
Death Notices: 09/02/2001 – Current