"Documented Oldest Living Americans Are Our Neighbors"
Pamela Perkins,
Commercial Appeal; Memphis, TN

       April 28, 2005; Both women were born in 1890 to parents who had been slaves. They were both born in the rural South -- where they still live less than 100 miles apart – and they're both documented as the oldest living Americans! B born on September 13, 1890, Bettie Rutherford Wilson of New Albany, MI is now 114 years old. She was officially accepted on Tuesday by The Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living American. But The Gerontology Research Group (GRG), who told Guinness about her, has very recently found a new woman from Memphis who is even a month older! Born August 15, 1890, Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Bolden is now listed as the oldest living American and second-oldest living person in the world by the GRG. These situations tend to occur here because “the United States does not keep a central database of the oldest living Americans," said Robert Young, an Atlanta-based Senior Claims Investigator for the GRG. Using official documents such as census records and birth certificates, the Group's worldwide network of researchers tracks and authenticates people older than 110, called Supercentenarians. Young said the Group relies on tracking methods including monitoring news stories, which helps us locate candidates.

He runs regular Internet searches for terms such as "110th birthday" or "112" with "oldest," which is how he learned of Bolden. He found a newspaper story about her 112th birthday in The Commercial Appeal in August 2003. "Finally, to guard against errors, we double-check the records," Young said. "It's like checking the door to see if you locked it. Check just twice, and the chances of it being locked are astronomically higher than just one time."

Among other authenticating documents checked by the group is the 1910 U.S. Census records listing Bolden as 19. But he hesitated to authenticate her age until speaking with the family, who thought she was a year younger. The family provided enough information to help find Bolden in the 1900 Census Records, which listed her at age nine and included her birthday. Young said he plans to submit Bolden's information to Guinness very soon.

James W. Bolden, one of her 30-plus Grandchildren, said she has been recognized for her age at least since she turned 100. Local and state government officials have written and visited her. She has also received letters from each president since Reagan. 'Mama Lizzie,' as her family calls her, was born at home in rural Fayette County. She now lives quietly in a Memphis nursing home. Former Police Director James H. Bolden is her step-Grandchild. "All I want Mama Lizzie to have is just the recognition of where she is in this life," said her Grandson, who helped the GRG investigators. “She doesn't speak much after suffering a stroke a few months ago,” he said. "She was very sharp seven or eight years ago. She could remember things. But I don't even know if she knows me now." She tends to sleep most of the day and was too tired to comment on her new designation on Wednesday. But he said "she would feel very good about it."

Meanwhile, Bettie Wilson was at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday shouting "Amen!" as a preacher blessed her new $62,000 home in New Albany. It was funded by a combination of Federal funds and donations. She was holding her 95-year-old son's hand. Both are in wheelchairs.

New Albany Mayor Billy Wiseman said government officials and her family have been working to get her the home since November, before she was recognized as the oldest American. While attendees congratulated Wilson after the ceremony, her caregiver and Great-Granddaughter, Della Shorter, said she wouldn't mind not being the oldest: "She didn't want people feeling that she was higher than anybody."

– Pamela Perkins: 529-6514