By AP/ Danny Johnston
LITTLE ROCK, ARK. A south Arkansas woman celebrated her 116th birthday Friday with cake, a party and a new title - she's now officially the oldest confirmed living American and second-oldest person in the world, the Gerontology Research Group said.
Gertrude Weaver spent her birthday at home at Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation in Camden, about 100 miles southwest of Little Rock. This year's festivities included the new award from the Gerontology Research Group, which analyzed U.S. Census records to determine that Weaver is the oldest living American, rather than 115-year-old Jeralean Talley, who was born in 1899.
The research group, which consults with the Guinness Book of World Records, found that the 1900 Census listed Weaver as 2 years old - putting her birthday in 1898, said Robert Young, the research group's database administrator and senior consultant for Guinness.
That makes Weaver the second-oldest person in the world behind 116-year-old Misao Okawa of Japan and the 11th oldest person of all time, he said.
"Normally, 116 would be old enough to be the world's oldest person," Young said. "There's kind of heavy competition at the moment."
Weaver was born in southwest Arkansas near the border with Texas, and was married in 1915. She and her husband had four children, all of whom have died except for a 93-year-old son. Along with Census records, the Gerontology Research Group used Weaver's 1915 marriage certificate, which listed her age as 17, to confirm her birth year, Young said.
Although no birth record exists for Weaver, she celebrates her birthday each year on July 4 and did the same this year. At her 115th birthday party last year, Weaver was "waving and just eating it all up," said Vicki Vaughan, the marketing and admissions director at Silver Oaks.
"Most people want to know, `Well, can she talk?'" Vaughan said. "Her health is starting to decline a little bit this year - I can tell a difference from last year, but she still is up and gets out of the room and comes to all of her meals, comes to activities. She'll laugh and smile and clap."
Weaver first stayed at the Camden nursing home at the age of 104 after she suffered a broken hip, Vaughan said. But Weaver recovered after rehabilitation and moved back home with her granddaughter, before returning to the nursing home at the age of 109.
Scientists study the very old for clues about longevity, including genetic, lifestyle,and environmental factors.
Weaver cited three factors for her longevity: "Trusting in the Lord, hard work and loving everybody."
"You have to follow God. Don't follow anyone else," she told the Camden News this week. "Be obedient and follow the laws and don't worry about anything. I've followed him for many, many years and I ain't tired."