Source: Texarkana Gazette
Date: 19 October 2006

122-year-old DeKalb resident dies

picture of  Oberia Coffin

Staff photo by Evan Lewis Oberia Coffin, left, in this file photo from May, was 122 years old when she died Wednesday morning at Wadley Regional Medical Center. The woman at right is Gwendolyn Traylor, her legal guardian.

Oberia Coffin was believed to be one of oldest people in world

Texarkana Gazette

A DeKalb woman who might have been among the oldest in the world died early Wednesday morning at Wadley Regional Medical Center in Texarkana.

Oberia Coffin, who is believed to have been 122, is listed with the Social Security Administration as having a birthdate of Dec. 1, 1883.

Coffin’s legal guardian, Gwendolyn Traylor, said Coffin had been taken to the hospital Sunday with fluid in her lungs.

“I know she is not in any kind of pain,” Traylor said. “But if she was ever in any pain, you wouldn’t know it. She was always quiet like.”

She was born in Dalby Springs, south of DeKalb, and was the oldest of 13 to 14 siblings. To Traylor’s knowledge, she has no living relatives.

Arrangements for Coffin’s funeral are being made through Haynes Mortuary.

Historically, in 1883, Chester A. Arthur was president, Oran M. Roberts was governor of Texas and the University of Texas at Austin opened. She would have also shared her birth year with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and fashion designer Coco Chanel.

Unfortunately, her birthdate could never be officially verified with anything but Social Security records, which she applied for upon reaching retirement age. That record alone isn’t enough to satisfy the official record books, said Robert Douglas Young, a senior consultant for Guinness World Records. Young is also a senior claims investigator for the Gerontology Research Group, an organization that tracks the oldest people from around the world. The group uses birth certificates, marriage certificates and photo identification to validate birth years.

Young said he searched the U.S. Census for data to verify her birthdate but could not find her name. There may be an explanation, Young said.

“Basically 100 something years ago, there is not accurate data available for African-Americans,” he said. “If she was missed in the census there was no way to find proof of the information.”

Sometimes people during this time were missed by the census because they were migrant farm workers, Young said. That may have just been the case. Traylor, who became Coffin’s legal guardian three years ago, said in an interview in May that Coffin had told her about working in the cotton fields as a young woman.

Traylor said as far as she is concerned, Coffin is 122. She said she was satisfied by the Social Security records alone. But officially, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bolden of Memphis, Tenn., 116, now appears to be the oldest person alive.

According to the Gerontology Research Group’s Website, there are 77 validated supercentenarians alive. To be considered a supercentenarian, a person must be 110 years or older.

If age verification were easier for people born more than 100 years ago, Coffin would have likely been the second oldest person in the world, falling behind Alberta Davis, from Thomson, Ga., who is reportedly 124 years old, Young said.

Davis faces the same documentation issue Coffin did in substantiating her age.

Coffin was a resident of Sunny Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation in DeKalb since 1992. She went to the nursing home after the death of her sister Caroline Boyde.

* * *

the fourth oldest (authenticated) supecentenarian:
Marie-Louise Meilleur (1880-1998)

the third oldest (authenticated) supecentenarian:
Lucy Hannah (1875-1993)

the second oldest (authenticated) supecentenarian:
Sarah Knauss (1880-1999)

The world's oldest ever supercentenarian:
Jeanne Calment (1875-1997)
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