The earliest-born validated supercentenarian on record was Geert Adriaans Boomgaard, who was born in 1788. Margaret Ann Neve, the earliest-born validated female supercentenarian, was born four years later in 1792. At that point, however, there is a gap of over 20 years before the births of the next known supercentenarians, Louisa Thiers in 1814 and Delina Filkins in 1815. Similar gaps exist between 1821-1832 and 1834-1841. Starting in 1841, we see almost one supercentenarian born every year and from the 1860s, the number of supercentenarians starts to accelerate. Today, we estimate there are over 500 living supercentenarians, with at least half able to be validated, it is therefore a matter of identifying them and finding the documentation.

But what about these historical gaps and the low number of supercentenarians in the past? Were there really so few supercentenarians, or is it a factor of missing data?

Well, there were certainly plenty of supercentenarian claims in the past. But most of these claims were either exaggerated or unverifiable. The level of documentation that existed for people born in the late 1700s or early 1800s is, in most places, not as thorough as the documentation for people born in the 1850s or later. For countries where birth registrations or christening records are available, such as the Nordic countries or England, there are no known supercentenarian claims with proper birth records from this period.

One example is Dutch age claimant Hendrika Link-Scholte(n), born in 1686, for whom there exists proof of birth, mid-life, and death in 1797 (van Dijk, 2023). but a full family tree reconstruction has, to my knowledge, not been performed. But if her age were to be validated by a reliable organization, then it would demonstrate that 110+ year lifespans were an earlier phenomenon than previously believed.
In the United States, which aside from the Nordic countries has been my primary research focus, there are several claims, with the earliest claimed supercentenarian that I can think of having turned 110 in 1877. But most of these claims have been researched and found to be exaggerated, leaving only a few claims that are incomplete. It is likely that several will remain incomplete since census records prior to 1850 did not list each person with an exact age but rather as a number with an age in a range of several years.

One such potential supercentenarian was Elvira Quinn (1825? – 1935). Quinn claimed to have been born on 12 November 1825 in Spartanburg, South Carolina and died in the same town on 2 December 1935, allegedly aged 110 years, 20 days. She’s listed in the 1850 census as being 22 years old and can be identified in the 1840 census as being between 10-14 years old and in the 1830 census as being under five years old. She also had a younger sister, Cassandra, born shortly after her who is also listed in the same age range in both censuses. Due to the ages being recorded in ranges, we cannot be sure whether Quinn was a supercentenarian, and a baptismal record or some other document from the time she was born is necessary. But it appears that if such a record ever existed, it is long lost.

Sources such as the United States Social Security Death Index do not cover the period prior to 1962, meaning that there are potential supercentenarians who could have died before that, unknown to history. Not all states have thorough death records available, typically a rich source of data. Newspaper registers have flaws of their own, with certain exaggerated claims having been picked up nationally whereas other (potentially valid) supercentenarians may have been covered only by local media, if they were covered at all. Much of this data may be hidden rather than lost, awaiting discovery. Still, the latest “discovered” validated supercentenarian from before 1850 was Catherine Waller (born in 1848 and initially researched in 2017), so if there were several more supercentenarians, certainly some would have been identified since then?

Moreover, the average life expectancy was much lower for people born prior to 1850. But, given that supercentenarians are noted to be the most durable and resilient individuals, life expectancy trends may not apply to them. There were also simply fewer people in the year 1800 than there were 50 or 100 years later. Supercentenarians are a subset of the population; and a smaller population will yield fewer people who eventually reach the age of 110.

Assuming that there were more supercentenarians born before 1850 than we know about today, it will probably take years to identify them based on the challenges discussed. If you don’t know what to look for, it is difficult to find it. With additional historical records becoming available over time, new avenues have emerged for us to research early supercentenarians and their place in history.