The woman who claimed to be older than the Sun: How Lucy Hannah’s 117-year-old record was debunked
She was once hailed as the fifth-oldest person ever and the oldest African-American person ever, but Lucy Hannah’s claim to have lived for 117 years and 248 days has been exposed as a fraud.
Lucy Hannah, who died in Michigan in 1993, claimed to have been born in Alabama on July 16, 1875. Her claim was based on an alleged 1880 census match and a Social Security Administration (SSA) study that verified her age in 2003.
However, in 2015, members of The 110 Club, a group dedicated to supercentenarians (people who live to be 110 or older), cast doubts on Hannah’s claim to 117. According to the research found so far, she could have been born on August 12, 1895, making her only 97 when she died.
The evidence that contradicted Hannah’s claim included a marriage record from 1943 that suggested a birth date of August 12, 1895, and a lack of intervening life documents that showed that the person in the death record was the same as the person in the original birth record.
In December 2020, the validation of Hannah’s case was officially withdrawn by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), an organization that tracks and verifies supercentenarians. The GRG also published a book titled “Exceptional Lifespans” that detailed the invalidation of Hannah’s case and other longevity claims.
Hannah’s case is not the only one that has been challenged by researchers and experts. Guinness World Records, which maintains a list of the verified oldest people, stated that “No single subject is more obscured by vanity, deceit, falsehood, and deliberate fraud than the extremes of human longevity.”
Some of the reasons why people may falsify their age include financial benefits, fame, vanity, or family tradition. Some of the methods used to detect fraud include radiocarbon dating of the lens of the eye, DNA testing, and cross-checking of multiple sources of information.
The oldest person verified by modern standards, and the only person with evidence to have lived to be at least 120 years of age, is French woman Jeanne Calment, who died aged 122 years and 164 days in 1997. The oldest man verified by modern standards is Japanese man Jiroemon Kimura, who died aged 116 years and 54 days in 2013.
The oldest verified living person is Spanish-American born woman Maria Branyas, born on March 4, 1907, aged 116 years and 54 days. The current record holder for the longest human lifespan may not be known yet, as studies suggest that there is no fixed upper limit to human longevity.