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Mathew Beard - 114 years, 222 days, United States

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Mathew Beard was validated in 2003 in the same SSA Kestenbaum study that led wrongly to the validation of Lucy Hannah [68]. His case is marked as “disputable” on the Gerontology Wiki [1] [27]. He had been a preacher and farmer in Wildwood, Florida with his wife Angerina Brooks and their large family. He died in 1985.

His record includes a 1956 SSA application in which he reported his father as “Ned” and his mother as “Martha Bures”. His age was given as 86. The details of location, spouse and occupation on this record leave little doubt that it was submitted by the same man known from later records, but earlier records are required to confirm the age provided.

According to his own testimony recorded in newspaper articles from around 1975 onwards, he was born in Norfolk Virginia on 9th July 1870 and moved with his family to Missouri at age three where he worked in a saw mill at age 12. He said that he first arrived in Wildwood Florida in 1887 to work on laying the tracks for the Seaboard extension of the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad, but he did not settle there until later. His next twenty or thirty years are described as a series of adventures; fighting in Cuba during the Spanish-American War of 1898, boxing in St Louis Missouri, and playing black league baseball in Richmond Virginia. He does not give many more details of his family but he says they had a farm in Nelson Missouri. He also reported that he had a grandfather who lived to nearly 146, but did not supply a name. He returned to Wildwood where he became a farmer. He was known as “Preacher” and claims to have been ordained in 1919, about the same time as he met his wife. He even spoke of having visited Scotland to preach.

We explored his family history further through the usual online genealogy and news sources and found a number of relevant records that were not previously reported as far as we know. These are added to records previously discovered by others in online discussion forums such as the “110 club.” Since the contributors are usually anonymous we cannot give the proper credit due.

We found the family in the US census for 1930 and 1940 and the Florida State census for 1935 and 1945 (for 1935 his name is wrongly transcribed as Mathew Beat). His birth year according to these entries could be 1870, 1872, 1879 or 1898. The 1930 census records that he was born in North Carolina and the 1945 census says Georgia. The others say he was born in Florida. None say Virginia as he reported later. His many children recorded in the census were born between 1911 and 1940, so the youngest were born before he said he met his wife and therefore may either not be his own, or may be a child from an earlier marriage.

No confirmed record of him or his children earlier than 1930 can be found. However, his wife appears as a six year old child in the 1900 census with the name Angere Brooks, confirming that her birth year of 1894 - which appears on her gravestone - is probably correct even though it too is inconsistently reported later. She also appears with her parents in the 1910 census as Tangerine Brooks age 16. This would be about a year before her eldest child is thought to have been born. Her parents can be found in the 1920 census but she is then absent.

It is thought that the SSA validation used a census entry from 1880 in Tennessee where there is a record of a Mathew Baird born about 1868, a son of Anderson and Martha. The name of “Ned” that he reported for his father could be an obtuse nickname for Anderson, and the mother’s given name matches. This same child also appears in the 1870 census in Tennessee at age four as Mathis Baird. The parent’s names are the same but their ages differ by a few years. The siblings listed do not provide further matches but they are not inconsistent either.

As additional supporting evidence, there is a death registration for Emma Beard in 1918 age 47 in Illinois. Her parents are given as Anderson Beard and Martha Bryant. This record could match a sister of Mathew, named as Emma Baird in the 1880 census. Census returns from 1900 and 1910 show an Anderson Baird/Beard living with a mother-in-law with the surname Bryant. Taken together all these records are likely to be from the same family. It remains to determine whether this is the family of Mathew Beard from records post-1930.

The state of Tennessee as his birth place does not agree with any of the options for his childhood home state that were reported in his testimony or census returns as an adult. The mother’s maiden name Bryant is at best a poor match to the name Bures provided in 1956 by Matthew, but good knowledge of such details is not always to be expected. If Emma’s death record is accepted as a match to the 1880 census then it supports the variation of name between Baird and Beard. If these early records are correctly related to the later records of Mathew Beard, then his age at death would be 117 to 119 years rather than the claimed 114 years based on his age in the 1956 SSA record.

In evaluating the significance of these census matches it is important to take into account the statistics of the context in which they were found. If the finds were the result of an investigation of a single longevity claim, then the fuzzy match of the names and dates to what was previously known would be an encouraging starting point. However, this case actually arose from a study of a large number of potential cases taken from US government records. Most were eliminated as false positives due to conflicting records or lack of records that would provide confirmation. In such circumstances it is probable that a small number of examples such as Lucy Hannah and Mathew Beard would pass the filter with weak matches in early censuses and other records, even though they are in reality just coincidental. At best these should have been flagged as interesting potential cases worthy of further study. In our judgment, they should not have been accepted into the official lists of validated longevity cases on such weak evidence alone.

Alternative matches also need to be taken into consideration. A Mathew Beard born October 1886 can be found in the 1900 census for Rincon in Georgia, only 280 miles from Wildwood in Florida. The parents are recorded as Edward and Martha. Since Ned is a common nickname for Edward, and Georgia is mentioned as his birthplace in the 1945 census, this is a better match than the earlier one, except that it would make him only 98 when he died in 1985 and would mean that the testimony of his early life is an elaborate fiction. The mother fits a birth record for Martha Bussey which is a marginally better fit for Bures, the maiden name sought. Everything we know from records is consistent with the hypothesis that he left this family between 1900 and 1920 to make his way South to Wildwood where he set himself up as a preacher with an elaborate past before starting his own family. The family in Georgia is therefore the most likely for Mathew Beard’s upbringing, assuming that the details he provided on his 1956 SSA were correct apart from his birth year.

We continued our search looking for further matches or supporting evidence. The name Beard is sufficiently common in South Eastern states that a few near hits are to be expected. The 1880 census has a Matthew Beard born 1870 in Illinois and the 1900 census records someone with the same name born 1890 in Texas. In Missouri, Florida or Virginia where we expect to find him based on later information, there is nothing found before 1930 even allowing broad matches to his name.

In conclusion, the lack of records to confirm his story before 1930 is clearly problematical for his validation. The Tennessee census record assumed for the validation is a poor match that would make him four years older than claimed. With the anecdotal details he gave we would expect to find him in some census, war veterans list, WWI draft or in newspaper reports or church records, but there is nothing found to support this 40 year episode. His remarkable testimony of his early life could be true at a stretch, but it reads more like an imaginative fantasy. The alternative census match in Georgia is a much better fit, making him about 16 years younger. In the light of this evidence we believe that his longevity claim was almost certainly a result of age exaggeration in early life and we dispute his validation.

Given these findings it is difficult to understand why he is still listed as validated in the GRG tables albeit with “disputable” status. His age is also present in the IDL database. In our opinion, the Mathew Beard case is even more clearly invalid than the Lucy Hannah longevity claim that became officially invalidated in 2020.

  1. [27] GRG, “Oldest Validated supercentenarians All-Time”https://gerontology.wikia.org/wiki/Oldest_Validated_supercentenarians_All-Time, accessed 20 Dec 2019
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