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Eliza Underwood

Jimmy Lindberg
Validated By: Jimmy Lindberg On Date: Oct. 09th 2023

Eliza Jane Underwood (née Brown) was an American supercentenarian whose age has been validated by LongeviQuest. Upon her validation, it was established that she was the oldest person ever at the time of her passing.


Underwood was born as Eliza Jane Brown in Clinton, North Carolina on 15 March 1867 as the fifth of nine children born to Charles and Violet (née Butler) Brown, both former slaves. At the age of eight, she went to live with the Royals, a white family who lived nearby, later returning to live with her own family aged 15.

In 1890, she married preacher Isham Underwood, and their only daughter, Lenorah, was born in September of that year. The family later moved to Taylor, Georgia, and lived there until they adopted a baby girl, Minnie, in 1912. They lived in Hancock and Jefferson Davis, both in Mississippi, before settling in Columbia, Mississippi, and staying there for several decades. She weaved cloth and worked in fields.

Underwood was widowed in 1953 and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1973 to live with her daughter, Lenorah Grant. Four years prior, she had flown on a plane from Columbia to San Antonio to visit her daughter, enjoying the trip immensely. In her younger years, she also traveled to Canada and Mexico.

In 1979, her daughter died, and Underwood went to live with her adopted daughter, Minnie Simmons, in Washington D.C.

Underwood claimed that the secret to her longevity was never smoking or drinking alcohol, and being active in church-related activities. As a supercentenarian, she had seven grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

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Starting from 1973, Underwood was reported regularly on her birthday in various San Antonio newspapers. She was honoured by the American Freedom Train during the U. S.’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976.

Her age was verified by Jimmy Lindberg and Nick Eriksson, and validated by LongeviQuest on 9 October 2023. After her age was verified and it was established that she lived to be at least 113 years and 318 days, it was concluded that she held several titles and set several records during her life. These are as follows:

On 5 November 1978, following the death of 113-year-old Alice Coles, she became the world’s oldest living person, at the age of 111 years, 235 days. Prior to her validation, it was believed that, at the time of her passing, Augustine Tessier held the title of the oldest living person, with the previous title holder being Fannie Thomas, who had passed away just five days prior to Underwood. However, Underwood was at least a month older than Thomas, and nearly two years older that Tessier.

On 16 October 1979, she reached the age of 113 years, 215 days, surpassing the final age of Delina Filkins (1815–1928) – the oldest validated person on record of the time. Prior to Underwood’s validation, it was thought that Filkins was succeeded as the oldest person ever by Fannie Thomas in November 1980. However, Underwood’s birth appears to have occurred before Thomas’, regardless of the specific birthdate (details below). Furthermore, Thomas passed away at the age of 113 years and 283 days, which means that, although she outlived Underwood, she never surpassed her final age.

Following her passing, Augustine Tessier succeeded her as the world’s oldest living person, although an unvalidated claimant, Judia Ward (15 June 1868? – 26 August 1981), might have been older.

On 18 June 1985, more than four years after her passing, Augusta Holtz surpassed her final age (LQ-validated), becoming the new oldest person ever. Holtz subsequently became the first person to reach the age of 115.

Was Underwood even older?

The Global Validation Commission determined that the claimed date of birth, which is March 15, 1867, is the youngest age that can be definitively proven. Further evidence would be necessary to confirm whether she was, in fact, older than her claimed age. However, the evidence that has been found strongly suggests that Underwood might have been even older. The earliest census records and the earliest documents found, specifically the 1870 and 1880 census records, confirm her ages as 4 in August and 14 in June of the respective years. Given her claim of being born in March, the two earliest documents would suggest a birth year of 1866 rather than 1867, indicating that she was 114 at the time of her passing (a year older than claimed). This would have also made her the first person on record to reach the age of 114. Nonetheless, when considering factors such as the unreliability of census records for accurately reporting ages, inconsistencies in the ages of her siblings in census records, and the discrepancy of her birth month being recorded as October in the 1900 census, the Commission determined that the census records alone cannot definitively establish that she was indeed a full year older than her claimed age.

The 1900 census recorded her age as 34, stating her birth month as October 1865. This is the earliest discovered document that specifies her birth month. This record, however, could potentially indicate that she was even older than 114. If her birthdate was indeed in October rather than March, then the two earliest census records would align more closely with a birthdate of October 1865 rather than March 1866 or March 1867, making her 115 at the time of death. However, much like the March 1866 birthdate, this date of birth cannot be conclusively proven solely based on census records. However, if she was indeed born in October 1865, that would mean she was the first person to reach the ages of 114 and 115. Moreover, it would imply that Augusta Holtz never surpassed her final age. In this scenario, Underwood would have held the record for being the oldest person ever until her final age was surpassed by Jeanne Calment in late 1990.

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* “Worlds of wisdom at 109 years old” – San Antonio Express, 3 February 1977

* “110 – Mrs. Eliza Underwood of San Antonio, Texas” – Columbian-Progress, 9 June 1977

* The Washington Star, 30 January 1981