I just read on Dick Eastman’s site that Walton County, Georgia’s Besse Cooper is the World’s Oldest Person at 115 years old. I was curious about Besse. Who was she? What led to her longevity, her ancestry, her lifestyle, occupation? What could I find out about her online? What an amazing life she’s led so far!
An article about Besse gave us her birth date, birthplace, and the name of her husband. Besse (no maiden name known) was born 26 August 1896 in Tennessee. But, she moved to Walton County, Georgia during World War I “to teach because teachers in Georgia made more money …” She married Luther Cooper in 1924 and stopped teaching when she had her first child at age 33 (1896 + 33 = 1929).
This was enough information to see if we could find her in census records! In 1930 Besse should have been living in Walton County, Georgia and living with her husband, Luther Cooper. A search of the 1930 census revealed her as the wife of Luther H. Cooper in Walton County. If you have a subscription to Ancestry.com, you can find her 1930 census entry here.
If you tried to search for Besse Cooper born Tennessee in the 1930 census, you wouldn’t be able to find her. Her name is spelled Bess in 1930, instead of “Besse.” Plus, her birthplace is listed as “Georgia,” instead of Tennessee. This isn’t unusual at all; census takers would frequently record incorrect information.
Can we be sure this is the right Bess? What was her maiden name? She was supposed to have moved to Walton County, Georgia in World War I (about 1917-1918). So, we ought to be able to find Besse, born in Tennessee, in Walton County, Georgia in the 1920 census. A search of the 1920 census on Ancestry.com was conducted. I looked for all women named Bess* (the * is a wildcard) who lived in Walton County, Georgia and who were born in Tennessee. Look at this 1920 census!
Besse Brown was a 23 year old boarder in the household of James Summerour (born 1896-1897). She was born in Tennessee. The right side of this census record, which is visible on Ancestry.com for subscribers, shows that she worked as a “teacher” in “common school.” All the facts about this young woman match that of the World’s Oldest Person, Besse Cooper.
Besse (Brown) Cooper, wife of Luther, of Walton County, Georgia is the World’s Oldest Person on 26 August 2011. Happy Birthday, Besse Cooper!