updated 1/21/2007 12:49:53 AM ET 2007-01-21T05:49:53

A 114-year-old Connecticut resident who was born to former slaves in North Carolina has become the world's oldest known woman after the death this week of a Canadian woman.

Emma Faust Tillman, born Nov. 22, 1892, became the oldest validated female "supercentenarian" in the world when 115-year-old Julie Winnifred Bertrand of Montreal, Canada, died in her sleep early Thursday.

Tillman, of East Hartford, is now the second-oldest known person in the world behind 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, born August 21, 1891.

They are among many validated supercentenarians on a list maintained by the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles and other organizations.

Officials at East Hartford's Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center, where Tillman has lived since she was 110, were surprised to learn Friday of her new honor. They planned to wait until her family notified her, not wanting to overwhelm her.

"At 114 years old, having too much activity can wear on you after a while," said Karen Chadderton, the center's administrator.

Tillman, who has been widowed for almost 70 years, takes no credit for her uncommon longevity and says she has no secrets for other aspiring supercentenarians.

"I think as she gets older, it gets a little less exciting only because reaching this age is something she feels she didn't really do herself — she says the good Lord did it," Chadderton said.

‘Ask the man upstairs’
Tillman's great-nephew, former Hartford fire chief John B. Stewart, said last month that she never smoked, never drank, did not need glasses and agreed to wear a hearing aid only reluctantly.

He said when she's asked about the secret to her longevity, Tillman invariably points skyward and says, "Ask the man upstairs."

Tillman, one of 23 children, moved from North Carolina with her family to Glastonbury in 1895.

She graduated in 1909 as the only black student in her high school and later worked as a cook, maid, party caterer and caretaker for children of several wealthy families.

She married Arthur Tillman in 1914, and they moved to Hartford's south end and raised two daughters before his death in 1939. One of her daughters is deceased.

Before moving to Riverside, she lived alone in a Hartford apartment for years, family members have said. She also has been a member of the A.M.E. Zion Church in Hartford for more than 80 years.

Longevity runs in the family. One of Tillman's brothers lived to be 108, while one sister lived to 105 and two others lived to 102.

"You can tell she's tired now, but at 114, we're blessed and she's blessed," Stewart said Friday.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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