updated 3/2/2004 1:44:04 PM ET 2004-03-02T18:44:04

In the week since William Coates’ death, his family has been arranging a funeral befitting a man purported to have lived for 114 years, which, if true, would have ranked him among the oldest people in the United States.

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But U.S. Census records indicate that Coates, who had been celebrated for his age in news stories and public proclamations, was no older than 92 when he died Feb. 24.

“It was not a legitimate claim -- he was not 114,” said L. Stephen Coles, co-founder of the Gerontology Research Group, a nonprofit organization that keeps what it says is a carefully documented roster of people 110 or older.

“We’re not saying that anyone in the Coates family was trying to deceive anyone,” Coles said. However, a researcher for the group found an old Census register on the Internet that lists Coates, his seven siblings and their parents as living together in Prince George’s County in 1930. The census-taker noted that William Coates was the oldest sibling, at age 18.

Exasperation
None of Coates’ relatives claimed he was 114 when he died last week . Rather, they have said they knew few details of his life. And they reacted Monday to the Census records with the same exasperation they expressed over the attention given to him upon his death.

“I’m leaving it as it is,” said Ann Hazel, 67, a niece. As for her uncle’s purported age of 114, Hazel said, “Everyone who was older than me said he was about that age.”

It is unclear who initially asserted that Coates was born in 1889. Irving H. Smith, director of a Prince George’s senior citizens center who hosts an annual celebration for centenarians, has asserted that Coates was the county’s oldest citizen. He said he based this on conversations with Coates’ relatives and on records at the Clinton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where Coates spent his last years.

The home confirmed that its records list Coates’ birth date as June 2, 1889. But it’s not clear where that information came from.

“To be honest,” Smith said, “about the only fact we know for sure is that he’s dead.”

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