RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A Brazilian rest home for the elderly believes it may be home to the world's oldest person, a former agricultural laborer born in a runaway slave community, who is identified in documents stating he was born 126 years ago at a time when Brazil still had an emperor.
A birth certificate and identity documents issued by a judge in 2001 show that Jose Aguinelo dos Santos, a resident of the Vila Vicentina shelter for the elderly in Bauru, Brazil, was born on July 7, 1888, less than two months after the end of slavery in the country, said Cesar Siqueira, the rest home's vice president.
While Dos Santos has none of the original documents proving his age, interest in his life has increased since the death on June 8 of Alexander Imich in New York, Siqueira said.
Imich lived to age 111, according to CNN, which reported that he was certified as the world's oldest man in April by the Gerontology Research Group of Torrance, California.
Siqueira said Dos Santos' documents were granted by a judge based on interviews with the presumed centenarian.
"We are only saying this is his presumed age," said Siqueira, who has worked at the rest home for 31 years. "But he is lucid, can speak well and does just about everything by himself every day except bathe himself."
Dos Santos has lived at Vila Vicentina, a rest home that takes care of the poor and indigent, since 1973. He was born to a former slave in a quilombo, or Afro-Brazilian community founded by runaway slaves, and moved to Sao Paulo state where he worked as a laborer on farms and coffee plantations, Siqueira said.
Dos Santos was not immediately available for comment.
As of June 25, the oldest living man was Sakari Momoi of Japan at 111 years and 140 days, while the oldest living woman was Misao Okawa, also of Japan, at 116 years and 112 days, according to the Gerontology Research Group.
No one but the judge who interviewed Dos Santos in 2001 has certified his age, Siqueira said. Vila Vicentina is trying to get more records from archives in the northeastern state of Ceará and the rest home's managers have spoken with doctors and others about the possibility of using methods such as carbon dating to narrow down the date of birth, he added.
Until recently, many Brazilians born in remote rural areas had no formal documents.
"The only thing I won't allow is something that will hurt Jose Aguinelo," Siqueira said. "We are, though, sure he is very old, and so is he."
Photos of Dos Santos and his documents were published on Sunday on Brazil's G1 news website after journalists visited the rest home in Bauru, about 275 kilometers (170 miles) northwest of Sao Paulo city.
If his birth date can be confirmed, it will show that Dos Santos was born a little more than a year before Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro II was deposed and the modern Brazilian Republic proclaimed. At that time, Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire and Grover Cleveland was president of the United States.
(Reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by Jan Paschal)