Michael Bonnici’s father lived to celebrate his 100th birthday. So did his grandmother and his great grandmother.

The odds, therefore, are that he too will get to celebrate a century of life; however, when you ask him about it, he is coy: “The birth is known, the hour is not.”

An ancestral tree laden with centenarians inspired Michael Bonnici, 70, a former PN MP from Zebbuġ, to make it his mission to keep records of Malta’s oldest people.

On a daily basis he scours the media – particularly obituaries – for information on citizens who made it beyond the 99th year. His records go back to an Azzjoni Kattolika newsletter which logs information on centenarian Guizeppa Mallia from Zebbug who died in 1949.

The going is tough, however, as there is no formal system in place which officially records centenarians.

By 2050, Malta will have over 700 people celebrating their hundredth birthday

From his piles of newspapers and magazine cuttings, Mr Bonnici estimates there are 24 living centenarians in Malta at the moment: 18 women and six men. “But not every centenarian decides to make their 100th birthday public, so unless it’s in the media, I don’t have a record of it,” says Mr Bonnici.

The Sunday Times of Malta attempted to obtain the latest figures on the accurate number of living centenaries in Malta.

Neither the public registry nor the electoral registry – not even the social security department – keep records. In the end the information was obtained from the National Statistics Office based on the 2011 census day figures, which states that up to two years ago, there were 31 citizens aged 100 or over.

Mr Bonnici’s period of research spans between 1949 and 2013 and he has noted down 232 centenarians over the 64 years, 187 females and 45 males.

The National Statistics Office estimates that, by 2050, Malta will have over 700 people celebrating their 100th birthday. For this reason, he wants to appeal to the Government to set up a proper structure of data recording. “In the UK every person who celebrates their 100th birthday gets a personal card from the Queen. I think the same should be done in Malta – age should be recorded at the department of Social Security and they’d get some form of recognition from the President,” he said.

He believes there should be a system where centenarians are interviewed so they can explain what it means to have watched the world change around them; how their own attitudes, thoughts and feelings have changed through the years; and what it has been like to grow older than old. “They are living history – we are losing a treasure trove of information on what it is like to live to 100,” he said.

The oldest Maltese person to have ever lived seems to be a woman from Balzan, who died in 1999, aged 109, Mr Bonnici believes, although he does not have any more details. Then there was John Mary Farrugia from Dingli who died in 2007 aged 106.

Mr Bonnici, does not delve into the secret to a long life. “If I look at my ancestors, it could be in the genes, but it could well be their lifestyle – that is why we need to study centenarians more,” he says.

When asked again if he believes he’ll make it to 100, he grins and nods towards his 15-year-old grandchild, who has been helping him with computer data. “Not me, maybe Matthew.”

The age-record holders:

Only two men make it to the list of the oldest 50 people in the world. Longevity seems to suit women more.

The oldest living person in the world is Misao Okawa from Japan. She was born on March 5, 1898 and is 115 years and 186 days old.

The oldest living man is Salustiano Sanchez, from the USA. He was born on June 8, 1901 and is 112 years and 91 days old.

The oldest person ever to live was Jeanne Calment, from France. She died in 1997 aged 122 years and 164 days.

Top five places in the world

Malta ranks 34th out of all the 223 countries in the world, when it comes to life expectancy, each of us expected to clock an average of 79.9 years each, according to the US Central American Agency. These are the top five countries:

1. Monaco - 89.63 years
2. Macau - 84.46 years
3. Japan - 84.19 years
4. Singapore - 84.07 years
5. San Marino - 83.12 years

What’s the secret to living a long life?

In the recently published Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life, author Gwen Weiss-Numeroff talks to 30 centenarians who reveal their diet and exercise secrets and discuss how they stay busy, happy and healthy in their 90s and beyond.

One person started writing children’s books at the age of 99. Another one got married for the first time at 99. When asked the secret to long life Besse Cooper, 116, said: “Mind your own business and don’t eat junk food. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, work hard and love what you do.”

Weiss-Numeroff said that during her research, she was most comforted by the fact that people are not controlled completely by their genetics. “About 80 per cent of these centenarians have siblings that died in their 60s or younger,” she said. “Genetics definitely play a role but genetics certainly aren’t everything.”

Weiss-Numeroff said most of the people she interviewed didn’t smoke although some were moderate drinkers. “The main thing they all had in common was that they all go with the flow... they have a remarkable ability to adapt to change. They don’t sweat the small stuff but they take things on, embrace life and move forward.”

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