In all my family research, I've never run across anyone who was a centenarian. And I'm sure, statistically, the rate of those who live past 100 is generally low. As a matter of fact (or maybe supposition), my aunt in New Mexico may be the first family member who has lived into their 90s. Aunt Jo is 91.

That's not to say we don't have SOME degree of longevity in my bloodline. Several of my relatives--including my mother and my grandfathers--lived well into their 80s.

But nobody over 100. And CERTAINLY, no one who lived into their 130s. (That was a weird thing to write.)

That brings me to John Shell of Leslie County KY. According to multiple sources, Shell was born prior to George Washington's inauguration as the first American president and passed away when three of my grandparents were teenagers.

According to a story from the Geneva County Reaper on September 5th, 1919, Shell was born in Ohio but moved to Kentucky when the population became too much for him where he was living. From the Reaper:

He got his first job, splitting rails, the year of Ohio was admitted as a state, when the population of New York City was 60,000. Later on, the population got too thick for him in Ohio, where often there were neighbors within 18 miles of each other, and blazed a trail into southeastern Kentucky, where he hunted and fished to his heart's content. He's been here ever since.

Now, according to, Shell passed away in July 1922 which would have made him 132 years old at the time of his death.

And if you go by a New York Times article at the time, Shell himself was claiming he was 134 years old prior to his death. That would cast some doubt on his September 3rd, 1788 birthdate. Or would the Reaper story cast some doubt on the Times story?

And then there's this...Appalachian History says that when Shell died, his oldest child was 99 years old and his youngest was 7. According to the Times, a 90-year-old son and a 7-year-old son were present at his funeral. That's not necessarily a contradiction unless both sources are talking about the same man.

Do you have all that? Okay, well here's another monkey wrench...I did a search of the oldest person who EVER lived and came up with Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived to be 122 years old--a decade younger than John, reportedly, when he passed.

In fact, on that list of the "verified" oldest people who ever lived, Shell's name is nowhere to be found. But that list also has question marks swirling around it.

In other words, I can neither confirm nor deny the age of John Shell when he passed away in 1922, but I'm inclined to go with the Geneva Reaper since that newspaper actually got to speak to him.

Again, that's my INCLINATION. We may honestly never know for sure.

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