Understanding Cousin Relationships

Classification of cousins is often misunderstood by non-genealogists. All cousins share a common ancestor, often called the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). First cousins share common grandparents. Second cousins share common great grandparents. Third cousins share common 2nd great grandparents, and so forth. Skillmans in America who have to date tested their Y-chromosome DNA are all descended from common 6th great grandparents, making all of us 7th cousins.

The son or daughter of your aunt and uncle is your first cousin because you share a common set of grandparents. But what about a child of your first cousin? Most people think that child is their second cousin, but that is not correct. That child is still a first cousin, but “once removed” by the generational difference. So that child is a first cousin, once removed. If that child then had a child of his or her own, you and the younger child would then be first cousins, twice removed, because there are two generations difference between you and the younger child. Your child and your first cousin’s child would be second cousins, because they share common great grandparents.

First Cousins
first cousins

Second Cousins
second cousins

First Cousins Once Removed
first cousins once removed

First Cousins Twice Removed
first cousins twice removed

Most genealogical software today has a ‘relationship finder,” in which you can compare any two people in your database and determine how they are related. Nevertheless, a basic understanding of the principles of relationships will make it easy to assess the degrees and removals in the relationships between cousins. At least you now know that your first cousin’s child is not your second cousin.

John E. Skillman III

Verifying Genealogical Data Sources

Every serious genealogist attempts to provide one or more sources for each fact and event in his or her genealogy. Complete and accurate source citations are the stock-in-trade of the Board for Certification of Genealogists® which offers the Certified Genealogist (CG) designation. Whether you are a beginning or experienced genealogist, every effort should be made to source your data.

In general, there are two types of sources for genealogical data, primary and secondary, and the dividing lines between the two types are often blurry. Primary sources are considered to be those which are recorded at the time an event actually happened. Secondary sources are those recorded at a later date. Birth certificates and marriage certificates are primary sources, since they record a single event at the time and place it actually happened.

But what about death certificates? The record of the date and place of death is a primary source, but the date and place of birth of the decedent and the names of the decedent’s parents are reported by the informant, and they may or may not be correct. They are therefore secondary sources. One can say the same thing about gravestones. The date of death is invariably correct, it being a recent event, but the date of birth may be incorrect. Similarly, family bibles would be considered a primary source if the event is recorded at the time, but a secondary source for all births, marriages, and deaths recorded some years after the event took place.

In my searches for my ancestors, I have visited hundreds of gravestones. Not surprisingly, I have found many with an incorrect date of birth, or at least an inconsistency with another record, such as a census. Events such as birth dates that are reported years after the fact are often incorrect. For that matter, any data which depends on the recollection of someone else can often be wrong. A perfect example is my grandfather’s death certificate.


My father never knew his paternal grandparents, both having died before he was born. He also hardly knew his father’s brother and sisters, if at all. His closest paternal relative was a first cousin, the daughter of one of his father’s sisters. So his familiarity with his father’s side of his family was limited at best. As I mentioned in my previous blog, my mother was the family historian who kept track of her own family as well as my father’s family.

When my father’s father died in 1950, my father was the “Informant” on his death certificate. When he was asked for the names of his father’s parents, my father replied “Elias Skillman” and “Unknown Mersereau.” In actuality, his father’s parents were John M. Skillman and Angeline Randall. The names he listed on his father’s death certificate as his father’s parents were actually his father’s grandparents! So, as a passionate genealogist, I am embarrassed to say that my own father was a very unreliable secondary source on his father’s death certificate. So be careful in your family research, as all may not be as it appears.

John E. Skillman III

Writing Your Autobiography

My father died in 1969 when he was but 57 years of age. Although he had suffered three earlier heart attacks, his death was still, at least to me, unexpected. I was thirty at that time and had been working on my family genealogy for two years. I had asked my father questions about his family, only to discover that he knew little about his ancestors, and I soon learned that my mother was the family historian. So I continued to research my ancestors and asked questions of my mother until she died in 1996, 27 years after my dad.

But in all the years I knew my parents, I never asked the important questions. I now know the names of my ancestors, and their dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. I know the whos, the wheres, and the whens, but I don’t know the whys and the hows, particularly about my own parents. Over the years since my mother’s death, I have come to realize that I actually know very little about their lives. For example, my father’s father was a dentist and my father was graduated from our town’s most prestigious prep school, but he never went to college. Why? I was an only child. Why? How did my parents meet? These and other questions have haunted me since my parents died, along with a more basic question: why did I never ask?

Forks in the Road by John E. Skillman IIINot wanting my children, grandchildren, and later descendants to wonder the same things about me, several years ago I began to write my autobiography. My inspiration came in spurts and much of it was written in the dead quiet of sleepless nights. I edited it numerous times and rewrote many sections more than once. I have no idea of how many hours I put into the project, but I labored on it for several years. I backed it up continuously and my autobiography survived crashes of my hard drive and mother board and two computer replacements.

I suppose there are many ways to approach one’s autobiography, but I thought the most logical way was chronologically. I began with my birth and have carried it through to my current age of 73. I gave more time to the earlier years of my life in the belief that character and values are formed when we are young. I combed through all of our old and recent photographs and added them where appropriate. Since I have been struggling for a decade with a serious medical issue, I decided to publish my autobiography while I am still able. That will allow time for my children and older grandchildren to read it and ask whatever questions they may have while I am around to answer them. Whatever happens in my life from now on will obviously not be in my autobiography, but all of the significant events have already taken place.

RootsMagic™ markets a software program to guide you through the writing of your autobiography, and I am sure there are many competitors who do the same. And there must be a wealth of information on the internet. My goal here is not to tell you how to write your autobiography, but simply to give you the inspiration to get started. I used Anundsen Publishing Company in Decorah, Iowa, to produce fifteen hardcover books and I am delighted with the result. I found Anundsen in their ads in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and genealogical publishing is one of their specialties. I must add that it was much nicer to speak directly with the owner, and Erik Anundsen was extremely helpful and responsive. However, any publisher can serve your needs, including Staples, FedEx Office, Office Depot, etc., and numerous self-publishers online, such as Lulu Publishing Services.

So I encourage you to begin your autobiography soon. If you are young, you can add to it as you travel through life. If you are my age, waste no time in getting started. You will be surprised at how easy it is because, after all, you know more about the subject matter than anyone else!

John E. Skillman III

Dutch Families in Early New Jersey

In the early 1700s, the third generation of Skillmans began a westward migration to central New Jersey from Newtown (now Elmhurst), Brooklyn, and other parts of Long Island. In general, they settled in Somerset, Mercer and Hunterdon Counties. Although Thomas1 Skillman had married Sara Pettit (Petit), an Englishwoman, his son, Thomas2 Skillman, married Annetje Aten, a Dutchwoman. Largely because of the influence of the mother on the family, the third generation of Skillmans began to intermarry with the Dutch families of central New Jersey and the Skillman family began to take on a distinctly Dutch identity. Nearly all attended the Reformed Dutch churches in the area, some traveling great distances to do so.

An examination of the descendants of Thomas1 Skillman, particularly those in the 18th century, shows a high incidence of Dutch surnames among the husbands and wives of the Skillmans. Many of these Dutch names are still prominent in the central New Jersey area. According to my database of the Skillman family tree in my RootsMagic software, the incidences of Dutch surnames are summarized below:

  • Stryker appears 200 times
  • Voorhees appears 140 times
  • Beekman appears 97 times
  • Van Dyke appears 79 times
  • Van Tine appears 59 times
  • Doughty appears 54 times
  • Aten appears 50 times
  • Nevius appears 41 times
  • Hageman appears 39 times
  • Wyckoff appears 38 times
  • Suydam appears 35 times
  • Veghte appears 30 times

There are many other Dutch surnames appearing less frequently than those above, as well as variant spellings of those above. My own 3rd great grandmother was a Van Duyn. So it is clear from the prominence of Dutch surnames in our family tree that the Skillman family in America has been strongly influenced by our Dutch ancestors. There is no record that our American ancestors walked around in wooden shoes, but don’t be surprised if you have a natural affinity for De Kuyper liqueurs and the paintings of the great Dutch Masters!

Johannes Vermeer - Young Woman with a Water Pitcher 1660-1662
Woman with a Water Jug, also known as Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, is a painting finished in the Baroque style between 1660–1662 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

John E. Skillman III

William Jones Skillman, Rutgers Class of 1860, Returns to Campus!

On April 20, 2013, the Reverend William Jones Skillman’s original letters, notebooks, and other documents which he used to compile the family history, returned to the place of his studies so long ago! The Reverend William Jones Skillman Collection was discovered in an antiques shop in Connecticut. The collection was purchased by three Skillman descendants, John E. Skillman III, Michael J. Wrona, and myself, Jay Skillman. Now at the Archives and Special Collections at Rutgers University, his collection has finally found a permanent home. Ninety-nine years after his death, I feel that, along with his life’s work, a special, more intangible part of him has returned to Rutgers. Spending 2012 reading the entire collection, I came to get a sense of the Reverend. You could tell when his feelings had been hurt, see his humor, his anger, his personal beliefs, and even his sense of wonder within pages written as long as one hundred and forty years ago. Now all of his notes and all the letters he kept that were sent from people across the United States and beyond are preserved at his alma mater.

Rutgers University Campus
Reverend William Jones SkillmanWhile William Jones Skillman had “The Skillmans of America and Their Kin” published first in the Princeton Press, and later in “The N.Y. Genealogical and Biographical Record” in 1906-1908, there is more to be learned from the non-published part of the collection. Some letters serve to give a sense of the person. For example, there was one correspondent whose only interest in the family history was monetary gain (this really angered the Revered, who said “why not get out of the devil-clutch of greed and money!”). There was another whose political views were made clear — “All Skillmans is [sic] Democrats.” Some tell a little something about themselves, like being intelligent but illiterate and needing a relative to write it down for them. One spells phonetically, but at least he was able to express himself.
Some family secrets were directly revealed, and other hints have already led to new discoveries. Finding out James Carnahan Skillman was a detective was the lesser of the two surprises his letter revealed! A notebook reference to a Skillman changing his name to Stewart has now led to the discovery of living Skillman-Stewart descendants. The Reverend pondering the possibility that the Dutch Schillemans could be related led the Skillman DNA Project to test a Schilleman, but the one Schilleman who has tested so far is not related to the Skillmans. All this, and more, will be discussed in future blogs, and the Collection Finding Aid and images of the actual Collection itself will be appearing in the Members Only section of the Skillman Family Association website.
For those wishing to see the original collection in person…
Special Collections and University Archives
Archibald S. Alexander Library
Rutgers University Libraries

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

169 College Avenue

New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1163

Phone: 848/932-7006

SC/UA is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
In the Alexander Library follow the signs for the Archives and Special Collections, however the Collection is not in this room. The Collection is now housed in the Archives underground climate controlled vault, but by filling out a simple request slip, it can be brought up from the vault for viewing. This is a very simple process and takes only a few minutes (I have examined items from the vault myself on several occasions). The Finding Aid will be made available online through “The Genealogical Society of New Jersey” website http://www.gsnj.org and may also be available in the Rutgers Library computer system. There may be a short delay until the Collection is available as a call number etc. will need to be assigned to it. The Genealogical Society of New Jersey has officially taken possession of the collection, as much of the Archives are actually owned and administered through them.

Rutgers University's Janet Reimer and Jay Skillman, descendant of William Jones Skillman
Jay Skillman turning in the Collection to Janet Reimer. Michael Wrona had provided the handsome compact boxes for hundreds of letters, notebooks and more, making thousands of pages neatly filed in acid-free folders to protect them!
My sister Gail and I delivered the collection to Rutgers, which was highly appropriate as we are both fellow Rutgers graduates and also descendants of the Reverend’s Grandfather William Henry Skillman. While there, we spent some time on campus sharing the nostalgia of again being among buildings that were there when William Jones Skillman studied there.
I would like to thank Janet Reimer, GSNJ Manuscript Chair, and retired (yet still working) University Archivist (the Original University Archivist as she likes to say)! Her efforts expedited the Collection reaching its new home! Additionally, I would like to thank Michael Wrona for processing the collection and creating the first Finding Aid, this in turn helped me to read, digitally photograph, and add to the Finding Aid. Also, thanks to John Skillman and Bill Skillman whose help was invaluable. Finally, thanks to the Reverend William Jones Skillman himself, to whom all Skillmans owe a great debt!

Guest Post by
Jay E. Skillman
SFA Member

Find A Grave — An Invaluable Genealogical Resource

Most serious genealogists have been using Find A Grave for years. This invaluable online genealogical resource currently lists more than 96 million graves from around the world, including many Skillmans. Each person’s listing is considered a “memorial,” which contains a write-up on the individual, along with the dates and places of birth and death (if known), as well as the cemetery in which he or she is buried. Pictures of the individual and the gravestone are often included, and anyone who feels so compelled can leave virtual “flowers” and a comment about the person.

Membership in Find A Grave is free, but you must register in order to be able to add memorials to the website. As of this date, I have added 433 memorials, mostly for my family members and ancestors, as well as a few friends. I have added a memorial for every one of my ancestors if I know where they are buried. I have also added 838 photos of individuals, cemeteries and gravestones, and I have taken 103 photos of gravestones requested by other members for their ancestors. Find A Grave is a website for everyone, and most members are very willing to help out other members. Additionally, I have been contacted by several heretofore unknown cousins who found a common ancestor among the memorials I have created.

Another great feature of Find a Grave is that you can link the memorials of people with those of their parents and children, so you can view memorials of an entire family, even if the members are buried in different cemeteries; in essence, you can create “virtual cemeteries.” For example, you can create a single virtual cemetery for all of your second great grandparents, who may be buried in multiple cemeteries, but you can view them all together in one virtual cemetery.

If you are not a member of Find A Grave, I encourage you to join and add memorials for your own ancestors as I have. But a word of caution — be sure to read the rules and FAQs before you begin, because there are certain things that you cannot do. It is particularly important that you make sure that no one has already created a memorial that you are trying to enter. Duplicate memorials are a no-no, and there are also special rules for correcting a memorial if you find an error. You cannot make changes to someone else’s memorial, but you can suggest changes to the creator of the memorial and under special circumstances request ownership of an existing memorial. However, you may, at any time, add a photo of the individual or the gravestone. I have also even seen death certificates on Find A Grave.

To give you an idea of what a memorial looks like, please check out this link to my father, John E. Skillman, Jr.’s memorial. You will see that you can then click on links to my mother and his parents, his brothers, and then to his grandparents and so on, all the way back to his third great grandparents. These are all Skillmans, and I know you will enjoy adding your own ancestors in this same manner. However, do not be surprised to discover that someone has already added a memorial for some of your own ancestors.

John E. Skillman III

Editor’s Note: Should Find A Grave survive the internet age and find itself sustainable in perpetuity, it will provide the invaluable service of preserving legible images of gravestones far beyond their natural lifespan. Among the biggest threats to our historic grave sites are the natural elements which have been escalated all the more by modern industry. Acid Rain has rapidly contributed to the demise of many historic headstones.

Old Gravestones and Acid Rain

The gravestones of our ancestors are deteriorating quickly, largely due to acid rain. This is a genealogical tragedy as it makes locating and reading the gravestones of our ancestors continually more difficult. Below you will see two photos I took of the gravestones of Jacob Skillman (born in 1735), his wife Ann (unknown last name) and daughter Tamson. These gravestones are in the Kingston Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Kingston, Somerset County, New Jersey. The earlier photo was taken in 1972 and the later photo in 2007. The difference in legibility between the stones in the two photos in just 35 years is significant. In another 35 years they may be completely illegible.

Jacob, Ann & Tamson Skillman gravestones in 1972.jpg

Jacob, Ann & Tamson Skillman gravestones in 2007.jpg

For this reason, I urge all members of the Skillman Family Association who may have photos of their ancestors’ gravestones to join Find A Grave and create perpetual memorials for your ancestors by adding the photos of their gravestones. (For more information on Find A Grave, please see the blog post entitled Find A Grave — An Invaluable Genealogical Resource.) This will preserve their gravestones on the internet for posterity while acid rain does its best to erase their memory.

John E. Skillman III

Editor’s Note: The color change between the photographic technologies and reproduction over 35 years is obvious, as is the differnce in groundskeeping. However, the odd situation of the height of the headstones remains. Judging from the dingbat characters (—•—), the center stone (Jacob) has not moved an inch, while the headstones of Ann and Tamson have either sunk dramatically or been purposefully reset lower. It is difficult to imagine that the two outer headstones have sunk uniformly a foot or more over the course of only 35 years while the center stone has remained completely stationary, although the techniques employed at time of burial may be the cause. Without verifiable documentation or a proper archeological dig, we may never know the true circumstances.

A Meaningful Book for Skillmans and Their Cousins

Would you enjoy reading detailed stories about the lives of your Skillman cousins? If so, my book Beyond DNA: Inheriting Spiritual Strength from the Women in Your Family Tree is for you! The book includes stories about your cousin Annie Skillman (later Mrs. Isaac Henry Bosman), her son (Rev. John T. Bosman), her grandson (George LeCato Bosman, Esq.), and her grandson (John Bosman). Annie Skillman was the daughter of F. Robert J. Skillman (1813-1890) of Baltimore (see the Skillman Tree for more on his ancestors).

Beyond DNA by Selena PostMy book, while written to encourage women toward a new twist on genealogy (seeking to learn of the spiritual lives of their female ancestors), includes chapters about ANNIE (with reflections on her Skillman family and ancestors — thanks to Bill Skillman’s help), MAMIE (wife of Rev. Bosman including the story of his life and siblings), MARIE (wife of George LeCato Bosman and includes his story), GRACE (my mother and wife of John Bosman where you’ll meet your cousin John and his child — me).

For more details about my book, go to www.amazon.com where you’ll see the cover, a description, some reviews, and you can use the “search inside” tool to read parts of the book. Mamie, Annie, Marie, and Grace are pictured left to right in the top row of photos on the cover.

If you would like more information, please e-mail me at selenapost@sbcglobal.net, and I’d be happy to e-mail the surname key (giving you last names of all the 15 women whose chapters inhabit my book) as well as a list of names of women as they appear in photos on the cover. Since many of the women were Methodist and related to Methodist ministers, I also developed a page of information illustrating their kinship to Methodist ministers. If you’d like a copy, just ask.

Looking forward to meeting Skillman cousins at the August 2014 reunion!
Blessings! Cousin Selena

Guest Post by
Selena Post (nee: Bosman)
SFA Member

Our First Skillman Family Reunion

According to William Jones Skillman in “Skillmans of America and Their Kin,” Thomas1 Skillman arrived in America on August 18, 1664. In 2014 the Skillman Family Association will celebrate the 350th anniversary of that important event. What better way to celebrate than by holding a Skillman Family Reunion?

New Jersey's Millstone River Valley
This photo was taken above the town of Kingston, NJ, looking southwest towards Princeton. The body of water is Carnegie Lake, with the Delaware and Raritan Canal running along side of it. The road is Route 27, part of the Lincoln Highway now celebrating its 100th anniversary. Of particular interest is the red building with the black Mansard roof at center right. This was formerly Skillman’s Mill. (Thanks to Peter D. Skillman, SFA Member, for this description.)

Beginning in the early 1700s, most of the Skillmans left New York and settled in the central part of New Jersey, primarily in Somerset and Mercer Counties. This area boasts many early Skillman gravestones in the old cemeteries, as well as churches that the Skillmans attended, many original to the period. In a two-day period in 2007 while visiting old cemeteries in central New Jersey, I found and photographed more than 100 gravestones of our 18th, 19th, and 20th century Skillman ancestors.

This area of New Jersey, being replete with Skillman history, is a logical place to hold our first family reunion. Contrary to most impressions of New Jersey, the central part of New Jersey where our early ancestors settled is beautiful with rolling hills, rivers, and farms. We will allow time for you to explore some of the Skillman history in the area. We will also have meetings on subjects such as our Skillman history and family tree, getting started in genealogy, and Skillman DNA. And there will be social time, allowing you to meet your distant cousins.

So please mark your calendar for our first Skillman family reunion in August, 2014, and plan a vacation around it. We will post details on the website as they develop, so please stay tuned. We will also need a Reunion Committee, so please let us know if you are willing to serve.

John E. Skillman III

Your Chance to Own an Historic Skillman Homestead

Trevanna Farms, dating to 1727 for its original structure, is now for sale. Originally on a 900 acre farm, it now sits on a more manageable 11.85 acres in Skillman, Montgomery Township, NJ. In the Skillman family for over 150 years, Trevanna Farms belonged to several generations of Skillmans in the line Thomas5, Thomas4 and Isaac3.

Trevanna Farms - Historic Skillman Family Homestead

This magnificent home and property can be yours for a mere $1,195,000! For more details, please take a look at the listing.

John E. Skillman III