Invaluable WJS Collection Now on SFA Website!

How would you like to read a letter in your own great grandfather’s or great grandmother’s handwriting and view his or her signature? You may be able to do this now that the complete William Jones Skillman Collection is on the SFA website! It still amazes me that the Reverend William Jones Skillman’s collection of his correspondence, scrapbooks, and journals has survived the several generations and 99 years since his death in 1914. “The Skillmans of America and Their Kin,” his genealogy of the first five generations of the Skillman family in America (also under the Members Only section of the SFA website), was the result of some 30 years of his correspondence and work from the 1870s through the early 1900s. That this collection was discovered three years ago in an antiques shop in Connecticut is truly miraculous.

In September of 2010, before the Skillman Family Association was conceived, the collection was purchased by Jay Edward Skillman, Michael Jeffrey Wrona, and this author, three descendants of Thomas1 Skillman with the foresight to preserve it for posterity. Once it was digitized for the members of the SFA, it was donated in the name of the Skillman Family Association to the Archives & Special Collections Section of the Alexander Library at Rutgers University, but SFA members can view the entire collection under the Members Only section of the SFA website. For more on the collection and its donation to the Alexander Library, see the SFA Blog dated 28 April 2013 entitled “William Jones Skillman, Rutgers Class of 1860, Returns to Campus!

After the collection was purchased, it was shipped to Michael Wrona, Supervising Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Dearborn, MI. Using his extensive library experience and his certification in archival administration, Michael spent many hours of his free time organizing and cataloging the collection and preparing a finding aid, which is an index to the contents of the collection. The collection was then shipped to Jay Skillman in Middlesex, NJ, who spent many hours of his free time expanding the finding aid and photographing and digitizing the numerous documents in the collection. It was Jay who then presented the collection to the Alexander Library.

All members of the Association, both present and future, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Michael and Jay for their extensive work on the collection and to Ken Skillman, our Webmaster, for his time and effort in posting the collection on our website. As members of the Skillman Family Association, we are truly fortunate to be able to view every document in this wonderful collection online without having to travel to the Alexander Library in New Brunswick, NJ. In my opinion, this access alone is well worth the price of our annual dues. Be sure to start with the Finding Aid, which will help you identify items pertaining to your own ancestors. You will note on page 4 that Jay Skillman has added his tips on some of the most interesting items in the collection. They will give you an insight to William Jones Skillman and the frustrations he faced in compiling his genealogy of our family. So take advantage of the time and hard work of your cousins and spend some of your time with the William Jones Skillman Collection. You are likely to be well rewarded!

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