RootsMagic™ – A Leader in Genealogical Software


The President, Vice President, and Genealogist of the Skillman Family Association all use RootsMagic™ to organize and store data on their respective family trees, and we heartily recommend this software to all Association members. It can be downloaded for $29.95 from the RootsMagic™ website at There is also a free version, which I do not recommend, because it does not have many of the features that are described in this blog. RootsMagic™ is only available in PC format, but they are working on a Mac version.

There are many great features to RootsMagic™, most importantly the ability to record supporting documentation or data for each and every event, such as the name of the individual and the date and place of his or her birth, marriage, death and a myriad of other facts, like education, occupation, etc. Once a reference source is entered and saved, it can be reused for other individuals to whom it applies. For example, a census record, once entered, can be applied to every member of the family listed in the census without retyping the information.

Your family tree in RootsMagic™ can be viewed in several different formats and the information can be retrieved in several different ways. There is a relationship calculator to help you determine the relationship between any two individuals in your database, and the relationship to you also appears in the lower left corner of each person’s screen. If needed, you can retrieve all events that took place in a certain city, such as which Skillmans lived in Kingston, NJ?

RootsMagic™ will also form all of your events into a cogent sentence for a narrative report. For example, if John Doe was married to Jane Smith (fact) on 18 June 1865 (date) at the Dutch Reformed Church (place detail) in Franklin Park, NJ (location) by the Reverend William Vanderveer (description), RootsMagic™ will take all of these separate facts and compose them into a single sentence. There is also a media function where you can add several photos and documents pertaining to each individual.

There is a publisher function that allows you to publish your family tree in a complete book at any publisher. You can write descriptive pages, such as a dedication page, an acknowledgement page, etc. When you save your book as a PDF file, it automatically creates a table of contents. You can then take the PDF on a disk to Staples, Office Depot, FedEx Office, or any other publisher you may choose. I have recently published a book showing all of my and my wife’s direct ancestors going back ten generations. It contains an ancestor chart and a narrative report on the direct ancestors of each of us. The narrative report also includes a photo of each ancestor, if I have one. The entire book runs 82 pages and it will be a treasure for our descendants.

Importantly, RootsMagic™ is the only software certified to add and share data with FamilySearch Family Tree. RootsMagic™ software is complex enough to have all the bells and whistles you need for your family tree, but it is also fairly intuitive. When you are getting started, you should watch the various free webinars which explain particular functions of the software. If you are using another vendor’s software and are not satisfied with it, you can switch to RootsMagic™ with a GEDCOM file. I used another program for many years, but for reasons I won’t discuss here, I changed to RootsMagic™ several years ago.

RootsMagic™ is based in Utah and they have a terrific technical support desk to help you with any questions. The brains behind RootsMagic™ is Bruce Buzbee, whom I have met on a few occasions. It is a small family company that does its best to please its customers. The Skillman Family Association recommends RootsMagic™, particularly if you are just beginning to research your family tree.

John E Skillman III

Ancestry, Heritage Quest or FamilySearch: Which do you prefer?

There are number of interesting developments in the world of genealogy, but perhaps nothing as important than the introduction of online genealogy databases. A subscription database like®, Heritage Quest Online provides a wealth of information and is mandatory for the researcher looking for primary source materials. Both of these databases are marketed as comprehensive libraries and meant to be a “one-stop shop” for the novice user. Both include census records, birth, death and marriage records and other features. Many public libraries subscribe to one or the other of these two databases, therefore, check with your local library to see whether they provide either of these services.

Free database libraries include the ever popular database of choice FamilySearch this comprehensive database includes vital statistics divided by states and region. The scope of the database includes regional and international records and is perhaps more popular due largely to its availability to the general public; its ease of use and cost savings features are value added. Developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, it contains a host of online applications including site storage and file sharing. For those looking for an easy, useful and inexpensive way to save and store your genealogy and collaborate with others, this database is for you.

The savvy genealogist would probably work between all three databases, checking back and forth to verify information. I use FamilySearch on a daily basis to find important and worthy genealogical information. Be sure to log in regularly as they update their files frequently. FamilySearch is currently releasing a variety of site enhancements.

Here in Michigan, through the state’s eLibrary, residents are able to log into and use Heritage Quest free of charge. I would investigate what your own state has to offer. This generally is found at the state library level. Check their website or give them a call to see what hidden gems may be out there for your use.

Michael Wrona
Vice President

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

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

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.