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

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

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