The Reverend William Jones Skillman Collection: The Early Letters


Author’s Note

As previously mentioned, the Reverend William Jones Skillman original letters, and other documents were found, digitally photographed, and then the originals were placed in the Archives and Special Collections at Rutgers University.

As magnificent a work as is “Skillmans of America and Their Kin”, the Collection contains even more. The best of it captures a little about the lives and the personalities of our ancestors more than one hundred years ago.

The collection is available in the SFA members section as pdf files. The first pdf file contains Box 1 F1 to F5 (Folders 1 to 5) and these are the subject of this Blog. If you attempt to read the original letters, I would note that the + and – zoom feature is useful in making out the writing. It took me a year to photograph the whole collection, besides the time spent interpreting the handwriting; unfortunately a few are also slightly out of focus.


So much could be written about the letters. Each time I look at them I see more. I have tried to limit this to what stood out to me. These are my own impressions and could be wrong. Comments would be appreciated, even if it is just letting us know you read the blog!

Box 1 F1 is a letter from Elizabeth Andrews, dated March 27, 1907. She is under her Grandfather’s entry SOA #155 in “Skillmans of America and Their Kin” [155. THOMAS6 SKILLMAN (Francis5, Thomas4, Joseph3, Thomas2, Thomas1) [See either SOA or the collection letter for details.]

While photographing the collection, I noticed that beyond the content of the letters themselves, the envelopes and stationary provide a wealth of historical information.


The envelopes and stationary are from The Mohawk Hotel, Brooklyn NY, and postmarked March 27, 1907 at 1:30 p.m. So Elizabeth mailed it the same day it was written.

The Mohawk Hotel is now The Mohawk Apartments, 379 Washington Avenue, Clinton Hill Historic District, Brooklyn New York. “An upscale residential hotel”, it had been built a mere 3 years earlier, in 1904. Perhaps Elizabeth was living here at the time.

The irony of the use of a Native American image and name, is not lost on me. It would be deemed politically incorrect now, but was quite common at the time.

The letter contains straightforward and useful genealogical information. Elizabeth’s mother is mentioned as being the daughter of Judge Horatio Onderdonk. There are numerous entries on the internet about the Judge’s historic home, Onderdonk House. Interestingly, Onderdonk House is also in a video game from the “Sims” series. A website notes that “Based on the likeness of an actual historic home, this house from SimCity 3000 is now available for download for your Sims 2 neighborhood.”

In reviewing the letter, I realized that Elizabeth was the daughter of Francis Skillman. Francis Skillman was the Author of “Skillmans of New York” and was a former friend of WJS. Francis had passed away in 1898. Elizabeth mentioned that the letter had been forwarded from Roslyn, where Francis had lived. Even though it was nine years after his death, could the Reverend’s letter have been meant for Francis? You would wonder too, if you knew what I know! However, this story is about Elizabeth’s letter, so I will end the discussion there. I will save the subject of Francis, the Reverend and how their friendship may have come to a startling end for another time.

Box 1 F2 does not have much that is noteworthy, except that the person WJS was trying to find had died. One insight emerges from the address on the envelope. One could reconstruct the movements of the Reverend William Jones Skillman himself, from the many addresses he had over the years. Being a Reverend he moved to different parishes.

Reverend William Jones Skillman addresses in this first set are:

168 South Pearl Street
Albany, NY

27 March 1876, Box 1, F4
16 February 1881, Box 1, F2

462 Lyceum Avenue
Philadelphia, PA

2 February 1901, Box 1, F5
27 March 1907, Box 1, F1

Box 1 F3 is of interest to all of the descendants of SOA #8 Jacob3 Skillman (including myself), being a reference to the land he once owned. We learn that Jacob bought land in Kingston, New Jersey from the Widow of Barefoot Brinson, rather than from the man himself, as it appears in SOA. There is a record of Jacob’s Grandson SOA #53 JACOB5 SKILLMAN (Abraham4, Jacob3, Thomas2, Thomas1), and wife Sarah selling some of the land. Earlier more of the land had been sold, eventually going to Lemuel Scudder.

The exact layout of all of Jacob’s land is in question. There he bought land (600 acres says tradition), and built the first mill at that point, just where the Great Road between New York and Philadelphia (halfway between the cities) crosses the Millstone. There also he opened a store, and besides kept a tavern. The likely spot is the current location of the Kingston Mill (a later Mill built in 1888) by Route 27 in Kingston, New Jersey. Another possibility is Scudder’s Mill Road, Princeton NJ, since Jacob’s Mill eventually went to Scudder.

Kingston-NJ-Cemetery-and-MillThe Kingston Mill in 2010. Photo: Jay Skillman

Box 1 F4 contains Letters written by Eliza H. Burke, Princeton, NJ; 27 March, 20 July, 5 December, 1876 and 13 January 1877. Daughter of SOA #99. PETER6 SKILLMAN (Gerardus5, Thomas4, Isaac3, Thomas2, Thomas1)

When I read the first letter, the thing that struck me was on the back of the envelope. There is written “good natured, pleasant letter”. I soon learned to recognize the black ink and handwriting of the Reverend William Jones Skillman himself. Not only do we get a letter from 1876, but we get the Reverend’s own thought about it and a hint at his personality. There would be many more to come. Indeed reading the four letters from her; I would agree with his assessment of them. Eliza’s letters are pleasant, and she was very helpful. She made a good many inquiries to help with the family history. Many of the people she talked to, then corresponded with WJS as well. Words of Wisdom from Eliza: “When we are young we are looking forwards, it’s only when we are growing old that we look back.” And “I am obliged to you for furnishing me with the names of my ancestors, it is wonderful to trace a family back so far.” We are all still obliged to the Reverend, and will be, far into the future.

Thanks to all who have or continue to contribute to Skillman Genealogy and the Skillman Family Association, including Bill Skillman, Greg Skillman, Ken Skillman, Lee Fleming, Michael Wrona, and of course especially to the late John E. Skillman III.

Jay Skillman
Administrator of the Skillman DNA Project

For SFA Members

The best way to find if there is a letter written about or especially by your direct ancestor, is to find the most recent ancestor (late 1800’s to early 1900’s) that has been assigned a number in “Skillmans of America and Their Kin”. Then search in the Finding Aid by that number, in the form SOA #___. In example, the Reverend William Jones is SOA #165. I am willing to help, if you need assistance checking for a letter.

Cemeteries of the Early Skillmans

Have you ever wondered where our early Skillmans are buried? The general answer to that question is New Jersey, and Somerset County in particular. However, clusters of Skillmans relocated in later generations to New York, Ohio and Indiana in a general northern and western migration. Surprisingly, few Skillmans migrated south. Now, of course, later generation Skillmans are buried in nearly every state. Note that Hamilton County, OH, was a hotbed of later Skillmans. There are only 123 Skillman graves listed in all of Pennsylvania, so the Ohio Skillmans apparently skipped right over Pennsylvania.

The best source of data on the graves of early Skillmans is, a wonderful website which was recently purchased by, but for the moment it is still free to members. lists 417 Skillman graves in the state of New Jersey. Below are some data from on early Skillman burials. I have only included those cemeteries which contain ten or more Skillman burials, with the exception of the Beekman Cemetery, a small well-maintained private cemetery containing early Skillmans.

NameCityCountyStateSkillman Graves
Crown Hill CemeteryIndianapolisMarionIN19
Forest Hill CemeteryShelbyvilleShelbyIN23
Amwell Ridge CemeteryRingoesHunterdonNJ17
Beekman CemeteryMontgomery Twp.SomersetNJ9
Blawenburg Reformed ChurchBlawenburgSomersetNJ38
Elm Ridge CemeteryNew BrunswickMiddlesexNJ18
Green-Wood CemeteryTrentonMercerNJ14
Harlingen Reformed ChurchBelle MeadSomersetNJ26
Kingston Presbyterian ChurchKingstonSomersetNJ24
Mount Hope CemeteryLambertvilleHunterdonNJ38
Princeton CemeteryPrincetonMercerNJ33
Riverview CemeteryTrentonMercerNJ19
Rocky Hill CemeteryRocky HillSomersetNJ21
Second English PresbyterianAmwellHunterdonNJ10
Bemis Point CemeteryEllery CenterChautauquaNY17
Green-Wood CemeteryBrooklynKingsNY36
McDonough Union CemeteryMcDonoughChenangoNY27
Riverside CemeteryEndicott (Union)BroomeNY23
Greenwood CemeteryHamiltonButlerOH13
New Lexington CemeteryNew LexingtonPerryOH15
Reading Protestant CemeteryReadingHamiltonOH15
Spring Grove CemeteryCincinnatiHamiltonOH56
West Branch Mill CreekColerain Twp.HamiltonOH34

I had no idea there was such a large group of Skillmans in Lambertville, New Jersey, a charming town on the Delaware River. I suspect that each of the cemeteries listed above contain Skillmans almost exclusively descended from one of the five sons of Thomas2 Skillman from whom we are all descended. Without doing further research, it seems unlikely to me that two different lines of Skillmans would move together to a particular area or state. For example, all of the Skillmans in Riverside Cemetery in Endicott (Union), NY, are of my line and descended from Jacob5 (John4, Jacob3) Skillman.

John E Skillman III

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

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 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 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, 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

A Skillman GI Wartime Romance for Valentine’s Day

Let us face it, sometimes genealogy can seem a little dull — name, born, married, children. Yawn, it’s nap time. Then finding a new reference can change everything. For example:

9914. John Edward Skillman (Frank William10, John Edward9, David Sylvester8, Jesse Carl/Carr7, Thomas6, Thomas5, Thomas4, Joseph/Joost3, Thomas2, Thomas1) was born on 11 Apr 1924 in New York. He died on 17 Jan 2001 at the age of 76 in Westerville Care Center, Westerville, OH. John Edward Skillman and Jeannette Iris Gardner were married on 27 Apr 1945. (London Records show wedding as 1946) John Edward Skillman and Jeannette Iris Gardner had the following children: etc.

In another record in an excerpt from an e-mail from Mike Skillman in England:

“I found one Jeanette Skillman in London. I found I already had her marriage in 1946 in London but she was on her own. I found her birth — born in Lambeth, London — but no sign of her husband John E. Skillman.

Nice to have this information, but doesn’t tell you much about them as people. Then after some time I found her sailing over to the USA in 1948 and 1954. In 1954 she had daughters Dianne (4) and Suzanne (2) and she was described as a housewife but, strangely their last permanent home was down as ‘foreign countries.’

Then the answer came…”

Just one more record can add life to the story:

55. SKILLMAN, Jeannette I. 21 F 139460 British 106 Grantham Rd, London S.W.9.
Dependent of: 1st Lt. John E. Skillman, ASN. 0-871303, US Army
33 Liberty Street, Bemus Point, New York

This tells us that American GI John E. Skillman, and English Jeannette Iris Gardner had a romance in war-torn London, married and came to live in America.

History brought back to life!

Jay Skillman
Middlesex, NJ