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.
While 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
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.
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