By John E Skillman III*
Project Administrator, Skillman DNA Project
27 June 2012
The first Skillman to arrive in America, Thomas1 Skillman, came in 1664 as a soldier and musician under Col. Richard Nicolls in the Duke of York’s expedition to seize Manhattan Island from the Dutch.1 He remained in New York under a patent from Col. Nicolls and became a resident and freeholder in Newtown (now Elmhurst), Queens County,2 which was then a small farming community. His only son, Thomas2, was born in or near Newtown in 1671 and married there in 1693.3 Thomas2 Skillman had seven sons;4 one died in childhood5 and one bore only one son who was unmarried and allegedly lost at sea.6 The five remaining sons all married and all Skillmans in America are presumably descended from them, with the likely exception of African-Americans whose ancestors adopted the surname.
The Skillman DNA Project was established at Family Tree DNA in July 2009 to verify the lineage of the descendants of the five sons of Thomas2 Skillman and to attempt to identify his English ancestors. Family Tree DNA is the largest of the genealogical testing companies and they are located in Houston, Texas. The Skillman DNA Project uses Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA), which is passed down the male surname line from the father to his sons, generation after generation. Females do not inherit the Y-chromosome, so only male lines are considered. To date, the Project has twelve male Skillman surnamed members, ten in America and two in England. Y-DNA results have verified that all of the ten American Skillmans are related and descend from all five of the sons of Thomas2, confirming the extensive conventional genealogy done previously on these five separate and distinct family lines.7 All are predicted by Family Tree DNA to be in Haplogroup R1b1a2,8 a designation for a genetic population group which migrated to northern Europe 10,000 to 12,000 years ago after the last glacial maximum.9 The two Skillmans in England are predicted to be in Haplogroup I1 and are not related to the ten Skillmans in the United States, nor are they related to each other.10
The Hart DNA Project was also established at Family Tree DNA and currently lists 144 male Hart surnamed members who can be viewed on the project website.11 Within the Hart DNA Project is a subgroup designated “Unknown common ancestor” containing three Hart members. These three Harts, like the American Skillmans, are predicted by Family Tree DNA to be in Haplogroup R1b1a2.12 They are very tightly related, two being an exact match on 37 markers and the third having only one mismatch to the other two on 37 markers.13 However, the three Harts did not know each other until their DNA tests indicated a close relationship, and they have not been able to identify a common ancestor among them.14 The three Harts are not related to any of the other Harts in the Hart DNA Project,15 but they have a surprisingly close match to the ten Skillmans in the United States.16 The three Harts are dual members in the Hart DNA Project and the Skillman DNA Project, and the websites of both projects are accessible at Family Tree DNA.com.
In order to understand the significance of the closeness of the Y-DNA match among the ten Skillmans and the three Harts (hereinafter referred to as “the Skillmans” and “the Harts”), a simplified explanation of Genetic Distance (GD) will help. This study will primarily focus on the comparison of 37 specific markers selected by Family Tree DNA from the Y-chromosome DNA chain, but two of the Skillmans and one Hart have tested 111 markers. Each marker is assigned a number and/or letter designation, called a DYS number, by an international standard body in London, and each marker will have a value as determined by the testing lab. Simply stated, Genetic Distance is the number of markers which have different values between two individuals. Assuming 37 markers have been tested for two individuals, if all 37 match exactly, the GD is 0. If one marker out of 37 has a different value between the two individuals, the GD is 1. If two markers differ out of 37, the GD is 2, and so forth. In comparing two people on 37-marker results, Family Tree DNA considers GD0 as very tightly related, GD1 as tightly related, GD2 and GD3 as related, GD4 as probably related, GD5 as possibly related, and GD6 or greater not related.17 On average, Y-DNA markers mutate once every 250 years,18 but some markers mutate faster than others.
Most Recent Common Ancestor
The Skillmans have a surprisingly close Y-DNA match to the Harts. The modal, or average haplotype of the Skillmans, matches the modal haplotype of the Harts on 35 of 37 markers.19 (A haplotype is the sequence of marker values that defines the unique DNA signature for an individual or group.) If it is probable that two individuals, or in this case two tightly related groups, share a common ancestor and that ancestor cannot be identified, it is helpful to estimate how long ago that common ancestor may have lived. This ancestor is designated the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). Methods of calculating the time to the MRCA vary somewhat among testing companies and each testing company has its own formula. Family Tree DNA offers a proprietary algorithm to predict the time to the MRCA based on the various mutation rates of the common markers between two individuals. They call this algorithm the FTDNATiP™ or Family Tree DNA Time Predictor.20 The FTDNATiP™ predicts that there is approximately a 30% probability that the Skillmans and the Harts share a common ancestor within four generations, a 70% probability within eight generations, and a 90% probability within twelve generations.21
Using an average of 25 years for each generation, four generations would be 100 years, eight would be 200 years and twelve would be 300 years. With a 90% probability that the MRCA between the Skillmans and the Harts lived within 300 years, that time is easily within the 341 year period since the birth of Thomas2 Skillman in New York in 1671, the Most Recent Common Ancestor of the Skillmans as verified by their Y-DNA.
An examination of the 37-marker results for the Skillmans and the Harts reveals that the values of 23 of the 37 markers are identical among them.22 Considering only the 14 markers that differ, 11 show a different value for only one or two individuals and that value is not generally shared within the Skillman or Hart groups.23 These individual mutations can be attributed to the specific genetic lines of those individuals. The other three markers have values that are shared by three or more persons as shown in the table below:24
FTDNA Kit Number
Earliest Known Ancestor
CDY b –
|The Three Harts|
|N45480||Hart (William, b. c1717, d. 1799, PA)||12||17||38|
|104872||Hart (Joseph, b. c1810, NJ)||12||17||38|
|48912||Hart (Nathaniel, d. 1816, NJ)||12||17||38|
|Skillmans in America|
|165986||Skillman (Benjamin, b. 1710, Brooklyn, NY)||11||18||39|
|195940||Skillman (Benjamin, b. 1710, Brooklyn, NY)||11||19||38|
|161322||Skillman (Isaac, b.1706, Newtown, NY)||11||18||39|
|170812||Skillman (Isaac, b.1706, Newtown, NY)||11||18||38|
|194755||Skillman (Isaac, b.1706, Newtown, NY)||11||18||38|
|152631||Skillman (Jacob, b. 1708, probably Newtown, NY)||11||18||39|
|164581||Skillman (Jacob, b. 1708, probably Newtown, NY)||12||18||38|
|254976||Skillman (Jacob, b. 1708, probably Newtown, NY)||12||18||38|
|166577||Skillman (John, b.c. 1696, probably Brooklyn, NY)||11||18||38|
|195275||Skillman (John, b.c. 1696, probably Brooklyn, NY)||11||18||38|
|194904||Skillman (Joesph, b.1712, Newtown, NY)||11||18||38|
The 570 and CDYb markers displayed in blue have demonstrated a faster mutation rate than the 460 marker displayed in black. The values of 17 and 18 at Marker 570 are unique to each surname group and are not shared with the other surname group. Only two Skillmans, identified by Kit #164581 and Kit #254976, share Marker 460 with the Harts. These two Skillmans are in the same line descending from George4 Skillman, son of Jacob3. While conclusions based on the above chart are somewhat nebulous, two may be reasonably drawn:
- The only Skillman to share Marker 460 (a slowly mutating marker) with all three Harts is the Skillman identified by Kit #164581, and he also shares Marker CDYb with the Harts. The other descendant of Jacob3 does not share either of these markers with that Skillman or the Harts. This suggests that any common ancestor among the Skillmans and the Harts may have occurred after Jacob3 Skillman and in the line of the Skillman identified by Kit #164581, unless this single mutation is simply a coincidence.
- The values at Marker 570 are distinct to each family and occurred after the MRCA between the Skillmans and Harts. The value of 18 for the Skillmans dates to Thomas2 Skillman or earlier, and the value of 17 comes from an ancestor common to the three Harts, most likely a generation or two after the MRCA, unless the MRCA predates Thomas2 Skillman.
Geographic and Other Odd Coincidences
Since it can be reasonably concluded through Y-DNA comparisons that the Skillmans and Harts are related, what other evidence, or notable lack thereof, can be found that they share a common ancestor? There are many intriguing coincidences between these two groups of differently surnamed males, many of which have been pointed out previously.
- The Harts are very tightly related, yet they did not know each other until their Y-DNA tests indicated a close match.
- The Harts have been unable to identify a common ancestor among them through conventional genealogical research, yet their Y-DNA indicates such a common ancestor exists, almost certainly within eight generations.
- The Harts cannot trace their lineage beyond the eighteenth century, while the Skillmans have proven theirs through Y-DNA to 1671, at least two generations earlier.
- The Harts are not related to any of the other Harts in the Hart DNA Project.
- The Harts and the Skillmans have a 70% probability of a common ancestor within eight generations and a 90% within twelve generations, very likely after the birth of Thomas2 Skillman in 1671.
- Each of the two Harts with exactly matching DNA claims that his earliest known ancestor was in New Jersey, one born there about 1810, the other dying there in 1816.25
- Thomas1 Skillman and John1 Hart were residents of Newtown, NY, Thomas1 Skillman from the mid-1660s until his death about 1697.26 John1 Hart, with a James Way, was allotted within the Newtown patent “all the public interest in Smith’s Island” on 11 March 1668.27
- Thomas2 Skillman and John2 Hart also lived in Newtown and both appear on a petition signed in Newtown on 11 May 1703.28 As Newtown was a small farming community at the time, it can therefore be reasonably assumed that the second generation of Skillmans and Harts knew each other and they probably knew each other’s families.
- Y-DNA has proven that descendants of Edward3 and Joseph3 Hart, sons of John2 Hart, are related.29 The three Harts are not related to either of these two Harts.30
- In the early and mid-1700s, many of the Skillmans and Harts of Newtown settled in central New Jersey, primarily in Somerset and Mercer Counties. John2 Hart, father of Captain Edward3 Hart and grandfather of John4 Hart, who signed the Declaration of Independence (later designated John “the Signer”), went to Hopewell.31 Many third generation Skillmans settled in Kingston, Rocky Hill, Blawenburg, Harlingen, Skillman, and other nearby towns, all within a ten mile radius of Hopewell.32
- Thomas1 Skillman married Sarah Pettit (Petit) in 1669.33 One hundred and ten years later, a witness to the will of John “the Signer” Hart was Jesse Pettit.34 Were these Pettits related? If so, did these families remain close because of an early relationship between Thomas1 Skillman and John Hart2 of Newtown, grandfather of John “the Signer?”
- The author and one Hart have upgraded to 111 markers and have a Genetic Distance of 5, or exact matches on 106 out of the 111 markers.35 Four of the mismatches occurred within the first 37 markers.36 Based on 111 markers, the FTDNATiP™ predicts a MRCA at a probability of 55% within eight generations and 87% within twelve generations.37
- More significantly, the results of a SNP (deep clade)38 test done by the author and one of the Harts are identical and place them both in subclade R1b1a2a1a1b.39 The ancient origins of this subclade appear to have roots in the British Isles and specifically England. The fact that this Skillman and Hart share the identical subclade adds another layer of conviction to the relationship.
The striking proximity of early Skillmans and Harts in Newtown, NY, and central New Jersey arouses suspicion that a non-paternity event may have taken place. Undocumented adoptions of orphaned children were a frequent occurrence in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mothers of newborns all too often died in childbirth, with the child being taken in by a relative or neighbor and raised as a member of that family and with that family’s surname. While infidelities may have been less common because of strict moral codes of the period, they certainly occurred. And it must be presumed that occasional “shotgun weddings” took place, where the unsuspecting groom thought the unborn child to be his, or simply acted as a “white knight” at the insistence of one family or both families. Any of these events would account for the close Y-DNA matches between the Skillmans and the Harts.
The Y-DNA results of both groups imply with little doubt that the Skillmans and the Harts are related and share a MRCA within twelve generations, and very likely within eight. This kinship is further confirmed by the identical results of the two SNP (deep clade) tests. If it can be accepted that the Skillmans and Harts are related, was the MRCA a Skillman or a Hart? With due apologies to the Harts, the writer believes them to be Skillmans for all of the reasons established above, although the opposite is certainly possible. The Y-DNA results of the Skillmans confirm extensive conventional research on our family of Skillmans in America and we are unquestionably all descended from Thomas2 Skillman, our common 6th great grandfather, who was born in New York in 1671.40 Therefore, we know that our Y-DNA is intact back to 1671. The Harts can make no such claim.
The number of generations to a possible MRCA is stated in probabilities, and the MRCA between the two groups may have lived prior to the arrival of the Skillmans and Harts in this county, likely from England. However, the probabilities of the time to the MRCA imply that it is more likely that the MRCA was in this country. While there are numerous possibilities for non-paternity events between the two families, an examination of these possibilities points to one Skillman who stands out among the rest primarily because of the marker values at DYS460.
George4 Skillman, son of Jacob3, was born on Long Island (Newtown?) in 1747.41 This George is the 5th great grandfather of the Skillman identified by Kit #164581, the only Skillman who shares the marker value of 12 at DYS460 with the Harts. George4 served in the Revolutionary War and did not marry until he was approximately 35 years of age, when he married his first wife from a New Jersey family in 1782.42 They went to Virginia, where a son of that marriage was born in 1783.43 The Skillman who shares the marker value of 12 at DYS460 with the Harts is a descendant of that son. George4 and his first wife then returned to New Jersey, where she died in Newark in 1784.44 George4 then married a woman from Neshanic, NJ, in say 1787, and two sons were born of that marriage in 1788 and 1790.45 This George Skillman was unmarried until he was 35 and again for about three years while he was in search of a second wife in central New Jersey. It is certainly possible that he fathered a child by a Hart wife or soon-to-be Hart wife during either of these two periods. This would explain the value of 12 at DYS460 for the Harts.
This scenario, however, is pure conjecture and no proof or other evidence leading to George4 as the MRCA has yet been found. The three administrators of the Skillman DNA Project continue to explore all possibilities to identify the MRCA between the Skillmans and the Harts. As additional Skillman and Hart males are tested at Family Tree DNA and other genealogical testing companies, new clues may appear to help narrow the search. It remains, however, that non-paternal events are very difficult to identify and verify and the MRCA between the Skillmans and the Harts may never be discovered.
*5300 Bayshore Boulevard, Apartment B4, Tampa, FL 33611 firstname.lastname@example.org. The author is a descendant of Thomas1 Skillman through Thomas2, Jacob3, John4, Jacob5, Elias Scudder6, John M.7, John Earle8, and John Earle, Jr9. The author thanks Jay Edward Skillman of Middlesex, NJ, a microbiologist and Co-Administrator of the Skillman DNA Project, for his significant and valuable contributions to this article.
1William Jones Skillman, “The Skillmans of America and their Kin,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, New York, 37(1906):24.
2Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):24.
3Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):24.
4Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):25-26.
5Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):25.
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42Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):278.
43Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):278.
44Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):278.
45Skillman, “The Skillmans of America,” 37(1906):278.