Searching for the Origins of John Skudder (c. 1796 – 17 Jul 1866) and Mary (Russell) Skudder (c. 1802 – Feb 1864), both of Southwark, Surrey

“The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.”

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I’ve often thought about these lines. And I’ve mused how they might apply, or not apply, to family history research. We look and look and look for the missing kernel of truth, the fact – the particular birth, the marriage, the death, and its dates – upon which we can build and expand and elaborate all the others that follow. But sometimes there is no kernel of truth. No one fact. Just a list of competing, though in the end not terribly different, theories. And the truth, if we are ever to know it, will be found not in one theory or another, proven correct or incorrect, but in the vague haze that surrounds all of them.

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Recovering a Lost Lineage: The De Fontevieux Family of Alsace, Paris, and Washington Co., Pennsylvania

As many reading this can, I’m sure, attest, if one pursues family history long enough, sooner or later one runs out of stories touching on direct ancestors, and one starts to fan out in search of other subjects of curiosity and mystery, touching increasingly distant relatives.

And then, I think, a transition of sorts occurs, or can occur, from pursuing stories that have indeed been steadily retold, and really weren’t in any great danger of being tossed to the wayside, to ones that actually have been forgotten, truly lost, and now need finding once again.

This story hits both of those notes: it touches on a family not my own, at least by any blood reckoning, and to the best of my knowledge, it represents the reanimation of names and events that – like a beautiful Roman mosaic lying beneath a British farmer’s field – have been silently waiting, for years, to come back to light.

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Cézanne, or maybe it was de Kooning, said a painting is never really finished, just abandoned at a more or less appropriate time. [1]  So it is for my efforts to gather back in a handful of the people and stories of our family. The rest of my life is calling, and I’ve got to go. A few words though, both philosophical and practical, to wrap things up.

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Old Books Worth Seeking As References

This list is NOT by any means exhaustive. Consider it merely a helpful starting point.

(Arranged alphabetically, by major families.)



  • Alden, Ayers, Byram Genealogy, by Charles H. Ayers [Currently available at Morristown, NJ public library.]


  • The Descendants of Hugh Amory 1605-1805, by Gertrude Euphemia Meredith, London, 1901
  • “The Amory Family,” by Delos G. McDonald, printed in NEHGS Register, Volume 120, April 1966, pp.81-83


  • The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut, by Henry R. Stiles, AM, MD, Vol. II, New York 1904, pp. 128-133.
  • History of Rye 1660-1870, by Charles W. Baird, New York, 1871; the whole book contains useful references, but see especially pp. 398-399
  • History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, Vol. I, compiled by Donald Lines Jacobus, Fairfield, CT, 1930; republished Baltimore, 1976; pp. 107-109
  • The Early History of Berlin, Connecticut, An Historical Paper Delivered Before the Emma Hart Willard Chapter D.A.R., January 17, 1913, by Emily S. Brandegee


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A Brief Word on Dates

If you ever decide to do some looking into your family history, and you make it back to, say, the early 1700s, you will probably see one or more dates written like this: Jan 7, 1719/20. Unlike what you might think, that doesn’t mean the author was unsure of what year the event happened in, so they wrote both; rather, it indicates the event occurred on Jan 7 of… either 1719 or 1720, depending on whether you go by the contemporary calendar of the time, or our modern calendar today. And, making matters worse, it was not a Jan 7 that was an even number of years removed from this year’s Jan 7. Worst of all, it may also have reflected a culture that didn’t acknowledge the new year until the end of March. March?

I know, “clear as mud.”

If you’re scratching your head at all this, the problem stems from a major disruption in the measurement of time that occurred when Europe, and Europe’s colonies, switched – slowly, over several years – from the calendar that had been employed by the Romans, aka the Julian calendar, to an updated system, adopted by Pope Gregory, aka the Gregorian calendar.

This is not a minor point.

It affects the citation of all “early” colonial historical dates in a meaningful way, and the explanation below is, I’m sorry to say, actually worth wading through…



The Julian and the Gregorian Calendars

by Peter Meyer

The Gregorian Reform

The average length of a year in the Julian Calendar [the calendar put in place by Julius Caesar]  is 365.25 days (one additional day being added every four years). The length of the year in the Julian Calendar exceeds the length of the mean solar year (365.24219 mean solar days to five decimal places) by 11.2 minutes. This error accumulates so that after 128 years the calendar is out of sync with the equinoxes and solstices by one day. Thus as the centuries passed the Julian Calendar became increasingly inaccurate with respect to the seasons. This was especially troubling to the Christian Church because it affected the determination of the date of Easter, which, by the 16th Century, was well on the way to slipping into Summer.

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Links to Collaborative Genealogy Sites

In the interest of seeing that our family tree, the actual genealogical “who, when, and where” is preserved, I have placed some of the research that went into this blog on five websites, four of which actually aim to piece together, person by person, a single family tree for everyone. Taken literally, that is wildly ambitious, not to mention completely impractical, but the effort alone has already produced, flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, a very special body of research.

These “collaborative” genealogy sites are Geni, WikiTree, WeRelate, and FamilySearch. Each is a little different.

For example, Geni and WikiTree make room for all relatives including living people and then add privacy controls. WeRelate, meanwhile, has decided to forego information on living people and just focus on the near past. Geni makes little use of sources or documentation, but WikiTree and especially WeRelate strive, with varying success, to back up all assertions with primary documents. There are plenty of other differences, but that’s the gist of it.

The main point is that putting the information here means it will survive even in generations when no one inherits an interest in family history– something I see as increasingly  likely.

Here are some jumping off points, categorized first by site, and then by a few key relatives…














Finally, I said there are five sites. The fifth is, which somewhat sadly, has a paywall and curious people cannot simply click over to peruse the material at will. You can see it without a financial outlay, but to do so you’ll have to email me or Elisha Lee to be put on a list of invitees. Sorry, I didn’t make up those rules. If you are already on Ancestry, you can search for our tree which is called Kinsmen and Kinswomen (revised and sourced). [18,000 relatives and counting.] On the plus side, looking for a silver lining, the highly commercial aspect of Ancestry has paid huge dividends in making a vast trove of documents available online, including – in most cases – photocopies of originals. This includes birth certificates, marriage entries in the parish register, passport applications, draft registrations, VA records, medical examiners’ notes, high school yearbooks, biographical vignettes, and on and on. People can also share multiple digital copies of rare family photos.  There really is nothing like it for primary research.

At some point in the distant future, I’ll figure out how to put a version of our tree here, on this site, with measures in place to protect people’s privacy, but until then, the organizations above will have to suffice.

Methodist Cemetery, Barnard, VT

Aunt Magna, Uncle Harry, Uncle Howard, and Jean are all here.

This graveyard is also called the North Road-Methodist Cemetery, and it appears – according to Google, which has been known to be wrong from time to time (cough) – to be in Bethel, the next town to the north. Note though, that all the other references describe it as in Barnard.

Either way, it is located at the intersection of North Road and Town Highway 13.

No phone, and definitely no website or Facebook page.


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