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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A Few 19th Century Burgin Photographic Portraits

There are only a handful of extant photographs of the first and second generations of the Burgin family in America, as they would have appeared in the late 19th century. These shown below are all the ones I know about.

Perhaps, given their somewhat limited financial means, Thomas and Jane Burgin and their children viewed formal portraiture as a rare luxury, and personal photography as little more than a curiosity– a technical and possibly expensive hobby.

All that would change, though, in fairly short order.

By the time Clarence Burgin and Minnie Morton Rodgers had been married a decade, in the early days of the 20th century, the family was using cameras with a vengeance: amply documenting adolescent acrobatics on the lawn, picnics, neighborhood friends, and camping trips. Who would’ve thought? Burgins as early adopters!

In a week or so, I’ll have a post devoted to those albums. For now, though, the first few portraits…





Clockwise from left, the immigrants Thomas and Jane Skudder Burgin, (probably) Clarence Burgin as a youth, Minnie Morton Rodgers in her wedding gown, and lastly, Minnie Morton Rodgers, much as my grandfather would’ve known her growing up…  He once told me he would playfully take her hand and invoking a popular dance at the time, ask, “Minnie won’t you shimmy with me?” He loved the story.


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Oak Grove Cemetery in Springfield, MA

This is where Thomas and Jane Skudder Burgin are buried, along  with their daughter Jennie.

I haven’t gone yet, but I want to.



Oak Grove Cemetery 

426 Bay Street

Springfield, Hamden County, Massachusetts, 01109

GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 42.12640, Longitude: -72.56250

No website listed but there is an official Facebook page, which you can find here.

(There is also an unofficial Facebook page which you can find here. This seems to be more people showing pictures of visits to loved ones.)

Oak Grove at Find-A-Grave.

Phone (413) 739-2127

Fax (413) 731-5138




A map of the individual sections. Our people are in Heath Path Section 12-92.


In Memory of ‘Jennie’ Burgin

My mother, Jane Skudder Burgin Lawrence was told she was named after this young woman, whose given name was Jane but who was called Jennie.

One of my great-grandfather’s siblings, she was born in a suburb of London, and came here in her infancy. She died of tuberculosis when she was 24.

Her tombstone, in its brevity, and its use of her family nickname not her Christian name, speaks of the choking grief the family must have felt at her loss.

My mother has always wanted to go out to Springfield and pay a visit to Jennie’s grave, but for various reasons, we never took the trip.

This post is for her…



Jane / “Jennie” Burgin’s baptism/ birth entry:




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The Burgins Arrive NYC: May 3, 1864

In a period when the idea of immigration as a fundamental aspect of the American experience is on a lot of our minds, it was somewhat dumb luck that I happened across something we’ve been looking for for a long time: the (probable) record of the arrival of Jane Skudder Burgin and her children, via the steamship Cella, Edwin Billings master, in the port of New York from London, May 3, 1864.

These were the last/ most recent people in our family to leave their country, their friends their family, and most of their belongings, and come here.

(Off topic, but worth mentioning, it would take just eight years for Thomas Burgin to apply for and be granted his first patent.)

Looking at this list, I feel I was – almost – there to greet them.

And I suppose the larger point is worth making… Let’s continue to do everything we can to make the people coming today feel equally welcome and equally capable.



A transcription of the basic information is as follows:

Arrival Date: 3 May 1864

Family Ethnicity/ Nationality: British (English)

Place of Origin: Great Britain

Port of Departure: Le Havre, France and London, England

Destination: United States of America

Port of Arrival: New York, New York

Ship Name: Cella



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The Missing Ancestry of Thomas Burgin and Jane Skudder: What DO We Know?

When I review our family tree in the form of a fan chart, there is one vast swath missing, a cone of “empty space,” expanding out from the center.

If I look, though, using the same format, with not me but my grandfather, Clarence Rodgers Burgin, at the center, the cone widens to consume fully half the page (see below). This glaring blankness reflects the mostly missing ancestry of my grandfather’s paternal grandparents, Thomas Burgin and Jane Skudder.


The explanation runs this way. My grandfather’s father, whose name was Clarence Burgin, was the first person in his nuclear family to be born in America, and his parents, Thomas Burgin and Jane Skudder Burgin, were the last people in our extended family to be born overseas–In England.

Each generation of our family, on the right hand side of the fan chart, has put at least some time into either preserving or rediscovering knowledge of their forebears. I suspect that that happened because, as a practical issue, the information was stored locally and could be researched with some degree of ease. But the net result was a trail of breadcrumbs was created, and so the result is what you see.

In the case of the Burgin family, however, whose recent past was recorded in England not America, almost no investigation went on, and I think the reason why is straightforward: in the pre-internet era, it was hard to do. Really hard.

This post will be devoted to laying out what little we DO know about the Burgins… in the hope that it can serve as a foundation, a jumping-off point, for someone, whether a family member, or a paid researcher, or a combination of the two, to take up the challenge and find out who these people and their ancestors were.


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