About Me

In 1990, I began helping my sister trace our family’s roots. At the time we knew very little about our paternal, great grandfather. When I asked my mother about my deceased father’s mother, all she knew was that her mother-in-law, Sarah Skeggs was Scotch/Irish.  So with hardly any other information other than a death date for our grandmother, my sister sent away to the New York City Bureau of Vital Statistics for her death certificate. From that document we learned that Sarah was born in New York City in 1867 and her parents names were Rachel Dugan and James Skeggs. Next we went to the National Archives on Varrick Street in New York City to see if we could find the Skeggs family in the 1870 New York Census. And sure enough we found James and Rachel living with their five children in Manhattan. Rachel was listed as being born in Ireland in 1832, and James was listed as being born in New York in 1829. We next visited the main branch of the New York Public Library to see if we could find any records of a Skeggs’ family living in the state of New York around the time James was born. I’ll never forget my excitement when the very helpful librarian told me, “You’re very lucky because at the time of your great grandfather’s birth there was only one family in the whole state of New York with the last name Skeggs!” William Skeggs’ and his wife, Mary Irish were farmers. He was born in England in 1789 and she was born in Vermont in 1791.  After finding out where the family was from, my sister wrote to the town clerk of Collins, New York and asked for information on the Skeggs’ Family and in particular asked if William and Mary had a son named James. The town clerk wrote back saying nothing could be found on James, but she did jot down some information on William Skeggs. He owned property in the southeast section of town called Scrabble Hill and the earliest tax record of 47 acres of land ownership by him was dated 1823 and increased to 70 acres by 1839. With that information we went next to the 1830 New York Census to see what we could find. However since  early census records (before 1850)  didn’t contain children’s names we were unable to confirm that William and Mary were James’ parents and we found ourselves at a dead end!  With a note from my sister that read: “If you’re ever in Collins, check out the tombstone of William and Mary,” I sadly filed away the information we’d accumulated so far on the Skeggs’ family.

In September of 2003 on a car trip to Niagara Falls, my husband and I stopped in Collins, New York on a fact finding mission. At that point it was probably a good ten years since my sister and I first started our quest to find the heritage of our great grandfather, James Skeggs. Around noon we entered the town hall (it was due to close at 1 p.m.) and I asked how I could obtain information on a family that lived in Collins around 1830. The clerk called the town historian and she invited us to her house. From her we found out that the town was set up on the 16th of March in 1821, and a majority of the earlier settlers were Quakers from Danby, Vermont. She told us that the Skeggs family had nine children and lived in the Scrabble Hill section of town (So called because they had to scratch and scrape to make their farm produce.) She then directed me to the Scrabble Hill Cemetery on Becker Road. It is a very small cemetery that is now called the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery and is considered a protected historical site because two Revolutionary War Soldiers are buried there. Most of the stone engravings (60 or so) are illegible, however I was able to make out the writing on the tombstones of William Skeggs who died in 1868 and his wife, Mary Irish who died in 1871. Unfortunately, my visit to Collins had not proved the parentage of my great grandfather, James.  However before once again assigning the information accumulated so far on the Skeggs’ Family to the back of my ancestry file draw, I wrote this note to my sister dated  December 28, 2003:

“I think we should keep this information with our book because I’m hoping that someday we will actually be able to confirm that William and Mary are our 2X great grandparents. I feel fairly confident that they are, but it would be nice to have conclusive proof!” And attached to the note the following story regarding Collins, New York:



                                                                                       THE COLLINS STORY

When the town of Collins, New York was established on March 16,1821 the population consisted of 92 families who had contracted for land in the County of Niagara, New York. Two weeks after its set up the town of Collins became the southernmost town of Erie County.

A majority of the settlers from the newly formed Collins were Quakers who walked the wilderness trail from Danby, Vermont, with packs on their backs and a woodsman’s ax as their only tool. A major part of the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation was located in Collins, and the Quakers were well known to leaders of the local Indian residents. Because of the Quaker’s religious teachings regarding brotherhood, the Seneca people received the Quaker settlers graciously.

Even though I’ve been a member of ancestry.com since 2001, I didn’t set up my own family tree with them until 2012.  When I got to James Skeggs B1829, I put on his profile that he was the PROBABLE son of William Skeggs born in England in 1789 and Mary Irish born in Vermont in 1791.  I added this information because I felt in my heart that William and Mary were James’ parents even though, I was certain that there was no way I’d be ever able to prove it!  In the mean time, I got busy researching different branches of my family tree and had my DNA tested (The results showed that I have very strong Irish and English genes.)  Also my sister’s daughter had her DNA tested because she had a  desire to know if she had any Native American blood from her father’s side of her family. My niece’s test results was then linked to our family tree. Recently I received through ancestry’s message board on February 1, 2014 the following note:

Hi, You were identified as a DNA match to my uncle’s profile and I was able to connect Deborah Wilbur to you.

It turns out that DEBORAH WILBUR and JONATHAN IRISH were the parents of MARY IRISH the MOTHER  of my PROBABLE great grandfather, JAMES SKEGGS.

EUREKA!! After over twenty years of my sister and I searching and finally giving up, we found the true parentage of our great grandfather because DNA proved what we couldn’t prove! What is very interesting is that the match To DEBORAH WILBUR was not from my DNA, but rather from my sister’s, daughter’s DNA. More questions… Does this mean that my sister got more genes from our 3X great grandmother then I did and therefore, she passed down more to her daughter?

Recently another DNA match has linked my DNA to MARY IRISH’s father, JOHNATHAN IRISH B1749 in Danby, Vermont which then led me to four generations before him and the indentured servant, JOHN IRISH, who emigrated from England to the Plymouth Colony in 1629.  

Kathleen (Paul) Cortese


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