The nineteenth century is my comfort zone. I can read the handwriting. I know the records one can use to track people in places from state to state. The colonial period, not so much. I end up using a lot of printed materials as the original records are not always available in digital form. And I like manuscripts. I like originals. I don’t always trust the extent of the transcriptions. Also the place names changed as the American colonies became states with counties and townships. It makes the whole search more complicated but it can also be fun. You discover new types of documents, you have to analyse data differently.
Take Joshua Opdyke, for instance. He was the father of Catherine Opdyke, who married Aaron Van Syckel (1764-1838). He was born about 1713 and died in 1789, just as America was becoming, well, America. He was a farmer in Kingwood township in what is now Hunterdon County, New Jersey. What can I learn about his life, his family and his impact on his community?
Joshua Opdyke was the second son of Albert Opdyke. He married Ann Green (1717-) of Hunterdon in 1738. Between 1743 and 1774 he amassed considerable land holdings in and around Hunterdon County, in addition to the 298 acres he acquired from his wife’s father. The year he died, at the age of 76, he was a delegate to the Baptist Convention in Philadelphia. Apparently his father Albert Opdyke (1685-1752) broke with family tradition and became a Baptist.
Joshua and Ann Opdyke have a number of children:
- Richard Opdyke (1740-1825)
- Luther Opdyke (1750-1838)
- Sarah Opdyke (175?-?)
- Elizabeth Opdyke (175?-?)
- Margaret Opdyke (175?-?)
- Frances Opdyke (1757-1809)
- Hannah Opdyke (1760-1821)
- Catherine Opdyke (1762-1851)
Much of this information I found in published books such as The Op Dyck Genealogy by Charles Wilson Opdyke and the Genealogical and Family History of Central New York by William R. Cutter. And some of the information in one source conflicted with information in another. Was Joshua the son or grandson of Albert? Was Joshua born in New York like his father or in Hunterdon County. My heart yearns for bible records, correspondence, and really anything with his signature or written in his hand. Yes, I know the assumption of literacy in the 18th century is dicey but still. The closest I have come is his will record.
I did find church records of a Baptist church in Bethlehem, near Kingwood. They mention Joshua as someone trusted enough to write letters of dismissal and to represent the community in various ways. But his relationship with the church was apparently contentious, as I find him being censured in 1772 for criticizing the preacher and, being unrepentant, he was excluded from the meeting. He was reinstated in 1787 but his death is noted two years later on 28 February 1789.