Sunday, July 23, 2017

Things Are Looking Opp

I read somewhere recently that only about 7% of available genealogical records are online. So I always have to be careful about accepting records just because they're the only ones that fit what I know. Usually, I can take a record that I'm not 100% sure about, and test it against other kinds of records or searches, and if I can falsify it (meaning, I can use the information in two or more sources to prove that they aren't for the same family), I at least know that I've ruled out an incorrect line of research.

I try to communicate to you when I'm not certain about a detail or a relationship, and I try not to put more information in these posts than I think I can positively prove. This family made that very difficult, so I will do my best to show my sources, and let you decide how much confidence to assign to what I've written here.

The Opp families that lived in and around Easton, Pennsylvania, typically came to Philadelphia from town in the Rhineland during the 1730s or 1740s. They were generally members of the Evangelical Reformed Church (Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche), and many of them can be documented through church records available through Ancestry.

When I began writing up my Opp family, I discovered that I had fallen victim to a couple of common problems. Most of these Opp men I am researching were given traditional Reformation-style German names; almost all of them appeared in earlier records with the first name "Johan" or a variation. Their middle name was typically the name they used once they arrived in America, and it was common to name sons after themselves and their male relatives. As it turns out, I confused two men who lived in Easton and operated taverns - both of whom were named either "Johann Jacob Opp" or simply "Jacob Opp." After reviewing the available records, I think I've figured out who is who.

I suspect that three men with the Opp surname - Jacob, Michael, and Valentine - were either brothers or cousins who emigrated from the Rhineland when they were in their twenties. Their daughters married into families with names like Bixler and Bidleman, which were prominent in their way in the community. The Bixlers, in particular, would be important members of the Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society, which published some of the sources I will cite and runs the Sigal Museum (also at that link) in Easton.

Johan Michael Opp (1732-1803) appears in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-1999 database. He was buried at St. John's Lutheran Church in Easton, Northampton county, Pennsylvania on 28 May 1803. He is listed in many church and tax records as "Michael Opp" or "Michael Opp Sr," to differentiate him from his son, Michael Jr, who lived nearby.

Satellite image of the old Michael Opp farm
The senior Michael was a weaver, and property and tax records placed him in Easton. I took a description of the boundaries of his farm from Historic Easton from the window of a trolley-car, published in 1911, and used Google maps to make the image to the right, depicting the site of the old Opp farm. The Northampton County Courthouse and Prison occupy the western half of what was once Michael Opp's farm.

I believe Michael's wife was called Catharine Elizabeth, but I know very little about her. If my research bears out, then this couple would be my 6th-great grandparents. And their son, Jacob "Junior" would be my 5th-great grandfather. I found a mention of them in two articles published in 1997 in the local newspaper:

J Floyd S. Bixler, an early corresponding secretary of the Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society, wrote a history of Easton's early taverns in 1931. He noted that the Golden Swan Tavern was located at 460 Northampton St. This is confirmed by James A. Wright, whose 1993 history of taverns reaches beyond Easton to encompass all of Northampton County. Jacob Opp Jr., son of Michael Opp, was an early landlord at the Golden Swan. That was before 1813.
The Morning Call from Allentown, Pennsylvania; Thursday, July 24, 1997, Page: 13

Bixler tells the story of Theophile Cazenove, an agent for the French Land company on a tour of observation. "This Frenchman was a man of distinctive tastes, and traveled with a coach and four, a valet, a coachman, and a postilion," says Bixler. "He also had an extra saddle horse along for a change when he became weary of his coach." Cazenove stopped at the Golden Swan. He had a party of three men and three horses. Jacob Opp was the proprietor at the time. He charged Cazenove $3.90 for the night's lodging. One assumes this included supper and breakfast. Bixler comments, "Jacob Opp was no profiteer." Profiteer, no. But promoter, yes. Good service and a good price prompted Cazenove to write that the town of Easton could be proud of the Golden Swan. Bixler writes, "As he Cazenove always chose the best hotels, and was a critical judge of the service rendered, we may judge that Opp's Golden Swan Hotel was a credit to Easton in its day."
The Morning Call from Allentown, Pennsylvania; Thursday, July 24, 1997, Page: 25

Church records from St. John's Lutheran Church in Easton also establish that Jacob was Michael's son. For a long time, I mistakenly believed Jacob's father was "John Jacob Opp," who is described in two histories of the area:
In September of 1757 this property was conveyed to Adam Yohe, who had previously occupied the premises as a tenant. Yohe conducted a tavern which he called the Red Lion. This was Easton's principal hostelry during the French and Indian War. Yohe disposed of the property in 1760 to George Cungware who still owned it in 1772. Later Jacob Opp became owner and continued to operate the tavern. Just when Opp secured possession is not known but as the 1776 assessment list refers to him as a tavern keeper owning a house it is assumed that he lived here during the war. In 1806 the Orphans Court adjudges the property to Elizabeth, the daughter of Jacob Opp, and the wife of Abraham Horn. Eve, the eldest daughter of Opp, married Daniel Wagener. Opp's daughter Catharine married Christian Bixler.

A frontier village, pre-revolutionary Easton p. 239-240; by Andrew Dwight Chidsey, 1940; Easton, Pennsylvania

Notably, this source ruled out the relationship to my ancestor:
John Jacob Opp, father of Catherine Opp, was born in Chur-Paltz, Germany, in the year 1740, came to the colony of Pennsylvania and died in 1805. He was appointed a commissioner of Northampton county June 22, 1776, to receive bounty money to be paid to the three hundred and twenty-seven men who completed Northampton's first quota to the forces of the Flying Camp, as shown by the muster roll of Revolutionary militia. In addition to the sum of $981, he was also to exchange all saltpetre made in the county, this to be handed over to Capt. George Huber, to be used in the manufacture of gun-powder. John Jacob Opp became a large landowner in Easton, and by his wife, Anna Maria Hoffman, had four daughters, one of whom became the wife of Christian Bixler, the founder of the jewelry business which has been in the Bixler family one hundred and thirty-three years...

History of Northampton County (Pennsylvania) and the grand valley of the Lehigh, p. 316; by William Jacob Heller, American Historical Society, Boston New York etc., 1920
Michael Opp and his wife had at least one other son, Michael Jr. (1767-1843), and a daughter, Anna Margareta, who married Michael Odenwalder (1750–1828) on 8 March 1775. Michael Sr. left behind a will, recorded in an index record in Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993. It looks like I will need to make a trip to Easton one of these days to find that will and learn more about these folks.

Jacob Opp Junior (1763-1848) may have been named for an uncle or grandfather, which suggests to me that Michael Opp Sr. and John Jacob Opp (of the Red Lion tavern) might have been related. Whatever the case, my Jacob - the proprietor of the Golden Swan - married a widow named Elizabeth Reynale, probably around the time of Michael's death in 1803, if not a bit later. Elizabeth had a son from her first marriage, and she and Jacob also had a son in 1811 who they named Henry. Jacob relocated the family to Dansville, New York, around 1814.

Once again, property and tax records seem to support what the local histories published later claim about their biographical information. Jacob figures into the biography of Elizabeth's son, Dr. William H. Reynale:

Dr. Reynale was one of the earliest physicians and surgeons of Dansville. He was born at Quakertown, Hunterdon county, N.J., Feb 27, 1794. Very early in life he lost his father. His mother died in 1835. Soon after his father's death he was adopted by Henry Bidleman, a maternal uncle [N.B. - suggesting Elizabeth's maiden name must have been Bidleman] who was an accomplished scholar... After a severe and critical course of medical reading, he entered the University of Pennsylvania in January, 1811, as a medical student, and was graduated from there April 9, 1814. Soon after this he went to Dansville, at the invitation of Jacob Opp, a connection of Dr. Reynale, who was at that time building the well-known flouring and grist-mill south of Dansville, which is now, and has been for several years, owned by Benj. F. Readshaw.

History of Livingston County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers, pg. 194-195; by James H. Smith, Publisher: D. Mason, Syracuse, N.Y., 1881

And according to his newspaper obituary, "Dr. Reynale came to Dansville for the first time in 1814, with his stepfather, Mr. Jacob Opp." (Dansville Advertiser, Dansville, Livingston County, New York; Thursday, August 11, 1870 - emphasis mine.)

Jacob's move to Dansville was further documented in the History of Livingston County:
[Col. Nathaniel] Rochester took up his residence in Dansville in , and purchased a large tract of land, embracing most of the water power within the village, including the mills built by Daniel Sholl for the Pultney estate. He added to the other mills a paper mill, which was the pioneer of its kind in Western New York. In 1814 he disposed of his property in Dansville, in part to Rev. Christian Endress, of Easton, Penn., and in part to Jacob Opp, from the same place. ...Jacob Opp's purchase, which embraced the present Readshaw mill and site, was made in January, 1814, and in May of that year he moved his family here from Easton. He continued his interest in the mill property till about 1840, and died in Dansville in 1847, aged 84 years. Henry B. Opp is the only one of his family left here.

p. 162

The grist-mill owned by Benjamin F. Readshaw, on the corner of Gibson and Main streets, to which reference has been made in connection with the early settlement of the town, occupies the site of the gris-mill built in 1796 by David Sholl for the Pultney estate. It was soon after burned and rebuilt by Sholl, who eventually became its owner, and was succeeded in possession of the property by Col. Nathaniel Rochester, the founder of the city of Rochester. In January, 1814, Mr. Rochester sold it to Jacob Opp, who owned it till about 1840. The mill contains three runs of stones, which are propelled by water from Little Mill creek, with a fall of thirteen and a half feet.

p. 174

Henry B. Opp (1811–1884) was born in Easton, and at the age of three, moved with his family to Dansville, New York, in Livingston county. Henry was known as a miller, though after his father sold the mill around 1840, when Henry was 29, records list Henry's occupation as farm laborer.

Around 1839, he married Susan Karcher (1818–1903), daughter of William Karcher (1782–1852) and Magdalena Welch (1786–1869). Henry and Susan are my 4th-great grandparents. They spent their entire lives in Dansville, where they had five sons and two daughters.

     I. Henry K Opp (1840–1908) served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. He was the paymaster aboard the USS Pocahontas. After the war, he married a woman named Mary, and they settled in Wellsville, New York, where he ran a clothing store.
Jacob Edward Opp

     II. Jacob Edward Opp (1842–1913) was my 3rd-great grandfather. He married Mary Elizabeth Palmer, and we looked at their descendants in a previous post.

     III. William Opp (1845–1920) served in the 21st Regiment, New York Cavalry during the Civil War. In 1868, he married Martha E. Fenstermacher (1846–1919), and they raised three daughters:

     A. Theda W Opp (1871–1961) remained single her whole life, working for many years as a saleslady in a dry goods store in Wellsville. About her 70th year, she moved to Rockland, Maine, to live with her niece's family. She is buried in Wellsville.

     B. Adela "Addie" Opp (1873–1954) also remained single, working as a clerk or as a housekeeper to support herself. When Theda went to Maine, she appears to have gone with her, and she, too, was buried in Wellsville after her death.

     C. Edna P Opp (1877–1954) was born in Dansville, grew up in Wellsville, and married William F. Yewdall (1870–1932) in 1901. She moved to Thomaston, Maine, to live near her daughters after his death, and her sisters follow a few years later.

     i. Helen Marlee Yewdall (1908–2008) married Joel Murray Miller Jr (1908–1987), and was 100 years old when she died.

     ii. Margaret F Yewdall (1914–2011) married Dr. Frederick Collins Dennison (1908–1994). He served in the Knox County Hospital for many years. They are survived by their daughter, three grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

     IV. Amelia J. Opp (1847–1922) She married Samuel H. Peterson, whom you might recall from the post about his grandfather, Samuel Peterson, New Jersey Shipwright. Samuel (b. 1847) was five years old on the 1850 Census, but later records dispute his birth date. On the 1860 Census, Samuel and his sister, Annie, appear listed in the same James Palmer household as their grandfather, Sam Peterson. According to a newspaper obituary for Amelia, they married in 1873, and moved to New York state.

Samuel and Amelia were in Deerpark, New York, according to the 1875 New York State Census, and they were in North Dansville with their daughter and three sons in 1880. When Amelia shows up in 1900, she is listed in North Dansville as a widow, but I have not been able to find Samuel's death records. Amelia lived in North Dansville until her death in 1922, and she was buried near two of her sons in Green Mount Cemetery.

They had a daughter and three sons, altogether:

     A. Susan Peterson was born in 1874, and only appeared in the 1880 U.S. Census. It is possible that she grew up and married, or may have died young. Until some records turn up, I do not know.

     B. James Henry Peterson (1875–1942) lived in East Rochester, New York, where he likely worked for the Foster & Armstrong Company manufacturing pianos. He married Julia H Sullivan (1878–1950) about 1903, and they had five children. The couple is buried in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.

     i. Charles H Peterson was born about 1904, and appeared in the 1905 New State census and the 1910 and 1920 U.S. Census records with his family.

     ii. Helen Amelia Peterson (1907–1942) married Joseph Seward Little (1897–1939) in 1937. He was a U.S. Navy veteran of World War I who died just two years later while living in the Veteran's Administration facility in Tucson, Arizona; he was only 41.

     iii. James H Peterson Jr (born 1907) followed his father in the piano-building business.

     iv. George Peterson was born about 1913, and was seven years old in the 1920 U.S. Census, which is the only record I have for him.

     v. John Richard Peterson (1916–1985) married Margaret Jean Race (1926–2003) in the 1940s, and they lived in Rochester, where they raised four sons and a daughter. They were survived by their children and seven grandchildren.

     C. Samuel Hoffman Peterson (1878–1951) was a lifelong bachelor and resident of Dansville. He worked in a plant nursery for many years.

     D. Henry K Peterson (1880–1962) married Charlotte Alice "Lottie" Wilcox (1880–1964). He served as superintendent of mails at the post office at the time of his retirement, and lived in Dansville his whole life.

     V. Lewis Isaac Opp (1851–1927) was a lifelong bachelor who spent his whole life in the Dansville area. He died at 74 of a stroke.

     VI. George Benjamin Opp (born 1859) lived with his older brother, Henry, in Wellsville, from at least 1870. I have not found any records for him more recent than his appearance in Henry's household in the 1880 U.S. Census.

     VII. Mary Elizabeth Opp (1864–1867) died at age 3, and was buried in Green Mount Cemetery, in Dansville, near her parents.

 - -- --- -- - 

There you have it - to me, it always seems like a lot of names, but also a lot of "lifelong bachelors," which makes finding modern cousins tricky. I especially dislike having so many mysterious loose ends, but until more records are online - or I find time to travel around the Eastern seaboard! - they will remain mysterious.

Of course, if you recognize any of these folks from your own research, I'd love to hear from you. I welcome any corrections and updates.

You can reach me at my Gmail address, callintad, or through the comment section below. I'm also on Twitter @tadmaster, and on Facebook. (Be prepared to tell me how we're related before I approve any Facebook requests, though - a boy can't be too careful these days.)

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