Backroads: Family Reunions

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The Spitler family at the Clark reunion

One of the nicest traditions I’ve found in Virginia is the annual get-together of the various families who have lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains for centuries. Of course, if you are part of any family you’ve no doubt attended one of these multi-generational functions no matter where you live.  

Family reunions bring loved ones together to play catch up, discuss who passed, see new grand babies and honor the elders in attendance. Old photographs, obituaries, birth and marriage certificates are passed around and it’s a genealogist’s smorgasbord.

Although I didn’t actually belong to any of the mountain families, I attended nearly all of the reunions to take pictures and write up stories for the Backroads newspaper. Inadvertently I became very familiar with the ancestry of these families simply by attending their reunions year after year.  

People with last names such as Campbell, Fitzgerald, Cash, Hite, Ramsey, Allen, Hatter, and ultimately the Coffey family, which I married into, not only became very close to my heart but through my marriage to Billy, became “cousins” as well.

Allen family at Durham’s Run homeplace

The summer of 2019 was a bountiful year for reunions and I’d like to give a little history of four families who continue to hold them on a yearly basis; the Fitzgeralds, Ramseys, Allens and Clarks.

The Fitzgeralds always plan their reunion on the third Sunday in July and this year it was held at the Montebello Firehouse on July 21.  The descendants of Bartlett Hawkins Fitzgerald are one of the largest extended families here in the mountains and members have quite a collection of early documents and photos on display. 

A reunion was first talked about in June of 1979 at the Charlottesville home of Lottie Phillips and was held at the Scottsville Community Center in July of the same year.  Subsequent meetings have been held at McIntire Park in Charlottesville, Massies Mill Ruritan Club, the North Fork of the Tye River, the Grant pavilion in Montebello, and at the Montebello Firehouse, where around 50 family members gathered for this year’s reunion, coming from as far away as Delaware and North Carolina.  When asked how many people comprise this large family, one man stated, “The Fitzgeralds and the honeysuckle took this place over years ago!”

The Ramsey reunion is always held the last Sunday in July and is thought to have started around 1946 by the descendants of William and Serena Painter Ramsey, who lived on Bald Mountain. This year’s reunion was held on July 28, at the firehouse in Montebello. In the past, the reunions have been held at the Fish Hatchery, at Margie Hatter’s cabin on the North Fork, as well as in Amherst and Piney River. But typically, the Ramsey reunion was held at White Rock at the log cabin homeplace of Eli Coffey. Eli’s son, Hercy and his wife Burgess built a home next to the cabin and Burgess was the daughter of William and Serena. Under the shade of a towering mulberry tree, members of the Ramsey, Coffey, Allen, Steele, Harris and other branches of the family tree would sit and enjoy each other’s company, comparing notes and writing down genealogy for the next generation. Long tables laden with food and a crock of fresh squeezed lemonade were looked forward to, along with mountain music played later in the day by family musicians.  

Members of the Fitzgerald family

Members of the large Allen family always host their annual event on the fourth Sunday in August, up the North Fork of the Tye River at the Durham’s Run homeplace of Grover and Elvira Allen.  The reunion started in the late 1960s by Raymond and Maggie Allen and came to an end around 1985 after Raymond passed away.  It was reorganized by several of his children and on September 2, 2012, the Allen family reunion resumed and has been a yearly event in the years that followed.  This year approximately 70 people were in attendance. 

Although it’s a rough road up to the old cabin, the land surrounding it is one of pristine beauty with open fields and the crystal clear waters of Durham’s Run cascading down the mountain beside it. 

The Clark family reunion was held this year on Saturday, September 14th on the grounds of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Irish Creek.  

Ramsey reunion; Ann Lyle & Carolyn Steele

James Clark, Sr. and wife, Anna Moseley Clark, married in 1785 and settled in the Pedlar area of Amherst County.  It is said that everyone along Irish Creek who was still alive after WWII were descendants of the Clarks and are joined to that family in some way.  

As the ancestry line comes down, most of the people attending this year’s reunion will be related to Houston Letcher and Rosalie Clark. A 4th of July picnic was always held while Rosalie was still living, but after her passing the gatherings stopped for a time. In 1978 the reunions resumed, and that year it was held at Maury Park with 82 in attendance. Later the reunions were held at the family homeplace on Jack Hill and for the last five years have been held in the bottom land of Mount Zion Baptist Church, along the clear waters of Irish Creek.

Reunions; a great way to reconnect with members of your own family and collect information for the next generation. Special thanks to Betty Haines, Johnnie Woodie, Lura Steele, Faye Humphries, Jane Gunter, and Raymond Spitler for providing information on each family. 

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