Some people are surprised that Brocks Gap Heritage Day draws out-of-state people for a six-hour event that does not involve music, alcohol, or famous people. For instance, on May 7, about 350 folks traveled from eleven different states for the 30th annual Heritage Day. At least three different parties came from Florida, a dozen from Pennsylvania, and two from Ohio. Family ties and the urge to learn more about one’s ancestors are powerful draws.
Brocks Gap natives know first-hand about reunions and family get togethers. Even funerals can be joyous occasions as family gathers to tell stories that are passed down through generations. For instance, one of my uncle Granvil Turner’s expressions, “That’s exactly right,” has become a favorite in my branch of the family, and we fondly remember Granvil every time we say it.
Many families have lived in the Gap for generations and can name not only their grandparents, but their great-aunts and uncles because they were neighbors in addition to kin. I personally have known seven generations of my family which makes me feel very grounded. Many people, especially those whose families have moved frequently, long for the security of knowing others with shared experiences. We are fortunate to have our family connections.
You don’t have to be a family history researcher to appreciate seeing a picture of a country store where your parents shopped or your home church before it was remodeled. My late mother Lena collected and used photos of classes at two-room Genoa School on several posters. More than one person was delighted to find their parent’s picture as a student on the posters, especially if they did not have photos of their parent as a child.
The Shoemaker family was featured in three new posters this year. Before Heritage Day, family members shared pictures from their immediate lines. I added a family tree chart which helped explain the relationships and maps showing where the families lived in 1885. One Shoemaker descendant found photos of three more generations of his family, going back to his great-great grandmother. By talking with other participants at Heritage Day, another Shoemaker descendant found images of two more great-great-great aunts, which will be on a poster next year.
Heritage Day is a good place to meet distant relatives. A Fink descendant was studying the Fink family poster when another Fink descendant introduced herself, and they discovered they were fifth cousins. Ken Beare from Pennsylvania, age 80+, fondly remembered his childhood visits to his great-aunt Mamie Ritchie in Fulks Run and was excited to meet Mamie’s granddaughter and reminisce about his early Virginia visits.
Every year there are folks attending for the first time. A first-time attendee spent a lot of time reading clippings about Hardy County families and found articles about his relatives from Orkney Springs. And there are folks who come nearly every year. At least five people at the first program said they had attended the first Heritage Day. Howard Fawley who drove from Florida has probably attended 25 Heritage Days. We greatly missed his brother and fellow researcher Paul B. Fawley who died in 2021, and Wilton Thomas who died in 2021.
Heritage Day has helped interest people in learning more about their ancestors. Since the first one in 1991 at Fulks Run Grocery, more than a dozen researchers have published 52 books about Brocks Gap families. Photos and documents shared at Heritage Days are included in the books. Articles or chapters about Brocks Gap mills, fraktur artists and cabinet makers have appeared in at least six other books. The late John Heatwole loved to attend Heritage Day to collect folk stories and sayings for his books. He wrote that the Brocks Gap is probably the best documented locality in Virginia.
An 1886 receipt for Levi Ritchie’s purchase of fruit trees and bushes was donated this year. W. N. Cootes at Wittigs Store (Bergton) was the agent for the Geneva, New York nursery that sold the trees. Levi was my husband’s great-grandfather, and he grew up on the same farm. Seeing this slip of paper brought back pleasant memories for Dan and his siblings of old trees still standing when they were growing up.
We filmed three programs which can be viewed on YouTube. If these links do not work, you can search YouTube for “Pat Turner Ritchie” to find these and other programs. (Click for Pat Turner Ritchie’s YouTube Channel.)
- “Unsung D-Day Hero Harrison May” by Joe T. May.
- “George May: from Ireland to Brocks Gap–How DNA and new research led to a revised picture of George May and his family,” by Diane Langston.
- “The Forgotten People of Rockingham County, in the Poor House,” by William Zirk.
Mr. Zirk shared an old poem “Over the Hill to the Poor House” which you can read at www.allpoetry.com/Over-The-Hill-To-The-Poor-House