Dawn Everman’s father died at age 59, and her mother at 62.
“My grandparents died long before that, so I had nobody I could ask questions about where I came from and my heritage,” Everman said.
Pursuing a deep desire to learn about her past, Everman began conducting geneaological research online.
She traveled from her home in Crawfordsville, Indiana, to Culpeper County this month to attend Germanna’s annual reunion, having learned through a cousin that one family line came through one of the earliest settlements of Germans in colonial Virginia.
“I came here to do honor to my family,” Everman said. “This is my way of saying thank you to my ancestor, John Clore, who had the courage to sacrifice everything in coming here. It took enormous courage; he never saw his parents or family again. But it provided such a better life for all of us who followed.”
Anyone is invited to attend the Germanna Reunion.
“The general public is more than welcome to join in on everything we do,” said Ashley Abruzzo, membership director of the Germanna Foundation. “We try to organize activities that would be of interest to anyone who would like to learn about genealogy and the history of Virginia.”
Over the four days of the reunion, Everman visited Germanna sites—Salubria, the home built in 1742 of the Rev. John Thompson, where an organized archaeological dig is being conducted for the first time, and the location on the banks of the Rapidan River where Fort Germanna and the legendary “Enchanted Castle”—colonial governor Alexander Spotswood’s residence—was located.
The reunion also took Everman on a visit to Jamestown, where the group was given a special tour of the first permanent English settlement in North America, established in 1607.
Attendees learned about Virginia history tied to the Germanna settlements, and made new connections with the descendents of those who came from Germany in the 1700s and made a life in Orange County.
“I’ve just been drinking it all in, absorbing all this history,” Everman said. “I love history. I would love learning all this even if I had no family from here. But having that link just makes it more exciting.”
Everman and the bulk of the reunion’s other 200 attendees made Culpeper’s Best Western Hotel their home base, taking time to explore the downtown shops and museum during their stay.
“I just love it, it’s such a cute, quaint little town,” Everman said. “It was great learning all about Culpeper’s Civil War history at the museum.”
She praised the restaurant It’s About Thyme, on Culpeper’s East Davis Street, sharing how the owner, John Yarnall, had provided her with a free side dish after she expressed mild disappointment in the flavor of her salad dressing.
“I just couldn’t believe it, he was so thoughtful,” she said. “All the food was delicious.”
Another attendee, Kathleen Bowen Simons, has been coming to the Germanna Reunion from her home in Lorton every year since 2001.
“My dad was born in Brandy Station,” Simons said. “He grew up here, and never knew he had Germanna ancestors.”
Simons said she is a cousin of the astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, a Germanna descendent who celebrated the 50th anniversary of his walk on the moon July 20—during the Germanna conference. Aldrin has visited Culpeper on several occasions to explore his Germanna ancestry.
Most recently, in 2014, Aldrin mentored Culpeper high school students at Germanna’s Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper County as they built and tested drones, part of a partnership of the college with Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation.
“Yes, we’re pretty proud of that connection,” Simons said. “Especially with all the moon-anniversary activities going on lately.”
Simons said the Germanna Foundation and the research it is conducting are as important as Jamestown, and “even as important as dinosaur footprints,” she said.
“It’s not just my history. It’s America’s history,” Simons said. “It’s about all of our ancestors who came over from other lands. It’s about settling the frontier, it’s about survival and making a better life.
“There are great stories here that could be amazing movies!” she added. “The whole red-letter year, in and of itself, could generate all kinds of movie material.”
At the conference, Dr. Katharine Brown, Germanna Foundation trustee and historian, spoke about what is known as Virginia’s Red Letter Year—1619, 400 years ago.
That year, several things changed the destiny of Virginia—and therefore the destiny of what would later become the United States—with effects still evident today.
Next Tuesday, July 30, dignitaries will gather in Jamestown, including the president of the United States, to commemorate the establishment 400 years ago that day of the first representative legislative body in the Americas, 20 “burgesses” who met and agreed on laws and regulations for the new colony.
Also that year, Brown said during her presentation, “the recruitment of single English women of good quality” enabled family formation and settlement in the overwhelmingly male Virginia colony.
Equally important, Brown said, 1619 marks the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the British North American colonies.
“It was in 1619 that the real first Thanksgiving was held at Berkeley Plantation,” Brown said. “That’s two years before all the claims made for such an event up in Massachusetts.”
Germanna Executive Director Tim Sutphin said in an interview that it is his mission to tell the story of Germanna and its peoples.
“It’s our goal to grow our message, and be more outwardly focused in our approach,” Sutphin said. “We want to invite people to come and see, and learn more about this incredible heritage that belongs to all of us in Virginia and by extension, our entire nation.”
The Germanna Foundation, a nonprofit group headquartered in Orange County, Virginia, preserves a nationally significant handful of historic sites in the state’s northern Piedmont.
To learn more, visit germanna.org or the foundation’s Facebook page.