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Posted July 13, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Hite descendants to descend on Belle Grove for reunion

dotted Swiss wedding gown of Sarah C.M. Hite
Sarah Ainsworth, left, program and development assistant at Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, and volunteer Pam Pampe, of Winchester, hold the dotted Swiss wedding gown of Sarah C.M. Hite from her marriage to Judge Mark Bird Sr. on October 21, 1834. The gown will be part of the display for the Hite reunion at Belle Grove this month. Rich Cooley/Daily

second-day dress of Sarah C.M. Hite Bird
Pampe and Ainsworth unbox the second-day dress of Sarah C.M. Hite Bird, which she wore the day after her wedding in 1834. Rich Cooley/Daily

a locket containing a portrait
Ainsworth holds a locket containing a portrait of Sarah C.M. Hite. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- National Trust for Historic Preservation site Belle Grove Plantation plays host to visitors from across the nation for different events throughout the year, and the weekend of July 24-26 will be no different, except those descending on the site for this event -- from as far away as California, New England and Florida -- can all call each other family.

The Hite Family Reunion takes place every three years for descendants of Hites, including German immigrant Jost Hite, whose grandson Maj. Isaac Hite built the Federal-era manor house on the plantation.

"They come back to their ancestral home in the valley and get to see their cousins," said Elizabeth McClung, Belle Grove executive director.

For Dan Tullos, the vice president of the Hite Family Association and the organizer of the reunion, that's what it's all about.

"We come from all over," he said via telephone from Arkansas, where his branch of the Hite family tree -- descendants of one of Jost Hite's daughters, who married a Chrisman -- ended up.

The reunion serves as a chance to get together, he said, a chance to see where your ancestors came from and to touch base with a historical period in the valley.

Oddly enough though, that doesn't mean the Hite descendants have nothing in common other than Northern Shenandoah Valley roots.

"The amazing thing is, sitting around a table full of Chrismans, they look like family," he said.

This year, the three-day event will feature several special events for Hite descendants and some for the community -- including a dedication of a patriot marker at the grave of Maj. Isaac Hite by the Sons of the American Revolution and a special exhibit of Hite family heirlooms at the manor house, according to McClung.

At each reunion, family members tour the Hite-related properties of the area, Tullos said.

When Jost Hite came to Virginia he brought with him a group of German settlers to the valley, and several sites built by those pioneers still stand, Tullos says.

Other features of the reunion this year will be a talk and private consultations by Roger Minert, a family history professor at Brigham Young University and professional family history researcher; a special Sunday church service for family at St. Thomas Chapel; and a talk by another guest speaker, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg of James Madison University, on "Tricks of the Trade: Things You Really Need to Know to Track Down Your Ancestors."

Some records relating to the Hite family ordinarily kept at Handley Regional Library also will be available to the family during the reunion, McClung said.

"It's a wonderful way to trace the roots of your family," she said.

The dedication and wreath-laying ceremony at Isaac Hite's grave in Long Meadow Cemetery on Long Meadow Road will take place at 11 a.m. on July 25 and is open to the public.

Also on July 25, a reunion banquet for the family will be held at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club featuring Minert as keynote speaker.

Another feature of the banquet will be an unveiling of two new books with ties to Belle Grove, McClung said.

The first, "The Women of Belle Grove," by Katharine L. Brown, was researched and written with funds from grants to tell the story of Nelly Madison Hite and the other women of Belle Grove, including Belle Grove's many women slaves, according to McClung.

A special effort to track down belongings of these women was undertaken during the research, McClung said, and dresses of one of the Hite women obtained as a result will be on display for the special reunion exhibit.

Belle Grove, and the exhibit, will be open to the public during the reunion, and the book will be available at the Belle Grove gift shop after its debut.

Another book premiering at the reunion banquet is "Cedar Creek Bowmans: A Virginia Pioneer's Grandchildren."

While the economy may affect turnout this year, Tullos expects at least 100 people to register.

The deadline for registering for reunion events is July 20, McClung said. For more information or a complete schedule of the 2009 Hite Family Reunion, visit www.bellegrove.org or call Belle Grove Plantation at 869-9638.

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