Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Kate Bitely
How much do you know about your great-great-great-great-great grandparents? Did your family pass on detailed stories of their past? Perhaps you took a DNA test like ‘23andMe,’ or maybe you know little if anything about your roots. Whatever the case may be, now is a great time to start the journey of learning about your familial past, as it might just lead you to an unexpected destination. For me, I grew up knowing my distant relative, John Biteley Sr., a New Yorker who come to the U.S. from Germany in the 1750’s. His American born son, John Biteley Jr., went on to serve as a patriot in the American Revolution. My grandfather, Ralph Bitely, always told us, “the Bitely’s were at Ticonderoga!” In 2010, my grandfather passed away. A few years after his death, my grandmother gave me a box filled with documents that detail the history of the Bitelys. This box would be the start of my journey back to the 18th century.
As I dug through the box a few years ago, I recall being filled with excitement as I learned about my family. They were farmers, predominately grape farmers to be exact. (My love for wine is clearly hereditary). As I dug deeper, I found a more modern picture of the “Bitely Homestead,” the home of John Biteley Sr., located in Saratoga County, NY. It was first built before the war around 1770, was burned down by Gen. John Burgoyne in 1777 and was rebuilt in 1779. Nearby remains a family cemetery where many of my relatives remain. While I have not been for a visit yet, I hope to make a trip soon when conditions are safe to do so.
A few years later, while strolling through a local history event called ‘Brentsville Days,’ I happened to stop at a booth with the letters DAR on the front. DAR, as it turns out, stood for Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization devoted to preserving the history of families that served in the war for American independence. They have similar organizations for men called Sons of the American Revolutions and you can even find related groups for other conflicts such as the American Civil War.
Curious about my own family’s past, I decided to attend meetings as a guest. I quickly learned that many others share a passion for learning about their historical roots. After a few gatherings, and several conversations with members about their patriots, I decided to join. Connecting with the local DAR chapter was easy, the real work on pinpointing my heritage, on the other hand, was only just beginning. Check out part 2 of “Finding your Patriot” for more details on how to apply for membership in DAR. For more information about DAR, visit their website: https://www.dar.org/.