Dan Bradt enjoys nothing more than digging up the past.
For the longtime Niskayuna resident, that could mean sitting at a desk, tracing his family genealogy back more than 300 years, or sitting in the dirt somewhere, unearthing a 17th century piece of porcelain.
"I was working as a surveyor at a construction site in Albany, digging up Fort Orange, and I realized that some members of my family had been here," remembered Bradt, who worked with former state parks archaeologist Paul Huey excavating the 17th century fort in Albany back in 1971. "My father was born in the Schenectady area, my great-grandfather built the house I'm living in today, so history was always around my family. But at that time, I really didn't know how deep the connection we had to this area was."
That connection goes back to 1637, when two Bradt brothers, Arent and Albert, arrived in Albany from the Netherlands after originally having left Norway. While Albert remained in Albany and built a mill on the Normanskill, Arent came to Schenectady in 1662 and became one of the first landowners in the small village on the Mohawk River. It was those two brothers who started the Bradt family in America, and next weekend at The Desmond on Albany Shaker Road in Colonie, members of the Bradt Family Society — around 175 of them — will come from all over the U.S. and Canada to honor those first two ancestors at the Bradt Family Reunion.
The Bradts held their first family reunion in 1987 and do so every five years. All of the reunions have been held at the Desmond, and usually begin on a Friday afternoon and conclude Sunday morning. The schedule includes a few presentations on Friday and Saturday and a bus trip or two to some historic spot in the Capital Region. This year, the group will be heading to Kinderhook and Hudson for tours on Saturday, while the Friday and Saturday speakers include two of the history community's biggest rock stars, artist Len Tantillo and archaeologist Walter Wheeler.
"We've had some pretty good speakers over the years, and we get a lot of people who attend," said Bradt, who has also lured Charles Gehring, director of The New Netherland Project, to speak at the Bradt Reunion in the past. "For our first reunion back in 1987, we had 400 people. The numbers are dwindling a bit, but it's still a great event."
Bradt serves as the Bradt Family Society's official historian, which means if you have a question about the early Bradts, he's the man to see.
"Arent was the first Bradt in Schenectady, but he died soon after getting here and his wife married two more men," said Bradt. "Catalyne was her name. Her next husband was killed in the Schenectady Massacre in 1690, and she married again. They had the very first lot, at the corner of State Street and Washington Avenue."
While Bradt's family is from the Schenectady area, he was actually born in Yuma, Arizona. The family moved back to Schenectady when Bradt was a young boy and he graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1965. He was drafted into the U.S. Army as a private, and retired 40 years later as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserves. It's a rare accomplishment — going from private to general — and it puts him in an elite group of men called mustangs. It was when he was the 105th Infantry battalion commander based in Schenectady that Bradt's inclination to dig into the past became a bit more pronounced after joining Schenectady County Community College's Community Archaeology Program, led at the time by Ron Kingsley and Louise Basa.
"In 1998 or '99, I was at the Washington Avenue Armory and I read a short story in the newspaper about the community college having an archaeology class," remembered Bradt. "I walked across the street and signed up for the program and took evening courses with Dr. Kingsley and Louise. I'm still digging up the Stockade with Louise."
This weekend, he'll stop digging long enough to enjoy himself at the Desmond with his fellow Bradt descendants. And there won't be any arguments about who stayed during the American Revolution and who went to Canada. Bradt says his direct descendant remained in Schenectady, while Bradt Family Society President Barbara Bradt Long says her clan headed north soon after the guns started firing in Lexington and Concord in 1775.
"Our branch does come from those Bradts who were Loyalists and went to Canada," said Bradt Long. "But that was long ago, and we have plenty of Bradts who come down from Canada for the reunion. We'll talk a little bit about that and our DNA. I was told that I had some American Indian blood in me, many Bradts do, and it would have been so interesting for me to try to connect with some of those people. But I did the DNA kit thing and I didn't have any. I was so disappointed."
Bradt Long is a little disappointed the turnout for next weekend's event isn't a bit better, but she realizes that people have a lot on their plate these days.
"It's not that they're not interested, it's just that time doesn't allow them to participate," she said. "My daughter told me the other day how it's difficult for families, and when the husband and wife both work it's really hard to get away for three or four days. But we'll still have a pretty good group, and everyone I know is really looking forward to it."
A proclamation from Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan will declare July 21, 2017, as Bradt Family Society Day.