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9 Tips for Planning a Family Reunion

Family reunions are a wonderful resource for genealogists! They’re a great way to connect with living relatives and share information about your common ancestors. It gives you a chance to learn more about your kinfolk and build a strong familial bond.

If you’re already in touch with some of your relatives and you have regularly scheduled reunions, then you’re ahead of the game. But what if you don’t keep in close contact with your relatives or your family has never held a family reunion? Where do you go and what do you do? How can you get in on this action?

It’s not too difficult to start planning a basic family reunion. Of course, the quality and size of the actual event will depend on several things — the location, the people involved, the budget, and your organizational skills. Here are some pointers to get started.

Join a social networking site

Social networking sites such as Facebook are wonderful for making contact with close and long-lost relatives. In addition to posting about your personal, recent activities and photos, you can use these sites to make plans together. You can use the private messaging feature to contact a few friends and relatives at a time to gauge the interest in having a reunion and to start the planning stages. You can set up friend lists of all of your relatives, or even just a select few who might be planning a particular part of the reunion so that you can post to the entire list at one time; that way, everyone can see comments regarding the reunion plans.

Create a Shutterfly account

Shutterfly is a site based on sharing photographs. It can be a valuable resource for groups or teams who wish to share a common calendar, post announcements for all group members, and share photographs of events relating to the group. You can set up a Shutterfly site to use in planning, executing, and documenting an event for your group or family. Access to the Shutterfly account can be controlled — based on an invitation to participate or by requesting permission to join — so the general public can’t see your reunion information and pictures. And after the reunion is over, you can easily order copies of the photographs that are uploaded to the site or create a memory book directly from the site (using Shutterfly templates) for your own use or to give to special relatives as gifts.

Be careful choosing the date

Depending on the size of your reunion, you may need to start planning a couple of years in advance. If you’re dealing with just three generations and you all live in the same general area, planning is usually a little easier. You could pick a holiday or birthday or any day to host a picnic at someone’s house or the park, and just touch base with everyone involved to make sure they know they’re invited.

However, if your reunion is for family of a more distant ancestor than one of your grandparents and you have relatives coming from other towns, states, or countries, then you need to start planning a little further out from the target date, and you should be mindful of a few things such as high-travel seasons, holidays, and weather. If the majority of participants are coming from afar, it may not be a good idea to have the reunion during a popular holiday when flying is expensive or traffic on the roads is greater and potentially more dangerous.

Another consideration is what the weather will be like during the time frame you’re considering for your reunion. If it’s monsoon or tornado season, it may hinder who attends the reunion. If it’s 100 degrees in the shade, you might find your relatives don’t feel very friendly, talkative, or willing to participate in all of the fun activities you planned. Likewise, if it’s 35 degrees and snowing heavily, you may not get your relatives out of the house or hotel to participate in activities.

Be mindful choosing the location

Similar to being careful in choosing the date, you should be mindful of others when choosing the location to hold your reunion. Choose a location that is easy to get to for most of the participants and that has a comfortable and welcoming environment for everyone.

Choose a location that’s easy to get to and has significance to your family. Of course, if your whole family is more adventurous and wants to choose a location that has no significance to the family but is more exotic or theme oriented (such as an amusement park or dude ranch), that’s okay too.

Plan a tour of relevant cemeteries and sites

If you choose a location that is near sites with significance to your family, then by all means, plan a day-long tour of some of these sites. You and your relatives can pile into cars together to create a modern-day tour wagon-train. Visit cemeteries where some of your ancestors are buried — better yet, plan an activity to clean up and beautify their gravesites to honor and remember them. Take a trip down memory lane by driving by the old homestead and other places of interest to your ancestors. Stop off at the local courthouse or historical museum to check out a few records or see artifacts from your ancestors’ days.

Plan games for all ages

Consider who is coming to your reunion and plan games and activities for all ages. There are some games that multiple generations can play together — such as Bingo and less strenuous relays — and they give kids a chance to get to know older relatives, as well as to see how spry and lively some of the older folks can still be. And there are traditional reunion games, such as three-legged race, sack race, and water balloon activities, that may require the participants to be in better shape for the running around.

Remember downtime

If your reunion is going to last more than one day, be sure to include some downtime for attendees to rest up between activities. Even an hour or two resting at someone’s house pouring over the family tree, sharing stories, or watching a slide show is more low-key and relaxing than constantly being on the go, visiting every cemetery in a 100 mile radius, playing games at the park, and going to local attractions as a group.

Consider health and food needs

Relatives of all ages and sizes can have different needs and health concerns. Ask your relatives about any special restrictions or dietary needs when planning the reunion so you are prepared for them. Also, be sure that you have a first aid kit packed and you know the locations and phone numbers for the nearest emergency services. You never know when someone is going to have an accident and need a quick trip to the emergency room!

Bring along your technology

In this day and age, you probably don’t need this reminder, but please remember to bring your cellular phone and camera, at a minimum. If you have room, you should also bring your laptop or tablet computer with your genealogical research findings and/or family trees and charts to share. Imagine all of the information you can add directly to your genealogical database when you’re visiting with your relatives! It really will make your reunion a treasure trove of information and a worthwhile cause for your genealogical pursuits.

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