The older generations have a habit of slipping away when you least expect it. While you have the old-timers together at the family reunion, record their personal histories to share with future generations. The older people in your family have a lot to share, and they're more than willing to tell their stories.
Reliving the glory days
If you have a guest of honor or just have many interesting folks at your reunion, ask them to stand and tell the family about their childhoods or about memorable events in their lives. Reminiscing is a great way to get everyone interested in the family history. You (or another family member) can discreetly take a few notes mentally or on paper so the stories of the older generations can live on.
Telling the family story
If you or someone in your family has been researching the family history for years, ask that person to tell the family story. Provide a podium and bulletin board for visuals, such as a blown-up version of the family tree.
The family history presentation is often an emotional time during the reunion. Some folks reminisce, and others find out information about ancestors and family traditions. To keep the sentiment going, honor the oldest family members by asking them to stand and share brief stories with everyone.
Showing off the family tree
Display a huge, blown-up version of the family tree mounted to a foam board to show how far back the family history goes. This type of exhibit always draws a crowd — folks like to see their own names when climbing the family tree!
Keep a pen handy — hang it from a piece of string tacked to the board. Family members can use it to fill in any blanks, add new babies to the tree, or make any necessary corrections. Just be sure the tree has plenty of extra space for these additions.
Recording an oral history
A great way to record a person's oral history is to get it on tape. You need a tape recorder, a microphone, and some blank cassettes. You can also use a video camera, but that method can make some folks uncomfortable.
Choose a quiet place away from the noise and bustle of the reunion activities, and provide a nice comfy chair for the interviewee. Roll the tape and begin the interview by asking the person when she was born. Ask her to tell a little bit about her birthplace. Was it a big city or a farm? Or was it in a taxicab on the way to the hospital?
Next, have her reminisce about her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. A few good subjects to bring up are attending her first day of school, learning to drive a car, traveling to faraway places, and hearing about the birds and the bees.
You can make a list of questions, but you may rarely stick to it. Try letting the person being interviewed lead the conversation. The interview naturally progresses into the person's adult life.
Let the interview happen — don't force it. If you notice the person is uncomfortable with certain questions, move on to the next one. Be sure to allow the person plenty of time to tell her tales.
Setting up a family museum
Before the reunion, gather pieces of family memorabilia from your relatives. These items can include old photographs of ancestors, veteran memorabilia, diaries, old passports, and handcrafts. Ask everyone to contribute something — they will get their items back after the reunion. Set up your "family museum" in a special location at the reunion, such as near the bulletin or photo boards.
If you have any old "mystery photos" that include unidentified relatives, bring them along and place them on the museum table. Tack a note to each mystery photo asking if anyone can identify the person shown in the photo — it works like a charm.
Filling in the records
Give everyone a family directory form to fill out. Each form has a space for his or her name, date and place of birth, marriage, and if applicable, death. Be sure that you remind the clan to fill out these sheets at the reunion. Don't worry about blank entries — just get what you can from everyone.
Sometimes, family members may be hesitant about giving personal information. This is understandable. But if you explain your purpose in collecting the information (which is, of course, to preserve the family history for future generations) and make a few small concessions, the process may go much more easily. Later, when you have had the time to compile the information and create a family history binder, offer to send the hesitant family member a copy. The binder surely will pique some interest!
Let people know that leaving off their year of birth is okay. Although this is definitely an important piece of information, you can probably pick someone else's brain for it. Chances are, you have a relative who knows the exact year that everyone was born!
Be sure to collect everyone's completed forms before the end of the reunion. Place a special helper in charge of this task.