There are so many good reasons to hold a family reunion. Using it to expand your family history research is an important one.
But actually putting the reunion together takes some planning.
Establish the Basics
Every project plan begins with the five W’s, who, what, where, when, and why. What is obviously the reunion itself, but the rest of the questions require an answer.
Who many seem obvious. It’s a family reunion, so you want to invite your family, right? But if you are married, are you inviting both sides of the family, or just one?
Very often, family reunions are based around a surname and those folks who have married into the family. So you might be better off only reaching out to one side of the family at a time.
How far out should you reach? Second cousins? Third cousins? For a well-established, long-running reunion, that’s fine. But if you’re starting one up from scratch, you might want to limit it to your closer relatives for now.
You need a location, some sort of facility, to hold the reunion. That’s going to depend a lot on how many people you expect. A good-sized house can support 20 or 30 people for a few hours, but it’s going to get messy and cramped pretty quickly.
A park is a great location to meet, as long as the weather is good. Be sure to rent or reserve a shelter large enough to seat everyone in case it gets wet. And if you’re looking at a family reunion any time except summer, temperature could be an issue, too.
Churches are a great place for family reunions any time of the year. Many churches have a fellowship hall or other large meeting room with at least a small kitchen attached to prep food. And often they cost little or nothing to rent.
This is a major issue. Not only do you need to pick a date, but times as well.
No date is going to work for everyone. You can try to survey attendees to figure out what will work best, but at some point you just need to pick a date. The sooner you do that, the better. You want to provide as much advance notice as possible.
For an ongoing reunion, try to stick with the same date every year. One family I know, for example, meets on Thanksgiving every year. There is no question of the date, and the long weekend makes travel easier, especially for those with school-aged children.
It is usually best to meet early in the afternoon. That gives you several hours for the reunion, while still leaving a couple of hours of travel time before and after for out of town relatives.
This might seem obvious, but there are possibilities you don’t want to ignore.
Use the reunion to help build your family history research. Lay out what you have already found, and see if anyone can fill in the gaps.
Not sure who those people are in an old photo? Someone in the family is bound to.
You could even slip in a couple of brief interviews, or use the chance to set some up later. Just don’t get too wrapped up in research that you miss out on the food, fun, and fellowship, too.
One of the hardest parts sometimes to planning a family reunion is contacting your family. You might have contact information for many of them, but maybe not everyone.
In today’s world of email and social media, keeping connected is easier than ever. That’s a great place to start. But not everyone is on Facebook, including many older relatives.
Every time you do connect with someone, be sure to ask if they can think of someone else who should be invited. A name might have slipped your mind, and you don’t want the embarrassment of forgetting to include some of your relatives.
If space is limited, don’t feel obligated to invite those second and third cousins. Concentrate on your core family first.
Compile all the contact information into one place so when it’s time to send out the invitations, you’re ready. It will make it much easier next time around, too.
Is there any kind of gathering that food can’t make better? A family reunion is certainly no exception.
But who is bringing the food? Are you paying for it all out of your own pocket and preparing it all yourself?
A potluck can take a lot of that pressure off of you. Those who are traveling might be more limited in what they can bring, so the local hosts should still handle the major hot dishes. If your reunion location includes somewhere to heat or reheat food, so much the better.
If you’re meeting outdoors, a picnic style meal could work better. The host can grill while everyone else supplies side dishes.
Just keep in mind that variety is your friend. With many guests, you get many dietary restrictions. Make sure there’s something for everyone.
If you have relatives coming in from more than an hour away, chances are they’ll need somewhere to spend the night. Figure that out early.
You may not have room for many (or any) guests. They may have to stay in a hotel. That’s fine, as long as they know that and can plan for it in advance.
But if you do have a spare room or two, you can keep part of the reunion going as you talk late into the night.
Keep It Going
It is so much easier to keep a family reunion going every year than it is to do it only once in a while.
Before this year’s family reunion ends, set a date and location for next year. Make sure your contact file is correct for everyone there, and getting them to come back will be a snap.
Family reunions offer so many benefits for family historians and genealogists. If you don’t hold a reunion, you’re really missing out.