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Family Reunions

Family reunions don't always turn out as one has pictured, and we learn through trial and error. It sometimes takes a little ingenuity and pre-planning to engage all family members.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Alan Smith
Word Count: 774 (approx.)
Labels: Family Reunion 
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Family reunions are a great source of genealogical information and family history. Often, it is an event that brings various branches of the family together and enables the researcher access to family members who ordinarily are rarely visited. It is an opportunity to record family lore and insights about past events that only your uncle Bob can tell it.

A researcher can not assume though, that just because a family member showed up for the event, that they are interested in family history. People are either interested in their family history or they are not. For the latter, a reunion is another party with good food, unstructured chit-chat and maybe a curiosity as to how a rival family is prospering. Prying information out of some family members is closer to the task of pulling teeth. Some have an odd value connected to what they know, or feel embarrassed concerning certain events which transpired in the past. Asking them about such events is like setting off scattered land mines in a field.

Reunions are also chaotic and short lived events that require the researcher to carefully battle plan who he wants to interview and what information he wants to recover. Thus, prior planning is everything. It is important to contact family members prior to the event concerning data, photos and stories about the family. Be sure to encourage them to bring copies to the reunion. If you wait until the reunion to spring your questions, they will most likely tell you that they will send you the required dates or photos once they get back home. Such promises are often not followed through and the researcher may wait a long time for something to come in the mail. Sending a questionnaire to family members with the instruction to bring photos and birth dates to the reunion can save you a lot of work.

A researcher must be part promoter of the subject of genealogy and part entertainer to increase the interest level of family members who attend a family reunion. He or she should employ some ice-breaking techniques which loosen up the event, educate family about genealogy and secure valuable new data about the family tree.

I have attended and sponsored family reunions that never quite turned out as I had pictured in my mind. Of course, our family was never a believer in formality and we never elected or created an official reunion committee. Our tri-annual events were sponsored by a single family and held at a location near to their primary residence.

It is a good idea to find out prior to the reunion which family members are not arriving and request them to send a letter, photos or video in lieu of their appearance. This furnishes you with family data, and their letters and videos can entertain the group. You might ask everyone to bring a family photo and attach them to the family tree when they arrive.

Another technique is to arrange for a family history trivia question contest. Bring a large family tree posted on the site of the reunion and have family members put pins on the branches or names of the family members who they think are the answer to the contest questions. Winners can receive a variety of prizes. Some things we did at our reunions were to award prizes to the youngest and oldest family member in attendance and an award to the family member who traveled the furthest to be at the reunion. At a couple reunions we had a card game contest, but the game often precluded very many family members participating and was hard to keep players participating.

Some other ideas that can be use are to make a card deck of old and new family members with trivia questions. The cards can be handed out and the family can talk among themselves what the answer is, or who is in the photo. Another interesting idea is to ask family related geographical questions like; "Where was Smithfield located?" for a Smith family reunion or "In what state was Owensboro?" This would be provided for families with the surname of Owen.

These are all good ice-breaking questions which can help get members interested in family history and provide a researcher with some surprising data. You can use coffee cups, reunion printed T-shirts or other embossed merchandise as awards.

The above ideas can help keep the family members focused with the reunion's theme and involved. With a little creative ideas and enough prior planning, any reunion can come alive and be a memorable event for everyone. And, oh yeah, the family researcher can get some valuable history.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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