National Family History Week, an initiative of the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations (AFFHO), has just concluded. A number of events were held during the week (30 July - 8 August), focusing on genealogy, family history and heraldry. It was also a great opportunity to attend seminars, open days, history walks, book launches, film evenings and expos. There were, of course, also family reunions!
Some or All? One of the key things you need to decide is which family are you inviting? Do you want to include close family (immediate, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc) or all descendants of Great Great Grandpa George?
Just be aware when deciding on who to include that every extra branch on the ancestral tree will add many more potential attendees to the reunion, so choose wisely.
The Guest List. Start your list with immediate family members. Work your way out and where necessary and enlist support from at least one person from each branch of the family to help unearth contact details for others. Make sure you get email contact details as well to save time and money, and to help with last minute correspondence.
Utilise the Family. If you're planning a large family reunion, send a preliminary letter/email/MyHeritage-message to let them know that the event is being organised. Include a small survey to help gauge interest and preferences, and consider asking for help with the planning. Including people in the process can help generate more interest. Ask what dates would be most suitable, proposed reunion type, and a preferred general location. Avoid discussing possible costs to early as this can discourage a positive response. Keep everyone updated on the progress.
Create a Committee. Unless this is a small get-together of a dozen cousins at Aunty Mavis’s house, or you have a degree in Events Management, setting up a reunion committee is a good way to go. Consider the role of overall Coordinator, then allocate specific areas to several people: location scout, social activities, communication, budget, etc. Apart from easing what can be a huge workload, spreading the tasks ensures more people are actively involved and generates greater interest across more branches of the family.
Name the Date. A party’s not a party if no-one comes! Check with people on the most suitable date for the reunion. Long weekends and school holidays can often work better for many. Reunions can range from a small barbecue to a big event running over 3 or more days, so you will need to determine how it will be. A good rule of thumb is the farther people have to travel to reach the reunion location, the longer it should last. Remember, you will probably not come up with a date that everyone will be a happy with, so choose your final dates by going with the majority vote. You can announce the date by creating an event on your family site.
Location, Location. Consider where everyone will be traveling from and select a location that is accessible - and affordable - to the majority who will be attending. Take into account venues, facilities, accommodation, transport etc.
Develop a budget. Your budget will determine the scale of the event, including food, accommodation, activities, decorations and entertainment for your family reunion. Avoid making costs too high as this could exclude people. You can choose to have families pay for their own accommodation, bring their own food or a plate etc., but unless you have another source of income, you'll also need to set a registration fee per-family to help with all the expenses.
Reserve a reunion site. Once the location and date are set, it's time to select a site for the reunion. "Going home" is a big draw for family reunions, so you may want to consider the old family homestead or other historic site connected to your family's past. Depending on the size of the reunion, you may be able to find a family member who will volunteer to have it at their home. For larger reunions, parks, hotels, restaurants and community halls are a good place to start. If you're planning a multi-day reunion, then consider a resort location where people can combine reunion activities with a family vacation.
Who Are You? It is not unusual for members of family reunions to be meeting one another for the first time. For large reunions, name tags are important. It helps people relax if they don't have to worry about not recognising someone or not knowing / remembering a name. Consider using baby or childhood pictures, names of the ancestor from whom the member is descended and think about color-coding name tags by family branch. Another option is to list relationships (for example, "Hi I'm Victor’s son, Christopher" or "Ursula’s grandson and Victor’s son, Christopher").
Display Your Family Tree
Everyone is fascinated by family trees, particularly at a family reunion! Consider making a large wall chart and including pictures as well as names and other information of interest. Whether the family tree is a simple chart of a fancy one — pictures, symbols, art, color — your family will love it. A family reunion is also the perfect place to display and solve the mystery of photos, papers and materials you can't identify. Ask members to bring mystery photos. Indicate who brought each photo, then ask everyone to look at them and see if they can identify the people in the pictures. This is an opportunity for some of your older members to shine because they know the people and places, occasions and reasons for the pictures.
Appoint a Family Historian. To capture the information for the family (and future generations), allocate the role of “Family Historian” to someone to photograph and tape (video/audio) reactions and stories. These can then be passed on to others in the family.
Have you organised a family reunion recently? What worked best for you?