12 Steps to Creating the Perfect Family Reunion

Contributing writer Schelly Talalay Dardashti is the US Genealogy Advisor for MyHeritage.com

Wouldn’t it be great to get your far-flung family together and meet them in person? E-mail and Skype only go so far.

Some families plan reunions every year or two, while some have been meeting annually for decades. Others have never organized a formal get-together.

We’ve been talking about this for our Dardashti family – there are so many relatives that we’ll need a football stadium. Several years ago, we had a mini-reunion with descendants of six Talalay branches. It was probably the first time in more than 100 years that that these branches had been together since the late 1890s, when many cousins began leaving Belarus and Russia for the US. We were all stunned by the familial and personality resemblance within the group, which included those who had remained in the ancestral towns until only very recently.

Don’t forget that your family website at MyHeritage is a great way to communicate with reunion attendees. Share pre-event planning and programs. Then provide – after the event – photos and videos for the whole family to see. It will encourage those who didn’t attend to show up next time.

How do you plan a family reunion? Here are 12 steps to help:

1- Get organized.

Breaking down the responsibilities among a group of people is a good idea, but you’ll need a chairperson – maybe you? – as this might be your idea! Some tasks – depending on how big the event is projected to be – include committee meetings, making lists of volunteers and jobs, keeping to a calendar, getting people to follow through. Think about committees for food, activities and publicity.

2- What type of event?

Reunions can be informal or formal, planned on a budget-conscious shoestring (important these days) or an anything-goes gala. A picnic may be the easiest and most cost-effective. What about a dinner at a restaurant? A camping trip? A theme park? A family cruise? A family ski vacation? There are many possibilities.Distance and cost are important considerations.

3- Choose a date.

Think about the season, holidays. How long will the event be – a day, an evening, a weekend or longer? Try to plan for off-season. A family reunion planned for June will compete with weddings and graduations. Will seasonal weather possibly impact activities and participation?

4- Track down relatives.

Will this event be for all descendants of one immigrant ancestor or, for example, just one branch of your grandmother’s line? The larger the group, the more planning is necessary. And the more people expected, the more expensive the event may be (larger venue, etc.). How to find lost relatives? If you are a good family history researcher, you may already have many names and addresses available. Use the social networking benefits of Facebook and Twitter, as well as genealogy social networking sites, like MyHeritage, to find long lost relatives. Of course, if you’ve kept a list of relatives’ addresses, phone numbers and emails all along, it will be a snap to update. Better late than never should be your motto. Start building your relatives’ list now.

5- Reunion location.

Small groups can meet in a someone’s backyard, a small resort or a theme park. According to Family-Reunion.com, choices also include camping out, a hotel weekend, bed-and-breakfast, the family’s ancestral home or town ( a roots trip), a dude ranch, a family cruise, etc. In the summer, pool access would be welcomed by participants, especially for younger relatives. Remember that the more expensive the event, the fewer the number of attendees.

6- How to pay for it.

Try to be realistic in your planning and consider the best way to keep costs down. Create a budget, determine a way to collect money from participants, think about fundraising, a raffle or an auction. Keep good records of expenses and payments received.

7- Have fun!

Keep things moving along with a welcome address, give awards and certificates for the oldest or youngest attendee, who traveled the least or the farthest, most children or grandchildren, etc.), compile a family cookbook, a family history book, post large family wall charts so people can see how they are related. Don’t forget event T-shirts, hats, a guestbook, name tags, and a reunion scrapbook. You can create a family reunion website for your family and post photographs, videos and event information. It can be kept private with access only to relatives on the invitation list. Your MyHeritage family site can also be used for this.

8- Plan activities for young and old.

Check resources for information on activities like icebreakers, games, storytelling, special kids’ activities, a craft table, family memorabilia, group photos, historic family photos, a reunion video, a family map, a talent show, family skits, family history research, a time capsule, make a reunion quilt, pie-eating contests, baby pictures, a religious service or others. There are many ideas in the resources listed at the end of this article.

9- Choose a theme.

A theme makes it easier to plan for activities, food, invitations and other components. Some possibilities might be immigration, family history, anniversary, birthday, circus, fiesta, holiday, safari or anything else. Many family reunions focus on family history and a group’s descent from one person or a couple, while telling the story of the family from before immigration.

10- Let everyone know.

Keep everyone informed about the details: Date, time, place; the contact people; activities planned; cost per person or family. Let them know what’s included or what may be extra. Post updates and reminders at regular intervals, Provide travel directions and payment information, remind relatives to send in response cards, clothing for special events and other details. Use your MyHeritage family site to let your family know about the reunion plans.

11- Food and the family.

Picnics are easy (everyone knows their own family’s likes and dislikes) and so are potlucks (where everybody brings a dish or two to share). A restaurant or hotel is nice, if the expense isn’t too high for most of the attendees. Catering at a park or at someone’s home is always a possibility. Remember that some people have food requirements for health, personal preferences or religious reasons. Will you need extra tables and chairs?

12- Don’t do it all yourself.

Organize committees (see Step 1). Ask people to participate in set-up and clean-up committees. Make sure someone or a group of people are taking many photos during the event.

Plan the next reunion!

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking how to make the next reunion even better. Ask attendees complete an evaluation form at the event (they won’t remember to mail one back later!), update their details (births, marriages, deaths, addresses, emails, phone numbers). Send thank notes to everyone who helped. During the year – and as preparation for the next reunion – produce a family newsletter to keep everyone informed of what’s been happening.

Online resources

Family-Reunion.com has many articles and links to more information.

Reunions magazine offers many resources, real family experiences and ideas to plan the perfect reunion. Read the latest issue for free online.

Have you planned or attended a family reunion? What was the best part? What was the most difficult part of theplanning? Please share your experiences. We look forward to reading your comments.


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  • Mary ann reaves

    July 3, 2016

    I love to see my family