Get Your Relatives Together: Plan a Family Reunion

My friend Shelley just returned from a huge reunion of her mother’s side of the family.  Relatives came from all over North America as well as overseas and numbered a couple of hundred people of all ages.

According to Statistics Canada, more Canadians travel for the purpose of visiting family than for any other reason.

Whether they’re big or small, deluxe or down-home, every few years or just a one-time event, reunions are a chance to celebrate what’s important – your family.

Large family gathering

Great reunions start with great planning

Start early if your clan is large or spread out so everyone has plenty of notice to plan vacation times and adjust their schedules.

Create a website with a paid site such as MyEvent.com or set up a private Facebook page to get the word out.  This is a great way to update family, build interest and excitement –  and your relatives might be more inclined to participate.  Ask various relatives for contact information and use social media to track down difficult-to-locate people.  Have someone spread the word to elderly relatives who might not use the Internet.

Ask other family members to help with the planning so you’re not doing everything yourself.

Delegate according to interests. 

Choose a destination

If possible, survey the family and choose what suits the majority – both in how much money they can spend and what type of setting they prefer.  The cost can be a big factor in attendance.

Some families who all live locally plan low-budget reunions in their own hometowns.  When the purpose of the gathering is to unite relatives who live far away from each other, choosing an interesting destination is part of the fun.

Great reunion destinations have amenities and activities that will appeal to little kids, older folks, and everyone in between.  They provide plenty of room for everyone to gather and spread out and should be easily accessible.  Don’t forget to consider the needs of the elderly and anyone with limited mobility.

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Shelley’s family reunion was held in a small town in Saskatchewan where her great grandparents homesteaded many years ago. 

My sister-in-law’s reunion was held in a resort in Cancun.  The reunion was a great excuse to take a wonderful vacation.  One of her nieces took advantage of the locale with all her relatives and arranged to have her wedding there too.

An outdoorsy family might choose to camp in a national park.

With a destination reunion, one person won’t be stuck with the burden of organizing all the activities.

Although traveling family members have to pay for transportation and accommodation, enough advance planning allows them to find deals.  Resorts and hotels often offer group rates.

Plan events

Decide whether you want lots of structure with organized events, or whether your family would prefer a low-key gathering where everyone chats over comfort food.

Appoint a greeter for large family reunions to welcome any newbies.  You’re bound to have new family members who have married into the clan or long-lost relatives who have driven all the way up from California.

Here are a few activity ideas:

  • Have a story circle where everyone – young and old – shares a story about their lives.
  • Set up a table where people can view old photos and albums brought by others.
  • Honor your heritage through food or arts and crafts activities.
  • Map out a family tree.  What better time could there be to have each relative fill in his or her information.

“We have a Family Jeopardy game.  My mom spent some serious time researching and putting together names and dates and threw in some funny stories as well.  We had questions like who’s whose husband or wife, or putting everyone in order of birthdate.   We learned a lot about our family and it was a good way to get our older family members involved ahead of time.”  Susan  

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“Our relatives gather every two years for a family reunion.  About 200 people attend.  Before dinner, we take a few moments to remember those who we’ve lost in the preceding two years, and introduce those who’ve been added – babies, new in-laws and fiancees.” Allan

“Every year our family gathers for an annual picnic.  We take a photograph of the oldest and youngest members of the family together.”  Helen

Add a virtual reunion for those far-off family members who can’t make it.  Skype or use Google Hangouts so they can join the party online.

Provide a memento of the occasion

You’ll want to have keepsakes of the event.  Some can do double-duty as activities to keep members busy and talking.

My friend Shelley brought home a beautifully bound book containing the history of her family from many generations back and illustrated with dozens of photos – old and new.

Here are some other ideas:

  • A family cookbook.
  • An autograph book with the signatures (and maybe a short message) of each attendee.
  • A large group photo. Have reprints made for each family or email digital copies.
  • Let the children interview their grandparents (provide some questions to start them off) and create a video.
  • A family calendar with birthdays and anniversary dates marked, and maybe important dates in family history.

Don’t forget to take pictures or video of the event.  That’s what a family reunion is all about, isn’t it?  Sharing family memories.

Maintain the momentum

After the reunion, plan to keep in touch until the next one.  Post photos on your family’s favourite social media platform or go old-school and send out a regular newsletter.  It keeps the family reunion going year-round.

Final thoughts

There’s been an increased interest in family trees and millions of people share their research on popular genealogy websites like ancestry.com and myheritage.com.  It’s become an addictive pastime.

But, you can get your family history and stories directly from the source.

Family reunions pave the way to better connections as you come to know relatives you don’t see very often – or in some cases have never met before – and to make sure that far-flung relatives don’t drift apart from one another.

Why not gather everyone this summer and make your own family memories.

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