Plan a Heritage-Focused Family Reunion

By Diane Haddad Premium

Genealogists spend a lot of time thinking about dead people. Come on, admit it: When you’re poking around in 1800s census records and poring over dusty turn-of-the-century diaries to break through a mile-high brick wall, it’s easy to overlook the living, breathing members of your family tree.

So what’s the antidote to your genealogy-induced dead-relative syndrome? Planning a “roots reunion.” More than a traditional “lets-get-together-and-grill-out-and-play-softball” gathering, a roots reunion incorporates activities, decorations and foods that focus on your family’s unique history. It lets you introduce your living relatives to the fascinating people behind the names on your pedigree chart.

Don’t worry: Any time you spend planning this type of get-together will pay off in genealogical dividends. Kin will seek out you, the family historian, to share genealogical information with. You’ll get names to match the faces in your unidentified photo pile. New stories will surface, providing research leads and fleshing out ancestors’ personalities. But here’s the best prize of all: A roots reunion improves the chances that your family’s story will live on, even when you’re an ancestor.

  • Choose a site that’s significant to your family history. If you’re blessed budget-wise, travel overseas to your ancestral homeland. If you’re planning on a shoestring, consider the undercroft of the church where your grandparents married, or a park near a historic site?
  • Create roots atmosphere by putting up travel posters and photos of your family’s old stomping grounds (look on tourism Web sites). Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine, suggests making like the Knapp family of Beetown, Wis.: At their reunion, a cousin showed a slide presentation about his trip to the family homeland of Werlau, Germany.
  • Post a giant family tree wall chart and let people write in updates and changes.
  • Bring copies of family photos for display (and pens and paper in case anyone can solve identification mysteries).
  • Arrange a storytelling session with an older relative and get it on video. You also could pair up folks and give them lists of questions and digital recorders for family history interviews.
  • For a potluck, ask everyone to bring a special dish from a family recipe or one that reflects your family’s ethnic background. You could collect the recipes for each dish and create a family history cookbook to distribute later in print or on CD.