I’d been attending my in-laws’ annual family reunion for eight years when my mother decided to tag along. She’d heard plenty about the fun-loving Risers and their famous potluck dinners.
Almost immediately she met one of my favorite relatives. “That sweet Uncle Billy!” my mom exclaimed when she returned. I smiled proudly. “Did you know he’s raised his granddaughter since she was a baby?”
A family reunion is the perfect place to gather photos and documents you may not otherwise get to see. After all, some relatives aren’t eager to lend their priceless memorabilia (or even make copies). But if they’ll bring the items to the reunion to display, you can copy or photograph them without having to beg, borrow or steal.
How do you make it happen? Give relatives advance notice, advises Tom Ninkovich, author of Family Reunion Handbook: A Complete Guide for Reunion Planners (Betterway Books, out of print). Announce in a mailer what you’re looking for: “Ask for old Bibles, journals, wills, letters, birth and death certificates, newspaper clippings, old genealogies, church records, old photos, military records, naturalization papers, marriage certificates.”
Worried about security? “Place heavy [clear] plastic over everything on the table and tape the edges to the underside,” Ninkovich advises.
Involving everyone in your genealogy quest can be fun, especially if you allow relatives to strike it rich by winning prizes. These tried-and-true games and activities can help you update basic data, identify old photos and gather stories.
When you see Grand-aunt Rachel only at the annual picnic, it’s logical to conduct a family history interview there. But how does a formal interview fit into a reunion setting, where fun, games and food rule?
Donna Beasley describes how it works for her in The Family Reunion Planner (Macmillan, out of print). “Doing an interview at an outdoor picnic does have its challenges. I set up a table away from the reunion site. [But] I had to ask the DJ not to play music for 30 minutes.”
Alexis Debaltzo is a reunion planner and heritage scrapbooker for the Duker family of Hawaii. She sees their regular reunion as a vital part of her larger family history and documents it accordingly. “We have a unique history of more than 30 years of reunions,” she says. “I like everyone to realize they are part of something much bigger than just a family picnic.”
If you get lucky (or if you’re in charge of activities), you can actually plan genealogy as a reunion activity, or even arrange a small reunion focused on family history research. But before you start daydreaming about doing genealogy with your grandkids or grandparents, take a hard look at your family’s research needs, interests and resources.
Speaking of breaks, it’s important to plan some for yourself. Don’t focus so much on filling out charts that you completely miss hanging out with family. It’s also important to avoid turning every conversation into an interrogation, or fun-loving cousins might flee from you and your
Family Reunion: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Unforgettable Get-Togethers by Jennifer Crichton (Workman Publishing, $13.95)