As the world gets smaller, extended families stretch across the country. A recent survey shows that only 37 per cent of us live in the hometown where we grew up. The result is a loss of family bonds and traditions. Sadly, we don’t know our second cousins or can’t remember our great Aunt Millie. We are strangers with a common ancestor.
One way to combat the vanishing extended family is to host a family reunion. Bringing family together from across the country while balancing different schedules, tastes and opinions is no small task, but don’t let that stop you.
Start your journey to a memorable family reunion with these six easy tips:
1. Start planning now. Putting together a family reunion takes a lot of planning. According to Lydia Stucki, creator of family-reunion-success.com, it is best to start planning two years in advance. While that may seem like a long time, remember that you are trying to gather several families with different needs and agendas. “The more advanced notice you can give family, the more likely they will be able to attend,” says Stucki. You will also need to establish a communication centre. Stucki suggests creating a Facebook group so the extended family can start reconnecting and building excitement for the reunion.
2. Choose the type of gathering. Poll family members and ask what kind of event they would enjoy. For some families, a one-day picnic is enough. For other families, a weekend with multiple activities works better for them. You might want to ask friends and co-workers about their reunion experiences. Let everyone brainstorm on your Facebook page, through emails and over the phone. While everyone is pumped with great ideas, this is the perfect time to start asking for help.
3. Pick a date. Most family reunions are held in the summer when the weather is warmer and school is out. However, you may want to plan your reunion around a special event, like a 50th anniversary party. As the reunion planner, Stucki suggests finding a date that works for you and your immediate family first. “Identify two or three different dates that would work well for you and then give the others choices.” Remember to choose a date far enough in advance so your family can take off from work and make their travel arrangements. Depending on the time of year and destination, hotel rooms, banquet halls and caterers may be booked out several months to a year.
4. Location, location, location. Today’s family is scattered across the country (or beyond) so you need to find a location that will accommodate the majority. The simplest idea is to hold the event in the family’s hometown. If the old homestead doesn’t work, you might want to find a spot that is closer to the majority of the current family or a centralized spot. Some families head to a popular vacation spot, but a large venue may distract from the point of the reunion.
5. Recruiting volunteers. In order to have a successful family reunion, you need to do more than just show up. You will need a team of family members willing to make phone calls to find hotel deals, handle the food, choose entertainment, set up and clean up, and the many other behind-the-scenes details. Stucki explains that the way to find volunteers is to simply ask. “Give someone two or three choices of areas they could help or tasks that they could complete and let them decide which one they would most like to do.” Splitting the work among the family members will make it enjoyable for everyone.
6. Finances.With your new group of volunteers, determine how much the reunion will cost. Be sure to include venue rental, food, entertainment, reunion T-shirts and all other costs associated with the reunion. Add a 10 per cent cushion and divide by the number of families attending. Instead of laying out the deposit money yourself, ask everyone in the family to pay a portion of the deposit. It is up to you to decide if that deposit is refundable. Stucki suggests making a PayPal account instead of sending a cheque. “There are no transaction fees to send personal money and you can send payment reminders via PayPal as well,” she notes.
Whether you plan a lavish vacation reunion or just an afternoon picnic, the goal of a family reunion is to reconnect and bridge the gap through fun, food and fellowship.
Outstanding additions to your family reunion
A family reunion is about having fun and sharing family traditions. Take a look at some additional ideas to make your reunion unforgettable:
1. Entertainment. Set up games like a three-legged race, croquet or a scavenger hunt. Ask everyone to send in a baby picture and guess who they are. Plan a golf outing or attend a church service together.
2. Family directory. As part of the invitation, include a sheet asking for each family’s names, dates of birth and anniversaries as well as home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Create a family directory with the information that was provided.
3. Have something for everyone to take away. Order T-shirts with the family name and reunion date. Make the shirts the same color to show unity or order multiple colors for each branch of the family.
4. Family recipe book. Don’t lose those wonderful family recipes! Check out hertitagecookbook.com. It allows multiple people from the family to input their recipes from their own computers by simply filling in the blanks.
5. Take a collection. Find a cause that means something to your family. You can honor a family member lost to cancer or support a relative that recently lost their home to a fire, for example.
6. Make a DVD montage. Ask a family member to volunteer to collect pictures, scan and put together with music. You don’t need to be a professional - Windows Live Movie Maker or Apple’s iPhoto are user-friendly programs.
7. Family history. Use websites like ancestry.com or familysearch.org to search your family tree. Start with your common ancestors and trace backward. Make a pedigree chart and share with the rest of the family.
Pam is a freelance journalist and amateur genealogist. Between reunions, Pam’s family stays connected via social media.
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