Get Showered with Family Data at a Family Reunion.

If you have never attended a family reunion, find one and attend it.

Unless you’re like a cousin of mine who, when invited to a family reunion, said, “I have more family than I can handle.”

If you’re interested in family history, attend a family reunion.

About Family Reunions

Just what is a family reunion?

A bunch of old folks sitting around? Gabbing and gossiping? Burping after over-stuffing themselves at a family banquet?

Yes. It could be like that.

It also could be a time when you see relatives you haven’t seen in a coon’s age. You find out
about ancestors you never dreamed existed
have fun in a spoon and egg race
play hop-scotch for the first time in 40 years
watch old geezers blow up and sit on balloons to break them
engage in a treasure hunt
or a scavenger hunt
or just sit around belching, catching up on family gossip after a sumptuous feast.

If you have never attended a family reunion, find one and attend it.

Or organize one yourself.

How to Organize a Family Reunion

Yeah, you say. Organize one myself, eh?


A good way to learn how to organize a family reunion is to look at how someone else does it. Avoid all their mistakes.

But maybe you don't have that luxury.

Larry didn’t have it. Peep over his shoulder and see the first family reunion he ever put together.

Larry had been to several family reunions. But he’d never been the one to organize any of them. Or even to help.

It was at a Rigdon Martin Family Reunion at Doctor’s Creek Baptist Church. Some 75 to 100 were in attendance.

He had the chance. It happened like this.

He was the dinner speaker. He had been editor and publisher of The Genealogical News Weekly newspaper. And, he had created a course at Miami-Dade College in “Genealogy and Local History.” The course basically enabled local school teachers do something they enjoyed and to get 3 hours credit for re-certification.

After the speech, during desserts of pecan, lemon mereigne, peach, apple, and pumpkin pies, and enough cakes to incite a bakery to burn with envy, there was a business meeting. He had just finished his pecan pie and home-made ice cream. He was munching on some boiled peanuts a favorite aunt brought from her freezer. An announcement was made. He was elected president of the group.

“But, I don’t know anything about what to do,” he moaned, brushing the peanut shells onto a paper plate.

“Nothing to it,” someone said. “We’ll help you. Main thing is to plan next year’s reunion.”

Hey, that’ simple enough he thought to himself. They don’t call him “Beebee Brain” Winebrenner for nothing. Here’s all he had to do.

***Clear the time and place on the church’s calendar for next year.

***Assemble the names, addresses and family connections of everyone there that year and everyone that might want to come next year.

***Develop a program.

***Provide for child care.

***Arrange for all the supplies that don’t come with covered dishes--
paper plates
salt & pepper
table covers
serving spoons
reserve tables and chairs for our use
and and and–well, there’s too much to remember now,
and he didn’t have a clue then.

***Perhaps a 1000 little tasks no one ever enumerated.

He arrived a day early to get things set up.

One of the members asked, “Did you get the plates, cups and silverware?”

Another said, “Don’t forget the ice.”

“How much?” he asked in panic.

“Oh, lots,” he was told.

Begin at the Beginning

That’s just the last minute ulcer parade. He almost did things right at the start.

He did check with the church while he was there. He got the date reserved.

“You want it just for an hour?” the secretary drawled.

“No. I want it all afternoon,”he drawled back. He grew up in that neck of the woods.

“Just askin’,” she mumbled. “I guess you’ll want the tables and chairs, too.”

“It would be nice,”he said, not believing his ears.

“How ‘bout the Frigidaire?”

“Does it make ice?”he asked.

“Not enough,” she admitted.

As he left there, his head in a spin, the immediate past president came up to him.

“From that glazed look in your eyes, I’d say you were just talking to Maybelle,” she said.

“No,” he laughed. “I always sweat like this on a cold October day.”

“You’ll want these,” she said shoving at him a grocery bag with loose papers and notes in it.

“The President’s record-keeping system?” he suggested.

“Kinda. It’s the attendance sheets from this year’s reunion. I just tore the sheets out of the wire spiral notebooks. The notebooks are still good. Hope you don’t mind,” she said.


“And I wrote the secretary’s name and address on a separate sheet of paper,” she explained. “And her mother’s telephone number.”

“Don’t tell me. She doesn’t have her own phone.”

“Got turned off when she didn’t pay the bill.”

There are no secrets in small towns.

The grocery bag of information was pretty much where he needed to begin. After church arrangements, of course. It contained a jumble of indecipherable names, lots with no addresses to be indecipherable with. He sorted them out and typed them into a database on his computer. While he was at it, he began to compose an invitation for the next year’s reunion. But what should he say? He decided to wait.

He printed out what he had input. He made photocopies of all the attendance sheets and mailed them all to the secretary with a letter asking her to check his records for mistakes and fill in the missing data. He asked for an interpretation of the most unreadable names. He enclosed a self-addressed, postage paid envelope and asked for a reply as soon as possible.

Two months later he called her mother.

“She ain’t here,” her mother told him.

“I know, but I need to talk to her,” he explained. “Have her call me when you get in touch with her.”

“She’s working down at Burger King,” Mom said. “I won’t see her till tomorrow. She works late and likes to sleep late.”

“When you see her, ask her to call me.”

“That’s long distance. I don’t want her running up...”

“Tell her to call collect,” he interrupted.

“I’ll tell her.” She wasn’t overly enthusiastic.

Three days later she called.

“I called you three days ago,” he said.

“Mama was out of town and I couldn’t get to the phone.”

“Don’t they have pay phones there?”

“Oh,” she whimpered. “I didn’t think of that. What’s the big hurry anyhow?”

“Big hurry? I sent you some material two months ago. Did you get it?”

“Yeah, but I ain’t had a chance to get to it yet,” she said.

He bit his tongue. He squeezed the phone until the veins on the back of his hand popped up. He breathed slowly for ten deep breaths.

“You still there?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered as quietly as he could. “Do me a big favor. See if you can get to those records in the next day or two–no, not two. By tomorrow.”

“Shoot. I can do it tonight,” she said. “But I still don’t see what’s the big hurry. The reunion ain’t until next year.”

Logically, she was right. He just wanted to get everything set up so he wasn’t doing it at the last minute. And he wanted to check names against those in his genealogy program. And he wanted to send out a mid-year letter. He wanted his reunion to come off smoothly and to be a big success.

Sometimes You Do the Right Thing by Accident

He got the corrected lists from the secretary two days later. He looked at the names and realized there were many he didn’t recognize. He had a hazy notion about having sign up sheets for each family branch. Rigdon Martin had six sons and three daughters born in the early 1800’s. Descendants of each of Rigdon’s offspring were a branch. But he didn’t know the names well enough to set up registration tables by branch.

He composed a letter explaining that he was the newly elected President of the Rigdon Martin Family Reunion. He explained his hope to register folks by branch and his ignorance of family connections. He enclosed a self-addressed postage paid post card with the request that each person identify the branch to which they belonged. He invited suggestions for registration and program.

The response began immediately and was quite extensive. He received a call from a cousin.

“Larry, you know I’m in the Henry Robert line just like you,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “It was a general mailing–for family branch and for suggestions.”

“Yes,” she said with a laugh. “Actually, I was calling with a suggestion. I’ll be glad to man the table for the H. R. Branch.”

“Staff,” he said.


“You’re not a man, so you can’t man a table. You’ll staff it.”

“Which one of us is the feminist?” she growled.

He ignored her pretended ire. “Who can I get for the Solomon Branch.”

She gave him the name and telephone number of a cousin in Charleston SC. They continued until they got to Steve.

“No one from the Steve Branch ever comes to the family reunion,” she said.

“I’ll find someone,” he said. He wanted someone from every branch at his family reunion.

Almost as if by telepathy a Steve Branch member sent back a card with the comment, “It would be a lot easier to sign in if the roll sheets already had names printed and all we had to do was initial by our name.”

Guess who he got to staff the Steve Branch table.

Another response to his letter was a full page letter in an envelope with his post card enclosed. “What kind of activities are you going to have for children?” she asked. And then went on for three pages with suggestions. He drafted her to supervise children and youth activities. By the time of the reunion, she had a committee helping her.

Her letter raised another thought. What kind of program would he have. At past family reunions they had great food, lots of picture taking, some genealogy swapping, sharing of previous year’s photos [including one movie], an occasional joke, one or two speakers, but nothing to set the family reunion apart from any casual gathering.

He decided that not only would the children have fun. So would everyone at the reunion.

He made up a program.
he selected games.
he discovered one of the young men at the previous reunion had just written a song that was being played on several local radio stations, so he got a commitment from him to write a family song and teach it at the next reunion.
he searched for prizes for game winners.
he created certificates for
oldest member present,
youngest member present,
couple married longest,
most recently married couple,
couple with most children,
person with most grandchildren,
family who traveled farthest to attend,
and the most appreciated person
[staff and officers not eligible].

The Proof of the Pudding at the Reunion is in...

By the time the reunion rolled around the following October, he felt it was as organized as the United Nations.
He had family group sheets all filled out ready to be corrected.
He had name tags color-coded to family branch.
He had wall posters of branches with places for people to fill in names or correct mistakes.
He had a family newsletter with a descendant chart 9 generations deep.
He had printed programs,
He’d found a source for Rigdon Martin T-shirts and had them as gifts and as a fund-raiser for the organization.
He had attendance sign up sheets all printed requiring only initials.
He had a list of all the previous reunion attendees and a list of everyone he could find who had not attended.

And then. . .

One of the members asked, “Did you get the plates, cups and silverware?”

Another said, “Don’t forget the ice.”

“How much?” he asked in panic.

“Oh, lots,” he was told.

Well, the family reunion came off pretty well. He had not expected to spend as much of his own money as he did. He established a budget for the next reunion.

And he had thought he could just zip off those invitations from his computer. And run off the envelopes from his database. Ah, but he forgot how much trouble it is it stuff envelopes. And seal them. And stamp them. Next time he utilized the secretary. She rounded up a committee to get it done.

He’d always figured the food just got placed out on the serving tables without supervision. After a couple of near-fights from folks who wanted their food in a particular place on the serving table, a couple of the older ladies took over the placement of the food and the serving of dessert. Yeah. You need a food committee.

He’d forgotten about cleanup, but a couple of aunts and cousins who were members of the church pitched in. They didn’t want the church criticizing the family reunion for leaving everything dirty. Next time they had a clean up committee.

He had an evaluation for reunion participants to complete. Lots of favorable comments were made about organization, games and other activities, and the decorations.

But the purpose of an evaluation is not to collect pats on the back. Those were valuable for helping to know what to repeat. Other comments were valuable to help avoid mistakes and to add other items. Due to the evaluation, the second reunion was much more organized with a committee chair, sub-committees, helping out-of-towners find lodging, creating a memorabilia center, and adding specific getting acquainted games.

Among his most urgent recommendations is to get a three ring binder and create a Reunion Planning Book. He tried doing it on his computer first time around, but second time he created the notebook.

Even though he’s been unable to attend for a few years due to health problems, that Reunion Planning Book is the basis for every subsequent family reunion.

This should be enough to help you get started planning your family reunion, but don't stop now. There are lots of placeson the web with family reunion information.

One of the best is the site of Elizabeth Nieuwhof. Click on her name and you'll not only find family reunion information, but general information about where to start your ancestor tracing, a bookstore, kits for genealogy, genealogy kid stuff, and tons more. But her page on family reunions is among the best.


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