Get ready to start a lifetime experience with your family reunion. Using the basic instructions below can help propel your reunion to fit your family’s purpose.
The Committee: Having a family reunion takes time, commitment, and planning. To get started, form a committee of family members. It can be as small as 3-4 people. Include young people when possible. Decide how often the committee will meet and consider the following items: Date, Invitations, Location, Travel and Lodging, Facilities, Food, Communications, Programs, Finances, Local Activities, Souvenirs.
How to organize: Pick a point person from each main family group that can relay information within their group and take a survey of what people are willing to spend and when they would like to go. Use the following steps for preparation:
- Create a reunion planning binder online to hold and share information.
- Define your main form of communications (mail, email or text).
- Select a reunion type base on family opinions and ideas.
- Compile a list of family members.
- Organize subcommittees.
- For every major event, create a backup plan. (weather change, time delays, food issues)
The Invitation: Unlike the informal gatherings of summertime cookouts, reunions involve planning from start to finish. For this event, the host should stationary and postcards with a reunion theme to make the announcement. You can also create your own handmade invitation that personalizes the announcement, adding a special touch for the family reunion. The invitation must include an RSVP so that you can plan for activities, food, and accommodations.
Whom to invite: Everyone, ideally. After all, sometimes it’s the random second cousin you never thought would show up who ends up being the life of the party. If you can’t include every branch of the family tree, the general rule of thumb is that you should decide the parameters first; whether you’ll invite first cousins, second cousins, or beyond then include everyone that falls under that umbrella.
When to start planning: Set a date as early as possible, preferably a year in advance. Families with school-age children generally need to plan around the school schedule.
The Cost of a Reunion: Family reunions do cost money, but with careful planning, every family can afford to have one. The cost of organizing includes expenses such as postage, duplication, stationary, and telephone. These costs may be passed on to the family members as part of their registration fee. The planning committee should be aware that deposits might also be needed for the sites, souvenirs, and the like. However, some families have fundraising events during the year to offset these expenses.
How long it should last: For an annual reunion, a weekend will suffice. If reunions don’t occur as regularly, plan a few extra days for those who can stay longer. But remember, the longer a reunion lasts, the more space you should have to spread out.
The Activities: When your family reunion is not on a cruise ship or at a theme park, you will need some activities to keep everyone entertained. You can entertain the crowd with a style show or a talent show. Get the relatives involved, showing off African fashions for both adults and children. Kids who love showing off their talents to adults can sing, dance or play an instrument. You could also set up tables for card games; bingo, Scrabble, Connect Four, dominoes or checkers are all games that allow families to connect and play together. Give out prizes for the game-winners.
The Media Team: There are so many ways of getting the word out during your family reunion. Form a group that can rotate the responsibility of creating live footage of major events during the reunion. The use of audio and video should be considered for instant playback after the reunion for the different social media platforms.
Reunion Style: The Home-Hosted affair is best for smaller groups, families with elderly relatives or families concentrated in one geographic area.
Where to go: The host should know that not everything has to take place in their living room. Give yourself a well-deserved break by planning a few activities at a local park (see if you need a permit) softball or volleyball.
Local Activities: Mark local maps with spots like coffee shops, walking trails, and amusement parks for early risers or other folks who need to get out for a bit. “It’s important to remember your limits as far as togetherness go and to know that everyone needs their privacy at some point.
Special Announcements: Set a time period aside for recognition and awards for members of the family:
- Recognizing the oldest living family members.
- Displaying the DNA results of an older family member.
- Honoring the active and veteran military family members.
- Members who traveled the farthest for the reunion.
Organizing meals: If a majority of the guests live within an hour’s drive, consider a potluck. Always cook more than you think you’ll need; it’s easy to run out of food when you’re not used to cooking for a large number. If ordering in, consider a caterer, or tell the restaurant how many people you’re ordering for. They can assess how much food you’ll need for a large party.
Church and Sunday Brunch: A family reunion with a strong religious faith should consider going to an early church service (contact church for accommodations) before finishing festivities with a Sunday brunch. African American reunions are about family, faith, love, and heritage, and a reunion is not complete without some kind of Sunday worship. The brunch can be the setting for door prizes and giveaways. Consider giving away family cookbooks with recipes handed down from generations, or distribute photo albums of family history.
A Genealogist Opportunity: Family Reunions are a gold mine for the immediate family genealogists. What better time to interview your older relatives, to update your family information, to take photos to share and for posterity, to share family stories and get everyone excited about and involved in preserving their family’s history? Be sure to interview the family elders and tape what they say. Also, remember that family reunions offer a chance to collect history in the making. Videotape your activities and record information about living members for the sake of future generations.
Useful Ancestry Sites
- Family Search
- General Resources
- Birth, Marriage, Death
- Cemeteries & Funeral Homes
- Freedmen’s Bureau
- African American Genealogy