Family Reunions - Tips, Tricks and Tons of Fun | The Armchair Genealogist
Start Looking

Family Reunions - Tips, Tricks and Tons of Fun

Part 1

This coming Friday the theme of Geneabloggers Radio will be family reunions and genealogy. They will be discussing the ins and outs of planning a family reunion, and how to incorporate genealogy into your event.

I will be unable to attend Geneabloggers on Friday evening, however, I would like to offer up my own thoughts and suggestions on Family Reunions.  I sit on two reunion committees, my Father’s family has been hosting family reunions every 5 years for the last 40 or more years and recently I was on the committee for my Mother’s family reunion, the Desmarais Reunion.

The Organization of a Family Reunion

Organization is the key to great family reunion; here are my suggestions to ensure success.

Set up a Committee – Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for your reunion. Whether you choose a yearly event, or every other year, or 3rd or 5th year, you can’t plan a large-scale event like a reunion without a committee.

It is always best to get representatives from all families present, including a wide selection of ages.  Meetings can start every couple of months until closer to the reunion and then move to every month and perhaps every couple of weeks. With email it is easy to stay in touch these days and on top of things between meetings.  Our reunion that takes place every 5 years starts with planning 1 year out and when we get about 6 months out we start getting together once a month.  

During meetings keep everyone on topic; assign a chairperson, your committee should also have a designated treasurer who will handle all of the finances.

Everyone at the table should a have responsibility whether that be a venue co-ordinator, activity planner, food organizer or registration coordinator. Other tasks can also involve non-committee members. Someone can be in charge of fundraising for subsequent reunions. Someone else can organize some children;s games while another family member can be responsible for communications.

Choosing a Timeframe- Picking your dates is a very big deal.  Adhering to the same weekend every year is usually a great way to make sure the family takes off the time from work with plenty of notice.  Moving it around on the calendar can make for some confusion and eliminate many family members who have other commitments.

Keep in mind long distance travellers; long weekends can be ideal times as it provides an extended long weekend to give out of town guests plenty of travel time.

Registrations- can be the number one problem when it comes to organizing a reunion. Many are late sending back their registrations forms with their money. Deposits have to be made. We set deadlines, if you don't make the due date the registration fee goes up. It works! 

The Cost of a Reunion – depending on the size of your reunion they can get quite costly, rental of a hall, a caterer, entertainment can all add up quickly. We charge a registration fee but we also offset this cost with fundraising. We will discuss fundraising in Part 2. 

A Fun-Filled Weekend 

Since our Kowalsky Family Reunion only takes place once every 5 years, it has become a pretty impress affair.  It usually involves approximately 250 family members from all across Canada, United States and England. Ours is a two-day event usually starting with a meet and greet on Friday evening. We gather on the beautiful farm belonging to my cousin. 

Friday evening is also reserved for setting up tents. Each family usually brings a tent or awning to protect themselves from the sun or rain. We end up with a tent village of sorts and this has turned into a fun family competition as one tent is named the best-decorated tent of the weekend.

Saturday morning we arrive around 10am for opening ceremonies.  Over the years, we have had some impressive opening ceremonies.Last year a marching band along with a parade of flags opened our reunion.  Each flag represented a nation of our ancestors and they were carried in by their descendants.  

In previous years we have had parachuters arrive, we have let off cages of doves, we have had canons and muskets fired for the occassion, and one year every person let off a balloon, (or course that wouldn’t be environmentally friendly today). Each balloon had a family members name and a address in it and an explanation as to the reason for the balloon. We asked that if someone found the balloon they drop us a line and let us know. It worked, we got a couple of letters back.

After opening ceremonies, we usually participate in an icebreaker. Someone is in charge of creating a game where everyone must mingle.

Last year everyone’s nametag came with a secret letter behind it. You had to spell the words ‘Kowalsky Reunion’, forcing you to go out and search them out amongst the crowd.

One year everyone got a t-shirt,  with our name and our number, for instance I was  GC26, the 26th grandchild of Ruth and Jerome. Whomever, had my shirt had to find me. For instance my oldest daughter was GGC53, the 53rd great-grandchild of Ruth and Jerome.This got everyone getting to know each other. 
Everyone searching for the owner of their shirt!!

Each family usually comes to the event in matching t-shirts; we are usually in red and white representing Canada’s colours and appropriately named Ken’s Krew (Ken being my father).

Ken's Krew 

The remainder of Saturday is filled with visiting, and some games for the kids, some of the more talented bring along their guitars and have a jam session.

Last year we started a new tradition. Ken’s Krew were offering a happy hour of sorts in their tent. A specialty drink made for the occasion free to all for that one hour. Once that got out other families jumped on the bandwagon.  Others brought chicken wings, baking, and wine tasting. It not only was great fun, it got everyone mingling from tent to tent. It was such a hit, that we believe it will be incorporated as a planned event in future reunions. 

Our Tiki Bar 

In the evening, we generally head to a hall for a catered dinner and dance. However, I believe next reunion we will be renting a large tent and staying put and having our dinner and dance out on the grounds.

Sunday usually starts a little later. Often we have a car rally for the teenagers and twenty somethings, this is always been a big hit. 

This past year, Sunday afternoon was reserved for our time capsule. Every family was asked to bring something for the capsule that was significant to their family, the time capsule will be opened in 2030. We also took this quiet time in the afternoon to handout our Family History Book that had been pre-ordered and pre-sold by many of those in attendance. 

Sunday usually ends early with a catered BBQ in order that those who are driving can head out at a reasonable time. Believe me we are all pretty exhausted by the time Sunday night arrives.

In Tomorrow’s post Part 2- I will explain some our fundraising ideas and more of our genealogy related fun.