It’s difficult to come up with family reunion ideas year after year. People have been holding family reunions for generations to reconnect with relatives, introduce the newest members to the family, and remember their shared ancestors.
As a genealogist, a reunion is an excellent time for a captive audience to share and preserve your family history for future generations. Here are a few tips and tricks to prepare you for your next reunion.
Family Reunion Ideas: Sharing Your Family History
One of the challenges of sharing family history is organizing the many dates, names, and places in a way accessible for people to find their ancestors. Sometimes it’s hard to explain family relations and stories with just words alone. Often, the conversation turns to figure out how you’re related and who the common ancestor is. Even the most seasoned genealogist can get tripped up. Here are other ways to overcome these challenges: visualize and share your family history. Legacy Tree Genealogists also have you covered with our printable relationship chart.
Charts and Family Group Sheets
Pedigree charts and family group sheets are great ways to quickly display ancestors’ names, dates, and relationships and navigate generational connections. But as the people organizing the reunion potluck know, the list of attendees can get large fast, and it can be challenging to represent all family lines on paper. As such, consider bringing a portable laptop or tablet to share digital versions of family trees. You can use genealogy websites like FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage or software like RootsMagic, FamilyTreeMaker, or Gramps.
In addition to sharing names, dates, and relationships, I like to share the original image and documents created during my ancestors’ lives with my family members. Seeing our ancestors’ original records or signatures can help bring their experiences to life. While the digital age has made it easier to share our family history, it’s still important to bring printed copies, too, so that relatives can have something to bring home and remember.
Family Narratives at Family Reunions
While organized and detailed pedigree charts and family group sheets can help us understand how everyone is related and give basic details about our ancestors, it only tells some of their story. Through genealogical research, we use a variety of documents that tell us about what our ancestors did for work, where they lived, and other life experiences. Family narratives are great ways to synthesize all this information in one place that is easy to read and follow. As you write, include citations to the original documents you are referencing so others can know where the information came from. Crafting the story of your ancestors’ lives can take time and patience. If you need more time to organize and prepare your family history research, consider hiring a professional genealogist to help tell the stories of your ancestors’ lives.
Photograph Albums at Family Reunions
Another great way to bring ancestors to life and reminisce is by browsing family photo albums. Encourage family members to bring photo albums to family reunions. These can also be great for placing faces on the names featured in the charts and narratives. Set aside a table that doesn’t have food or drink where the photos can be safely displayed and shared.
Preserving Your Family History
As genealogists, we have long lists of things we wish our ancestors did to make our research more straightforward, such as writing names on photographs, recording memories, and keeping track of the family bible during a move. Family reunions are also an excellent opportunity to work to preserve family history for future generations actively. Here are some ways you can preserve your family history at your next family reunion:
Make a Scanning Station at Your Family Reunion
Since many will be bringing family photo albums and sharing pictures, a family reunion is a great opportunity to digitize the photographs to make them shareable and preserve them digitally. You can do this with a basic photo scanner and laptop.
Here are some considerations to plan for before undertaking the digitization of family photos:
- Ensure the photographs are high resolution to be printed (300 dpi or higher).
- Think about how you will name your files so they can be easily accessed and organized, like naming the files after the person who owns the original photo album.
- Take notes about who is in the photograph with reference to the file name so that faces are associated with the names after the reunion. Use a spreadsheet or paper–as long as the file names are clearly referenced.
- When noting who is in the photograph, use full names if possible. This will help future generations know who is in the picture. Terms like “Grandpa,” “Grandma Jones,” “Aunt Peggy,” or even just first names—while they may be clear to you—are too vague for future generations. If you only knew the person in the photograph as “Grandma Jones,” then make a note like “Grandma Jones. Mother to Sarah Smith.”
- Return the photos to the correct album or person so they are not mixed up.
- Consider using a photo-sharing website like Google Photos, Apple iCloud, or Flickr to organize and share the photos with relatives after the reunion. Family members can also leave comments and add stories after the fact.
If you don’t have electricity at the venue, the camera capabilities of smartphones and tablets can capture decent-quality images of photographs brought to the reunion. PhotoScan or CamScanner are two applications that can help scan and organize your photos from a smartphone. Just remember to have a piece of paper or a way to keep notes about any details or names of those depicted in the photograph.
Audio Recordings of Family Members
Hearing the stories of our relatives in their own words is a powerful way to connect with family and past generations. Setting up a small portable audio recorder at a quiet table is a great way to capture these stories at a family reunion casually. While some relatives may come ready to share stories, others may need more inspiration. You may want to include some basic prompts, such as “what was your favorite childhood memory?” or “tell me about where you grew up.” Be sure to have the speaker introduce themselves before talking so that you can keep track of and organize the audio files after the reunion. Afterward, consider transcribing the interviews and attaching them to public family trees (with the interviewee’s consent). These tips from the American Folk Life Center also have some tips and considerations for undertaking an oral history project.
Not all relatives may be as passionate as you are about genealogy, so you will also want to provide a way to capture family stories less formally. Make a table of notecards with prompts for sharing a favorite memory or story about their family. Scanning the notecards can transcribe them to build out family narratives or attach them to records in family trees.
DNA Testing Kits
DNA testing has revolutionized genealogy research, allowing researchers to understand their origins better and breaking down brick walls. A good testing plan often involves testing the oldest living generation or specific individual to answer a genealogical question. Instead of coordinating and mailing test kits, having some ready for a family reunion can save time. It will also allow you to talk with relatives about the process and address concerns in person. Come prepared to answer common questions about “why I should take a DNA test?” and your plans for incorporating DNA results into your shared family history research.
Hopefully, some of these ideas will inspire you at your next family reunion to share your passion for family history and find ways to preserve it for future generations.
If you’d like help compiling and telling your ancestors’ stories for your next family reunion, now is the time to hire a professional genealogist to make sure it’s ready in time.