How to Organize a Family Reunion
For many of us, scrapbooking is all about family and leaving future generations a legacy of our history. We like to scrap those everyday moments we experience with our immediate family. If family is spread across the world, it is not always possible to meet up with every family member on a regular basis. It's important we don't lose touch with these family members. We should continue to be a part of their lives, and while modern technology such as email can help us do this, there is nothing like meeting up in person for a little bit of a party!
So why not organize your very own family reunion to gather your loved ones together in the same place at the same time. Not only will you be able catch up with everyone but you will also be able take some great photographs which you can then scrap and add to your albums, forming a part of your legacy.
But where on earth do you start? I have a very large family and this time last year I had the same dilemma. How do you organize so many people? Whom do you invite? I thought I would share some useful tips and things I learned when I hosted my family reunion.
First you need to sit and think about why you are organizing this reunion and what you want to get out of it. Personally, I had a second cousin visiting from Australia and this was a prime opportunity to make her visit special for her and her family. I wanted her to meet family she had never met before (including me, because we actually found each other on the Internet). I also wanted to use the opportunity to further my family research project and for us to get together in an informal atmosphere.
Think about your own objectives. Perhaps you are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary, or maybe the birth of a new child and you want everyone to meet your little angel. Whatever your reasons, it is worth writing them down and revisiting them every now and again if you begin to feel a little overwhelmed.
Whom to Invite
The decision of whom to invite is a difficult one. My family is huge and they are spread out all over the place. I have my mum and dad's families plus a step-family too. Then of course each of those families can be divided again by going back one generation, with my grandmother's mother and father's families and so on.
This is when I looked back on my purpose. My second cousin was my mum's cousin and so naturally she would want to visit with that side of the family. I sat down and created my own guest list from my personal address book. I then passed this list to my mum who added a few more. When we had a rough list together I could then start planning locations, budget and so on.
Now of course, you do not have to invite every aunt and uncle you have. You may just want to organise an immediate- family-only reunion - all these principles will still apply to you.
Choosing the Date
So now that you know who you are going to be inviting, you need to consider a date for the event. This is always a difficult one, isn't it? You want to make sure the greatest number of people have the opportunity to attend and you also need to make sure you give plenty of notice, especially for those who will be flying in as they will need to organise flights and accommodation.
You may want to choose a date that is special to your family. If the purpose of the reunion is for a birthday or anniversary, then the date is already chosen for you! I was tied into a three-week period when my second cousin was visiting so it was easy for me to decide on a date.
Save the Date
Much the same way you would do with a wedding, it is worth making and sending some "save the date" cards to all of your relatives. Make sure you send these out at least six months before the event. You should tell everyone what you are planning and name the location. You do not have to have a specific location at this time but do indicate at least the town! When I sent mine out I made sure that people were aware they could pass it on to other family members if they had been left off the guest list. At this time I was trying to establish if anyone was interested and available.
I sent a lot of emails too. In each case, I asked for them to pop a postcard back to me to confirm if it was something they were interested in and if they would be able to come. I also explained I would get back to them when I had more details. The cheeky side in me asked if anyone would want to help out! After all it is a family event and having all hands on deck makes things run a lot more smoothly.
Now you know who you are inviting and you have told everyone about the date, you need to think about what you are going to be doing and where you are going to be doing it!
Do you want a themed event, for example, or just an informal BBQ? I would suggest that a daytime event is usually best as it means everyone has the opportunity to attend, especially those with young children or the elderly who get tired if out too late.
For my reunion I held it in a church hall in the community where my mum and her cousins grew up. There was plenty of parking available and easy transport links. There were hotels and accommodation around in the area and most of the people attending the event would know the area, or remember it a little. It also gave people the opportunity to walk around to see their old childhood homes if they wanted to. More importantly there was ample space for everyone, lots of tables and chairs where they could sit and reminisce plus an outdoor space where the children could play if it was a sunny day (which thankfully it was). I thought about holding it in my own home, but the reality was that if everyone I invited turned up, there would not be enough space!
I booked the hall for a discounted rate for the whole day. This meant that family members could come and go as they pleased or stay for the entire time. I opened the doors at 1pm and they were open until midnight. The afternoon was perfect for taking really decent natural light photographs too.
Your budget will decide the type of food you will be providing at your reunion. I decided on a simple buffet-style, potluck event. I provided the bulk of the refreshments and asked everyone to bring something with them. I sent this request out with the invitations. It worked really well and in fact we had too much food and ended up donating some to neighbors! It is important to keep your guests well fed, especially if they are staying all day and have travelled a long way to get to you.
As soon as you know the location and theme of your event, send the invitations to your guests. These should be no later than six weeks in advance. Include some details on local accommodation spots, times and locations and any other information you may feel is relevant. I asked my family members to bring along their memories!
Decorations and Equipment
Most families when they reunite will not pay any attention to decoration of the venue as they will be more involved in talking to Aunt Mary whom they haven't seen for 20 years. However there are certain things you can do to create a talking point and enable those memories and discussions to come freely.
You may want to create a family tree collage, for example, where you show with photographs how you are all related to each other.
I left an instant camera on a table in front of a poster that said "Our Family," tacked to the wall. I let everyone take pictures of each other and stick it on the wall with their name underneath so we could all see how everyone was related. Right next to that I placed a large table with some notice boards and loaded this with copies of family photos from generations past. I put photo albums and scrapbook albums next to that so people could flick through at their leisure.
I couldn't decorate the church hall as there was already children's artwork displayed from a Sunday school class. I did, however, put a large sign outside letting everyone know they were at the right place!
I recommend bringing name tags. I made everyone write their names on them so everyone knew to whom they were talking. Of course it also avoided embarrassing situations when names may have been forgotten.
I chose a place where the pot luck food could go and ensured I provided plenty of bins and essentials such as cutlery, plates and cups for drinks. Toys were placed outside for the children to play with too. I wanted to keep everyone happy!
Being in Charge
You have a big responsibility being in charge on the actual day. You need to make sure you give everyone a happy welcome, show them around and explain the different things you may have going on. Let them know where the restrooms are and where their immediate family members may be sitting. Get them a drink and be a good hostess, just as if they were in your home. If you see someone sitting quietly in a corner, make sure you approach them and see if they need introducing to anyone else.
I found it useful to take a microphone with me. I used this to give a little speech about how grateful I was for everyone attending and for the food they brought. My second cousin then spoke to everyone about how thrilled she was to see us all under one roof. I also found this useful to shepherd everyone into the garden area for photographs to be taken.
You have to be prepared for a long photograph session! I had a lot of people at my reunion and each came armed with a camera! It was very amusing standing around getting people to smile for the camera each and every time. I actually split everyone up by generations when it came to taking the photographs and then each little immediate family set had photos. As everyone was taking each of these same photos with their cameras, I wandered around the outskirts taking pictures of all the buzz and activity that not everyone was catching. For example I love the photo of my family having their photographs taken - you can see how many people had their cameras on one side and the others posing. I also got to capture some really emotional and funny moments too.
Finally my last tip for you is to pass around a "memory book" to everyone who attended. I asked everyone to write down their full name, their address and contact number plus any email addresses they had. I asked for their favorite memory from the day and a bit about them and what they were up to now. After the event I copied this and sent it out to everyone, meaning the next time we have a reunion a lot of the work is already done. We will all be keeping in a lot closer touch going forward.
After the Event
Be sure to get back in contact with your relatives and thank them for coming. Send any copies of photographs. You may even consider setting up a website or blog where you can post the photos for everyone to see. Send them the address when you send your thank you cards.
Put all of your new memories and photographs into scrapbook albums to treasure forever more.