Family reunions are fun times for reacquainting ourselves with relatives we haven’t seen in years, as well as for meeting relatives who are totally new to us. The bigger the reunion, the more likely there are to be people there who are distant cousins you’ve not only never met, but never heard mentioned. Yet there they are, connected to you by blood and ancestry. Even if everyone in the family is not as into genealogy as you are, you can still incorporate family history research and education into the reunion in a way that is fascinating to others (instead of boring), boosts your own research, and may even create some new genealogy enthusiasts in the process.
Here are 11 genealogy research tips to incorporate into your next family reunion.
1. Send Out Family Tree Charts to Everyone Before the Reunion
Whether you’re in charge of the reunion or not, try to get a list of addresses for everyone who is being invited. Mail them a three to four generation family tree chart to fill out and bring with them to the reunion. If they’re not coming, ask them to fill it out and mail it back to you. You can use this information to connect the reunion attendees to your own family tree and know exactly how you’re related before the reunion begins.
2. Print Out a Family Tree Chart and Put It on a Wall Where Everyone Can See It
Gather information on your direct line back to the common ancestor who has brought you all together for this reunion and print out a family tree chart. You will probably have to put it together on many sheets of paper and tape them together. Tack it up to a large wall in a common room or area where everyone can see it and keep several pens nearby. Ask people to look at the chart and if they see any blanks they can fill in, to please do it, so you have a more complete tree. This is good for people who didn’t get or fill out a chart before they came.
3. Ask People to Bring Their Old Photos (and Bring Your Own)
You never know who is going to have valuable photos of ancestors you’ve never seen. You also never know who can help you identify unknown people in your own photo collection. Asking everyone to bring their old family photos gives you a chance to share and help each other identify unknown people. Keep a scanner on hand so people can make copies of other people’s photos for their own collections.
4. Interview Attendees
Use a voice recorder on your phone or tablet and interview the attendees. Ask them about themselves, as well as any old family stories about your ancestors they may know. This is valuable personal information that can be transcribed later to go into your family tree to make ancestors come alive again, or to give you new insights into previously unknown avenues of genealogical research.
5. Ask Everyone to Email You Old Family Recipes Before the Reunion
These should be recipes that were handed down to attendees from their parents or grandparents (or original recipes, in the case of very elderly attendees). Ask them to identify who the recipe originally belonged to, and then put everything together in a family cookbook. You can make copies for everyone who is attending, and it will help preserve your family’s culinary history. If you have photos of the people who originated the recipes, include them in the cookbook.
6. Play Family Tree Trivia
Every family reunion should have a fun game. A great one is family tree trivia. Come up with trivia cards and score cards. Give everyone a score card and ask questions. Assign a number of points to each right answer based on difficulty. The one with the most points at the end wins a nice prize, and everyone gains more insight into the family history.
7. Get DNA Samples
If it’s in your budget, arrange to have a DNA kit available for everyone who attends. If they’re willing to participate, you can collect samples and send them in to the testing company’s lab to put together a family DNA history. Once all the results are in, compile them and send them out to the attendees, with notes explaining what the results mean.
8. Teach the Kids Old Games
Enlist the oldest relatives to teach the games they played as children to the kids at the reunion. This unites the generations, preserves the games, and is even interesting for the other adults, who may like to see a demonstration of living history.
9. Ask Everyone to Bring a Covered Dish from an Old Recipe
You’ll be making a family cookbook from the compiled recipes you receive, but why not have a taste of them at the reunion? Ask everyone to bring a covered dish that is made from a recipe that has been handed down them by one of their parents or grandparents (or even older generations). You will have a true traditional family meal.
10. Have the Reunion in the Place Where Your Common Ancestor Lived
If a relative is still living in the common ancestor’s original house and will agree to have it there, that is the ideal situation. If the house doesn’t exist anymore, or isn’t available, have the reunion in the town where your most common ancestor lived. You can use a community hall or park, and even give tours of the town to see the places your common ancestor would have seen. If the family cemetery is there, visit that, too. Encourage people to take pictures and tell stories they know of the place.
11. Take a Family Photo
No family reunion is complete without a group family photo to commemorate the occasion. This will be a record to future generations of the current family, and a keepsake for everyone who attends. Make sure you know who everyone in the photo is, and label each photo you send out to attendees after the reunion, so they will know and remember who all these relatives are. Include a letter explaining how everyone in the photo is related to everyone else, as well. It’s a nice touch, and helps attendees put the people in the photo into context.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)