Family Reunion Sense and Sensibility

by Maureen A. Taylor | May 21, 2010

Maureen A. Taylor

Every other year, my husband's family gathers for a reunion. It's the glue that keeps the family together. They've been doing this since the 1950s. For the planners it's an exhausting two-year process that culminates in a week long hug fest that welcomes generations of cousins from around the globe. It's a not to be missed event with theme nights and lots of family history moments. If you want your reunion to be marked in family calendars years in advance, take a bit of advice and follow some of these well-worn tips.

Guest List

It's impossible to invite all the descendants on both your paternal and maternal side of the family, so you'll have to choose. Our family reunion is my husband's maternal side. Every attendee is either a direct descendant of his mother's grandparents or married to one. It's a multi-generational affair from the centenarian in-law to the newest baby. So who's coming to your reunion?

The number of attendees in a four generation event adds up so it's great that there are useful online tools to help you manage contacts. For instance we've created a family group on Facebook. It's an ever-growing network of folks. This year's planners invited family to join and now use Facebook to update social media savvy cousins on reunion happenings.

family_5.21.10.pngSince reunions are family history events, another option is to sign up for Kincafe. According to this free site you can collaborate on family trees, share photos and keep a family calendar. It's perfect for family reunion planners because it's collaborative. Multiple relatives can add and share in the process. Plus the site keeps all your family related information organized between reunions. You'll never forget a birthday again.

As you start to think about having a reunion, consult, the Reunions Magazine website for all things reunion related. It's a goldmine of freebies from podcasts to tips to make your event a success.

It Takes a Team

Whatever you do, don't plan the reunion yourself. Sure, it might be your idea to hold one, but that's no reason to be the sole planner. Delegate! Not only will others feel a sense of that they've contributed, but you'll feel less stressed as the big date arrives. If no one wants to be "in charge" there are reunion planners for hire. Use an online search engine to look for "reunion planners." In our family, one person does most of the organizing, but during the 4-7 day reunion, different family groups host events. It distributes the responsibility and the cost.

Plan It

Create a timetable with a task list of items to be completed and a due date for each. This way you'll know what needs to be done when. This checklist can be as specific or general as you feel comfortable with. However, the first thing to do is pick a date, then create your to-do list based on that.

Pick a Location and Set a Budget

So now that you've got the guest list and some volunteer planners it's time to finalize your decision on a location. Pick an expensive venue and probably no one will come. Avoid this problem by soliciting ideas from others, looking on the Reunions Magazine website for ideas.

You'll need to do a little investigative research to determine costs at each location, but you'll be prepared when folks ask about expenses. Ask the facility if they have a reunion planner on staff to help coordinate details. Take care of money matters by inquiring about group rates and types of accommodations. In addition, find out if they will they be able to handle a group your size and if they offer rooms for special events. Obtain a sample menu to gauge the expected food costs. Don't forget to ask about transportation options such as how attendees go to and from the airport. If you can, try to make a site visit and don't be afraid to negotiate for a good rate.

Once you have a couple of choices send it out to family to see what they think. Here's an idea. Narrow down your choices then create a free survey on Survey Monkey and send it via email to everyone that will be paying for the reunion. There are also surveys that you can send via Facebook to everyone that's a member of the group. Go to "Home" then "Applications" and search for "Survey." Tally the votes and get ready to make the announcement.

It's a good idea to check with the local convention and visitor's bureau to see if there are tours in the area or other events that might interest reunion attendees. You'll get a jump start on the planning activities.

Communicate and Invite

Your invitation list should have names, addresses, and phone numbers and of course email addresses. Consider sending out regular postcards or if you have an active Facebook group, send out blurbs that way. An online invitation site, makes it easy to issue invitations and keep track of rsvp's. Keep in mind that not everyone has email though; some individuals may need to receive an invitation via regular mail.


children_5.21.10.pngThe big event is here and it's time to implement all that planning. What's everyone going to do while they are together? Of course they'll mingle and discover "new" family but there are going to be awkward moments for attendees that don't know all of their relatives. Think about icebreakers. For instance, consider creating name badges or t-shirts with mini family trees on them. That way there is no question about who's related to whom and how. Try a storytelling night (don't forget the recorder) or a mystery photo table. Don't forget the kids. Try to incorporate them into the fun by playing games--bingo is always a big hit at our event. Whatever you do, ask for a photographer to take pictures--any snap happy relative will do.


Before everyone leaves, organize a business meeting to talk about next time. Ask for individuals to volunteer and find a coordinator. In a big group, there's no reason the same person should handle all the planning (unless they want to).

Preserve the Memories

Use Facebook and Kincafe to share photos, stories and more. Upload photos to a photo sharing site such as Snapfish and let everyone view them and order what they want. Flickr offers folks a way to add comments to individual images. Basic usage is free, but if you need a lot of storage space there is a fee.

In our family, there are reunion photos in older style albums. If you find yourself in a similar situation, ask for someone to be the family archivist. They can scan the images and share them online in a private album such as Flickr, Snapfish or Kincafe. Identifying, tagging and commenting on photos from previous reunions will only add to the excitement as the planning commences for the next gathering of kin.

As we've found out, a family reunion helps us maintain connections in spite of time and distance. They are fun, easy to plan and an important part of our family tradition.

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