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Grow your family tree with these family reunion ideas

Many of these ideas are "proven winners" that will help you and your family with future family reunions. These are the kind of things that will strengthen your family tree.

I have been having a pre-Thanksgiving family reunion for years. I rent a place large enough for the occasion. Everyone brings a covered dish and we take up a collection to pay the rent. One feature the family looks forward is our "White Elephant Bingo".

Everyone brings prizes, new, old, handmade, whatever, and after we have eaten, we have a wonderful time winning prizes and EVERYONE wins several times because we go for 3 wins and then blackout until EVERYONE gets a blackout and then start over again.

We also have door prizes (if someone brings something especially nice for bingo we may use it as one of our door prizes) and we have talented relatives who bring gifts from their special talents for prizes. We have guessing contests of how many pieces of candy is in the jar, etc.

Another especially fun contest was having everyone bring baby pictures for us to guess WHO they were. Everyone helps, everyone participates and everyone enjoys. (A. Maxine Staley)

Something I did last year started a real bombshell ticking and thought you might enjoy it. I was looking for little items to put in "grab bags" for the kids to keep them busy during that time when it's hot and you'd rather just sit and visit. (like all day!) Well I was having a problem with the age group of about 8-13 and was thinking about what they liked. I got the idea of buying sports trading cards for them and letting them trade to get their favorite team.

Then the idea struck me, "why not teach them something about the family in the meantime?" So, I created "Ancestor Trading Cards". I chose the surname Hansen, starting with my husband's father, the father of all those involved in the reunion. Then I did a small pedigree of names of his ancestors for whom we have pictures, and mounted it on a colored paper. Then I created a card for each of those ancestors following the pattern of the sports cards, ie: picture of them in a nice frame, name and # running vertical along the edge, and Ancestor Trading Card across the top. Then on the back I put their name and a short history of them. Sometimes this only amounted to the "who, what and where" items because there wasn't a lot known but believe it or not, it was the Parents who really got into this.

We had a "knock down drag out" with them trying to trade their cards to get a complete set. Well needless to say, this year I ended up doing two more lines, this time on MY mother and father, each with their own pedigree chart on different colors. It was really a fun time and one daughter-in-law liked it so well that she and her mother did it for their reunion this year also. I scanned all the photos in and printed them right on the cards then the cards were laminated to make them sturdier. She and her mother ran the pictures off on a laser copier and attached them to the cards and that worked well to as after laminating they were permanent. It was really more popular than I ever anticipated it to be." (Barbara Hansen)

My wife's family has a large reunion every five years. I have been involved with two such reunions. In the first one, she had a "Family Trivia" contest in which she came up with 15 questions. I typed them on the computer and we ran copies to distribute to attendees.

This year, I came up with a couple of ideas that seemed to appeal to some of the younger people at the reunion (as well as a few of the older ones). One was a "Scavenger Hunt". We basically came up with 20 people for participants to find at the reunion, based on facts that we knew to be true of at least one person there. For example: "Find someone who has shaken hands with a President." Or: " Find someone who worked for the railroad" "Find someone who has at least 10 grandchildren". You get the idea. And at a designated time, we awarded a prize to the person who found the most people and shared the answers with everyone. We all learned a lot about each other as a result and it was lots of fun! I also designed a "Word Search" puzzle with names, surnames, places, etc.

Three essential things I think any reunion should have: A guest book (and frequent reminders throughout the day for people to sign it and include addresses and phone numbers); some type of PA and microphone system; and at least one person with a video camera. We had each family present come up on stage (we had rented a hall) and introduce themselves and family members (any centralized location could be used) and we made sure someone was videotaping this. We also had someone volunteer to be the "Official Photographer" of these groups (and take other pictures as well) so we could put them into an album for people to look at the next reunion.

My wife and I had prepared a questionnaire to mail to everyone who signed the guest book, asking for suggestions for the next reunion and what they liked and disliked about this one, ideas about where to have the next one, etc. We personalized each cover letter with comments about the food they brought or things they said, etc. (Bob Jinkerson)

I have a grandmother that is special to me. I was born on her 49th birthday and this year, I was 51...so you guessed it, she is 100. She has the sharpest mind and it is so full of stories. We decided to have a reunion to honor her on her 100th and the response was wonderful. When we sent invitations, we sent blank Family Group Sheets so that the relatives could send back information about all the families that have grown since we got together so many years ago.

I was in charge of putting all info into the computer and we also are keeping records for future reference with addresses, Medical Information that is so necessary in some serious illnesses and also E-mail addresses so that we can all stay in touch. (Carol Sherman Houghton)

Last year we started working on our Regan Family Cookbook! We wrote to all of our family members asking them to send in their favorite recipes along with stories and photos. The cookbook was a HUGE success!! We ended up with a cookbook over 200 pages long! We had it printed at the local printer and sold them for cost at our reunion. We are reordering more for our reunion later this month.

It was a lot of work...but it was also a lot of fun making the cookbook. I think we learned a lot more about each other and I put in a story about our ancestors coming from Ireland and a picture that I had found of the ship they traveled to America in. Most of my relatives were not familiar with this information. I think we all grew much closer from the experience! (Cassandra Brown)

Well, for our Family Reunion, for the most part, the family is quite connected, so what we decided (we have a committee to help get it all together) is that I would put together a web site, with all the up to date info that we have on the plans for the reunion. I even put up a countdown to the reunion date and music! I have links to the local accommodations since the area we are going to is fairly remote, and a lot of the family will be coming up from the United States and may not know the area very well.

Our reunion isn't until next year, but I have maps on the site to help give directions, and we will have a full schedule up when the time has come. We also do a silent auction every yea, so that the committee can offset costs, and make this Reunion a "free" one to attend (they still have to pay accommodations etc.) but I have given a list of ideas and a few pictures that we have had from previous entries.

This year as well, a member of our family with very little help has made a family quilt with all the families names on it to give away to a family member, and my father is also going to construct a chest to keep all the family photo albums, guest books from previous years, our family tree and other mementos gathered over the years. We are also putting together a book of family stories and memories to be printed in book form, so that the whole family can enjoy the stories in our family.

We are also in the middle of a phone campaign to help reach some of the family members that haven't been to a reunion for a while. We are collecting e-mail addresses for a directory that is on-line so that anyone can e-mail someone else in the family, and it is easier to have the information flow through the family, and letting everyone know where the web site is. And for the reunion itself, we hope to have a "talent show" and act out the story of our family coming to Canada. (Christina McNelly)

We rented a whole resort named the Pines that had cabins with porches and several living rooms large enough so the whole family could gather together. There was a large outdoor area to gather in and to grill, etc. The cost was $15.00 per night per person so was affordable for all. There was sightseeing things to do in the area for those who wanted this kind of activity and a swimming pool close by and a lake for boating.

One family member living in North Carolina visited the Pines to make sure it was suitable, clean, etc. Children could run free and no worry about cars, strangers, etc. Teens stayed up all night and were noisy and we did not have to worry that they would disturb anyone.

T-shirts were made with an shamrock on the front and the name Riley Reunion in bold letters and a picture of "Nanny and Poppy" on the back. The three children were listed under their parent's picture and under their names was listed the names of all their descendents in various bold colors. Everyone had their name on the shirt. One afternoon was reserved for picture taking with 50 people posing in the same T-shirt. Group pictures were made of each family unit, each generation and finally, the whole family. The shirt and screen-printing cost $10.00. (Claudia Riley)

This years reunion was incredibly awesome. Each year it is put on by a different sibling. Several relatives from Norway were here and they wore costumes, brought pictures along, told stories and was very interesting.

Had a talent show and one cousin had the sound system as he is in sound production or something like that. They had stage and all. This years reunion was held at a farm so there were hay rides, a tour of the homestead home, still lived in and pretty original. Each family brought a gift box (I brought box of beanie babies) and silent auction was held to help with catering costs. (Mary and Darrell Wrolstad)

Several years ago, at our family reunion, we decided to compile a cookbook with all the family recipes. We have MANY good cooks in our family. We ended up with 137 pages and at that time sold them for $5.00 and sold 700 books. There are some who still want some and it will be decided this year whether to order more but will cost more to buy. Faye E Spencer)

I have not seen the very beginning planning of a reunion. I believe the Motel, Park, Shelter or THE meeting place, should be reserved at least two years in advance and preferably three, so that the maximum number of people can attend. In this fast paced world, people are planning their vacations far in advance. (E. N. Severson aka Swede)

For our family reunion that has been held for 40 consecutive years, we always have an "auction". Each person that is able brings something that they have made (our family is blessed with being able to work with our hands and make things) and after our lunch, we have a fun auction bidding against one another.

The money is used to put headstones or flowers on our old ancestors grave sites, genealogy research, and many other things. The neat thing is that we have something a cousin, aunt, uncle or some family member has handcrafted as well as helping out with the treasury. Last year we had a handmade quilt with all our ancestors pictures and dates on it. It sold for over $400 and is a true family treasure.(Gail Honeycutt)

Back in '91 we had a reunion in NW Arkansas with family from California, Washington, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, Colorado - etc..... - one of the best ideas - that I really enjoyed (other than telling most embarrassing moments on each other) was having several of the younger cousins who actually had only met once or twice in their lives - learn parts of a duet on the piano (at home) - and then put it together at the reunion & play for everyone --- the kids did a great job! And became great friends in the process! Whatever you do, have a video camera handy!(Gerrye Becker - Tyler, TX)

"DRONE DAZE" Family Reunions have used the "auction" concept since 1986 at our reunions. These are held every two years to allow the spouse to attend their family side reunions. The items auctioned are indigenous to the area from where the family lives or are hand made by the person attending. Allowing interested persons to acquire meaningful mementos which will/can become family heirlooms.
Successful Results: The funds raised are used to cover costs incurred. We have yet to go into the "Red", Have had printing & postage etc recovered and Bus tours, catered meals, subsidized. In 1986 we had 167 attending and in 1996 there were 540 dinners served and 546 dinners served in 1998; no small feat.(Julius Drone)

I love the idea of the Earliest Ancestor look-alike. If everyone brings the pictures of their earliest known ancestor, this is a great way to find out who has pictures of whom for the tree scrapbook. If there is a family historian, you could even request in a family newsletter that they bring a copy of the photo to be added to historian's records and later a family book. If someone has old pictures, they usually know who they are, the historian should know by name which is the oldest. (Teresa Turnham Lowe)

At our family reunions we usually have a program of some sort. We hold our reunions in a church so it is easy to have a program. At our last reunion, we presented a play about our immigrant ancestors' arrival in America in 1868 - we had a script, props and the whole works.

After the play, while everyone was still seated, we distributed Xeroxed photos of our ancestors (my great-grandfather and great-grandmother and their 14 children). The narrator then "re-created" the photo by asking one descendant of each of the 14 children (plus two extra for the parents) to come forward and step in. (This included one baby). He arranged the descendants in the same order in which their ancestor appeared in the photograph. Soft music was playing. There wasn't a dry eye in the house while seeing our family "come to life". It was incredibly moving! I was skeptical that this would work but it truly did! (Connie O'Kane)

We hold our family reunion every year, and it goes from Friday night to Sunday morning. We have either a fish fry or hamburgers and hot dogs on Friday night, and everyone prepares a dish for the big Saturday meal. In order for the lodge to be paid for we have a auction after our main meal on Saturday, where we auction off things that family members have made, we have a lot of talented people in our families, as I am sure are in everyone's family. This is a very fun way to raise money to pay for the next reunion, and family members can go home with mementos of loved ones. (Karen Weaver, Alabama)

Reunion Goodie Bag Handout:

Everyone loves to take home something to remember an event by. This goodie bag is just that, a wonderful bag full of 'memories'. These are just a few ideas to get you started. Everyone in attendance will love you for this:

  • a few old herbal remedies.
  • instructions for something for pioneer days or early days; lye soap, candles, scented rose water, etc.
  • a few Collected recipes from ancestors.
  • An inexpensive framed copy of an ancestor,, g grandparents, can be scanned and printed off on computer and then framed in clear plastic hard frames.
  • items collected from the towns chamber of commerce as a memento.
  • packaged seeds of flowers that grew around the family home place, or bulbs.
  • a copy of confederate money if an ancestor served in the civil war.
  • a poem that was written by an ancestor,,, I have one that was written by my grandmother when her grandchild died back in the early 1930's. can be typed in computer and then printed off with nice font.
  • What you learned at the reunion Quiz. Make up a simple short quiz of questions about ancestor data,,,, give multiple choice answers.
  • A family roster of names, addresses and telephone numbers.
  • A short newsletter made up as a 'news article' about the reunion to put in their memory books or journal. Done like the old days when they wrote up family reunions in small town newspapers. Tells who attended, what was served at dinner or lunch, games played, program , any info that was accumulated before the reunion,,, births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries, etc.
  • inexpensive souvenir of the area,,,, in Georgia a pack of peanuts,,, in Washington state an apple,,,, in Florida a small tied string bag of sand or sea shell, etc.
  • copy of an old letter found of relative,,,, I have been given some old letters written by my grandmother from 1871.... I also have some civil war letters by great grandparents in 1862,,, people would adore having copies and reading them.
  • balloons, gum, life savers, post it notes,,,, little things useful and every time they use them,,, guess what they will think about,,,,,, reunions.
  • T- shirts with a family logo put on it,,, if you have a big budget to work with.
  • buttons made up with family logo or an ancestor photo inside.
  • pencils made from tree branches,,,, bought in craft stores,, rustic looking.
  • a little pin cushion for the ladies made out of an ancestors old torn up quilt, or article of clothing, etc.
  • a postage stamp in plastic holder: this was the neatest thing I got one year,, there was a stamp one year of the prarie state that my grandparents homesteaded and it had a sod house on it,,, my mom was born in a sod house that my grandfather had built . It could be a 'canceled' stamp or a new stamp.
  • one idea was store coupons of a variety of things,,, kinda strange sounding to me,, but that's what suggested.
  • if anyone in the group has a special talent of some sort, have them provide something for the bag,,,,,, a calligraphy favorite quote of an ancestor or poem.
  • A GAG GIFT IS ALWAYS FUN TOO! (Leitzsey Y. Suber & Kay Broach Suber)

Every year I do something different for the Blevins' Family Reunion. They have been having a family reunion here in Ohio for the last 62 years. In 1993, I did a family cookbook. I wrote in my Christmas card to send their favorite recipe by the end of May so I could edit and publish them. In 1994, I made family Newsletters that I had gathered family news from via the Christmas card send outs and Easter cards, etc. My scanner helped with color pictures.

In 1995, I found some plastic mugs that you could put inserts into with bright color graphics which read: The Blevins Family Reunion.

In 1996, I found some very reasonable flower pots and made silk arrangements with scanned in photos of the original family members glued into the centers of the silk flowers.

In 1997, I laminated legal sized paper with photocopies of old photos of matriarch of our family with all her children and grandchildren taken in the 1930's and used them as place mats. In 1998, I made tea bag holders with the Blevins' Crest at a ceramic class for each member of the family.

In 1999, I found plastic two-piece flower pots similar to the mugs and inserted photocopies of new found color photos of previous reunions. (linda Caldwell)

We just conclude a Roberts family reunion in which two ideas worked very well:

Our family is a "yours, mine and ours" family with eight children, now all grown with families of their own. (All the parents are deceased.) It has gotten increasingly difficult for our children (and some of us!) to keep track of who belongs to whom, especially as there are some second marriages involved. So, prior to our reunion, we had everyone send their family information, including birth dates and marriage dates, and including as much information regarding previous marriages, spouses' children from previous marriages, etc. as they felt they wanted to share.

Then my oldest daughter made a huge family tree on butcher paper that was on display during the reunion, and included all the information sent. There was hardly a time during the reunion that someone or a group were not standing in front of the poster, getting their "family bearings", so to speak. All the "cousins" seemed to especially enjoy looking at it. My daughter also made 8 1/2 x 11 copies of the tree for each family to take home.

Prior to the reunion, we had all been asked to go through our mementos and bring one or two "treasure" items from our family history to share. At an appointed time, each of the original eight children shared their items which not only brought excitement about things forgotten (as well as some reminiscent tears) but served as a springboard for sharing many family stories that many had forgotten, or in the case of the younger children, had never heard! (Michele Hassell)

At our Family Reunion, all the cousins line up and read aloud to the of us a few lines from the family memories. But first they say there name and how they are related (which child of our grandparents) since there was 9 children.

Since I'm the family historian, then I give a short talk on the family history. This year I have had copies of documents and pictures and I'm going to put the on poster board around the room. And use some of them for my talk. Also this way more people can look at the papers and pictures at one time. (Norma Snell)

At the last O'Leary-McGee pig roast, I used tablecloth paper from a roll to create a huge family tree for both families, filled in as much as is known, and left many large blocks of blank space. Then, I posted it in the barn, along with a dozen magic markers, and asked that everyone help fill in the branches with as much information as possible.

People, many of whom I had never met, filled in their ancestral lines up to the present -- some wrote interesting anecdotes about their relatives. For instance, "Clifford moved to Oregon in 1946. In 1949, a flood wiped out their home." Others noted occupations, "Sister Thaddeus, Franciscan Nun," and diseases like Lou Gehrigs, MS, and Bright's Disease, very useful information.

One woman said that malignant thyroid tumors ran in her family, and since then, several relatives have had genetic testing which has resulted in surgery, but which has saved their lives. For the first time in memory, more people stood around the barn "chewing the fat" rather than around the buffet tables stuffing their faces. We talked and shared stories, but more importantly, we became more closely acquainted. (Kelly O'Leary)

This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of our family Reunion. We wanted to do something special. We had done the T-shirt project about 10 yrs. ago..."H______ REUNION, EST. 1949". We wanted something different!

The project we came up with was a Family Reunion Cookbook. Quite a few cousins have E-mail...so I started by contacting them & asking them to inform all those in their families about the project. My mother wrote letters to other family members.

We asked for recipes that "Grandma" used to use, Family favorites, dishes that were ALWAYS brought to the Reunion pot luck. Folks were asked to include a little narrative about the dish ,ie: why it's a favorite, when it is traditionally served, etc.

I am also including a brief family history (I'm the genealogist in the family), with a descendant outline. My mother has always kept a scrapbook of the reunion with pictures. She wrote a history of the reunion, that will be included, and I have scanned a lot of her pictures to be included in the book. (Pat Schiebel)

For the past two years, I have printed out a descendant chart for my family beginning with the earliest known ancestor and included all the members of each branch that I have been able to find in any way, not just the ones documented. This is posted on a wall in the dining area at our annual reunion, and is a "big hit" with the younger members of the family who all have questions "How am I related to ???"

We also have a grab bag drawing of all the persons attending that day. My mother collects all the little items that seem to accumulate from cereal boxes to other "freebie's", and we present an item to each name drawn. It breaks the ice and gets people involved.

Last year I suggested using coded name tags so everyone with the same design on their name tag sat at the table with that design for lunch. This mixed up the families so they were not eating with the same people they share lunch with the other 364 days of the year. It helped to get persons acquainted since this is the only time many of us see each other. (Ruth Tucker - Cedar Falls, IA)

My husband's large Italian family is holding our 15th annual Reunion the last weekend in July. We've had such wonderful success with it I thought I'd share. Some of the things we've done over the years:

  • Volleyball tournament and softball tournament. We have sign up sheets for both to form teams.
  • A talent show. My husband has been the emcee since the beginning. He does a couple of jokes, which of course, are dumb moaner's, but everyone looks forward too. He announces all the big events that have taken place over the last year and gets all who are mentioned to stand up. We have quite a group of performers who get up and entertain us. What's wonderful is to see the little children get up and sing twinkle, twinkle or say their ABC's. ( This grandma was brought to tears last year when my grandson Brendan, who was 3 get up and sing the Barney song and twinkle, twinkle). We have a group of 5 female cousins, who every year, practice for weeks, make costumes, and perform some song.

This is a real hit! Kids play their instruments, do their dance routines, sing or what ever. One year, a child did the Lucy skit, of the vegga-vitta drink routine she did on her show.

  • We video tape the talent show and then make copies for anyone who wants one.
  • We've done an ice block every year. We free coins in a tub and make about 3. During the course of the day, the kids rub away at them to retrieve the coins. They can't use any objects, just their hands. This is a BIG hit.
  • We've done: cookbooks, calendar's, t-shirts and group photo's. We work out a price for these items naturally.
  • Over the year's we've rented a moon-walk, hired a square dance caller, had a clown just to name a few.
  • We have a prayer service before the reunion begins.
  • We have a set up party the day before, people spend the night in tents or campers, and for early risers, we have breakfast Sunday morning.
  • Over the years, with the money collected, we have been able to purchase a large tent and put in outside "real" bathrooms (we use to rent porta-johns).
  • I began a photo album and sign in sheet at the first reunion and it is at every reunion. Everyone shares their pictures from the previous reunion and I get double's. (Sue Ann Patrello - Holly, Michigan)

For more great Family Reunion ideas: See Living Genealogy and Family Reunion Awards.


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