Geni Podcast: Genealogy & Family Reunions

Posted July 25, 2011 by Geni | No Comment

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What is a family reunion and how can I get started organizing one for my family?

Family reunions are as unique as families themselves and they come in all shapes, sizes and formats. For most families, a family reunion is held on an annual basis, and during the summer here in the United States, where family members get together to share a meal and activities. For some families, the annual reunion is the only time members get to see each other. Some members travel from across the country or the globe to attend and to share stories and family history.

If your family has never had a reunion before, here are some ideas on how to get started:

  • Start planning as soon as possible. Some public picnic and meeting areas can be reserved in the dead of winter and on a first-come, first-serve basis. More elaborate reunions like those held on a cruise ship or at a vacation resort require even more time.
  • Just like setting up a genealogy society, create a “board of directors” with those family members who are interested in the organization efforts and want to “chair” certain committees.
  • Committees include food, activities, location and permits, t-shirts, family history and more.
  • Try to determine early on who all will attend.  Also propose ideas to the group to see if folks are interested – don’t forge ahead with a concept like ordering t-shirts if no one is interested.
  • Send out a “save the date” card several months before so families can set aside the date for the reunion.
  • The invitation should include information on location, directions, accommodations, ride sharing, whether there is an admission fee or if a covered dish is required, etc.  Make it as clear as possible to minimize emails and phone calls to the organizers.
  • Create fun activities for both kids and adults but don’t pack the day so full with stuff – family will want to just sit and chat and reminisce.
  • After the reunion, evaluate what worked and what didn’t work and then start planning next year’s event!

The summer is already half-over here in most of the United States. Is it too late for me to plan a family reunion?

Many times, starting small and starting simple are the best ways to go with family reunions, especially if your family has never held a reunion and you are uncertain as to if the idea will “catch on.” A reunion can be as simple as holding a cookout or picnic at a family member’s home and asking others to bring food items. A reunion can also mean agreeing to meet up at an amusement park or some other attraction – everyone pay’s their own way and the day is spent in each other’s company.

While our ancestors “made no small plans” when it came to their lives and legacies, with family reunions it is best to start small and you’d be surprised at how quickly the event can grow over the years.

What if my family are more like the Hatfields and McCoys rather than the Cleavers? Should I still try to organize a family reunion?

Families are families and as my mother used to say, “it is what it is.” Lay some ground rules. Make it clear what is tolerated and what is not tolerated. Declare the family reunion space a “safe and sacred ground” to spend time with each other and discuss family history. Don’t get entangled in answering questions like, “Will so-and-so be there?  Because if they are . . .” Simply say, “You’re invited to the family reunion and we’d love to see you . . .”

How can I gather family history information from family members to be used during the reunion?

If you have several weeks or months before the reunion, contact each family group and let them know you are gathering information to be shared at the reunion.

For those family members with computer skills, consider getting them on to a collaborative site like Geni where they can enter their own information. This takes the burden off of you as the organizer (and family historian) to enter the data.

For those without computer skills, try a phone interview or a letter requesting basic information – the same information you would need to complete a family group sheet. See the Family Group Record entry at the FamilySearch Research Wiki (

Don’t forget to collect photos and other memorabilia too!  Ask permission to use photos, scan them and then include them on your Geni page and records. Photos really help family history come alive especially when shared during a reunion.

How can I take my genealogy research and share it during the family reunion – in a way that my family will find interesting.

With all your information on a collaborative site like Geni, you have many options. You can embed your family tree in a blog or website and then print out pages. Also, create a poster using the Geni tree poster feature – this makes a great display during the family reunion. Also keep plenty of index cards, thumbtacks and pencils on hand so family members can add their stories and additional information.

If time permits, consider creating books or booklets with family stories, photos and family trees. This does take time but you can have the books ready to be ordered online or you can bring copies to sell at the reunion.

How can I use Geni to help me not only plan the reunion but share my genealogy research?

As mentioned above, there are many ways to use Geni including inviting family members to start adding their family history info months or weeks before the reunion. Also print out family trees using the Print Tree Poster function (

Don’t forget Projects ( Many families have started family reunion projects on Geni to organize information and to help them plan the event.

And remember to use Discussions ( which can be restricted to just family members.  You can ask questions such as which covered dish to bring, what location to use for the reunion and more.

More About Thomas MacEntee

  • Radio Appearance: Thomas will be a guest on the radio show Your Ancestors Want Their Stories To Be Told on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 hosted by Jane Wilcox. He’ll be discussing his genealogy journey and how social media has changed the landscape of the genealogy field.
  • GeneaBloggers Radio: Every Friday evening from 9-10:30 pm Central time, Thomas MacEntee hosts an Internet radio show – GeneaBloggers Radio ( Via your computer, you can listen to interviews with interesting genealogists and companies involved in the genealogy industry. This week, on Friday July 22, 2011, our show is entitled Until We Meet Again! – Family Reunions and Genealogy. Our guests will include: Edith Wagner, founder, publisher and editor of Reunions magazine and; Marilyn Stewart, better known as “Aunt Mo” who runs the Family Reunion Helper website; and Lorine McGinnis Schulze of the Olive Tree Genealogy Website. We’ll be discussing how to plan your next family reunion, how to include fun activities for all ages, and how to include your genealogy research to share with family reunion participants.