GenTips: The Next Best Thing to Being There – Virtual Family Reunions

Posted October 28, 2008 by Geni | No Comment

In this post, Geni guest blogger and avid genealogist Lisa Alzo helps you plan a "virtual family reunion".

Family reunions have traditionally provided a way to build and strengthen family ties.  Getting together with favorite cousins, long-lost relatives, or newly discovered kin provides a fabulous opportunity to reminisce about favorite family memories or share newly discovered details about your family tree.  But if you’re finding that tough economic times combined with conflicting schedules prevents you from planning or attending an “in person” gathering, why not consider the concept of a virtual family reunion (VFR)?  Computers, the Internet and other “high tech tools” make it easier than ever to connect with loved ones as often as you’d like.  Here are a few simple steps to set up a free family reunion online.

  1. Identify Invitees – First, make a list of all family members you would like to invite to your VFR.  If you’ve been the organizer of a traditional family reunion in the past, pull out the guest list from the last gathering; if not, contact the reunion’s organizer who should have everyone’s contact information.
  2. Ask for E-mail Addresses – It’s pretty likely that most of your family members will have a computer and Internet access, and an e-mail address.  If you don’t have someone’s e-mail address, call or write to them to ask for it.  While it’s hard to believe that there are folks out there who don’t use e-mail, this could be a possibility with some older family members (I have some aunts and uncles who don’t use e-mail).  If this is the case, try to enlist the help of the individual’s children or grandchildren or perhaps another relative to possibly get them set up with an e-mail account so that they won’t be left out of the loop.
  3. Set Your Reunion “Site” – Just as you reserve a physical venue (picnic area, rental hall, resort, etc.) for a real-life gathering, you will need to find a place in cyberspace to hold your virtual family reunion. offers a free site to help you connect with family members to build a collaborative family tree and share information.  If you haven’t set up an account with Geni, you can do so in minutes.  Simply go to to get started.
  4. Plan Your Program – When you hold a traditional family reunion, activities are often planned in advance.  You can do this with your online meetings too.  Start by adding content to your site:  build a basic family tree, post photographs, family news, calendar items, and more.  Perhaps you can post photographs or video clips of past family reunions, weddings, holiday gatherings, etc.  Share a piece of news or a favorite family story on the site—something to get others interested in posting their own content.
  5. Send Out Invitations – Invite others to participate in your site by sending them a customized invitation via e-mail.  Customize your invitation message to tell them about the fun things you have planned for the site, and encourage them to share news, photographs, and other information, or invite them to help fill in the missing blanks of the family tree. Use the “discussion” feature to gather family information, plan events, or share memories. (For more information on Geni’s features, click on the “help” link at the bottom of your main page). Adding new content or discussion topics each week or a few times a month, will help to keep everyone coming back on a regular basis to see what’s new.

Once you’ve invited your family members, you can interact with them as often as you’d like.  And just like with “real world” reunions, the more effort you put into connecting with family in the virtual world, the more you’ll likely to get out of the experience.  Of course, there’s always something to be said for arranging personal visits with family whenever possible. But, depending on your own circumstances, meeting in the virtual world can often be the next best thing to being there.

If you enjoyed this Genealogy Tip by Lisa please join us again in a couple weeks for more. In the meantime, get out there and interview your family members and preserve your family history on Geni.


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