21 February 2023
Paul Chiddicks shares his top tips to help you plan an unforgettable family reunion - and boost your family history research into the bargain...
With spring almost upon us, there is no better time to start planning your own family reunion. However, planning an event like this can feel somewhat overwhelming and the thought of organising a family get together can actually put you off even attempting it in the first place, so it's literally over before it’s even began! But don't be put off, with a few helpful tips, you will soon have the confidence to start planning your very own family reunion.
Since the advent of covid, more and more family history based activities and family reunions have been organised over zoom or the equivalent websites, but for the basis of this blog, I am going to concentrate on how to organise a real-time event.
Make a plan
Like all things family history based, planning is EVERYTHING. If you don't take time to prepare and plan your event then you are doomed before you even start. So start at the beginning, think about who will be attending your event, are we talking about a large gathering, or just a handful of people, or something else in between? Knowing the number of people attending and where they will be travelling from is the most logical place to start planning your event.
Once you know how many will be attending and where they will be travelling from, you can then decide on the most suitable venue and whether people will need accommodation. This will also dictate whether your family home is a suitable venue or whether you need to consider hiring the village hall to fit all your clan members in! If you are the organiser or co-organiser of a reunion, this doesn't necessarily mean you also have to be the host, but of course you could host the event at your family home if you wanted to. These key elements need to be established at the planning stage.
Think about location
Are your ancestors and living relatives spread far and wide? Is there a central location more suitable for everyone that also has connections to your family tree?
For example, the village where your 3 x great-grandparents lived, might be the perfect location for everyone. This will involve some additional research and a field visit beforehand, to look at what's available in the location that you have chosen. Some things to consider when you chose your venue are:
- Is there a local pub that could provide a function room and even food if there are enough attendees?
- Do they have rooms available for those that might require an overnight stay?
- Are there any elderly relatives attending or those that might require some additional support?
These are all things that need some careful thought. The flip side of this, will be there be any young children attending? If so, how do you propose to keep them occupied? Events like this can be the ideal catalyst to fuel the family historians of the future, so by capturing their imagination now, you can inspire the next generation of researchers.
Pinning down a date
Now that we have an idea of numbers and location, what about when to hold the event? An outdoor summer event always sounds appealing, but have a back up plan if you're holding the event here in the UK. A nice summers day might be how you visualised the event in the planning stage, but our summers can be notoriously unpredictable, so have a back up plan should the weather let you down.
You could also involve the help of a local historian or local family history society to give some additional background information about the village, its history and your family's role within the area. Do you intend a visit to the local church? If so you may need permission, which you would need to arrange in advance. Also if your visit to the church also involves a walk around the local churchyard then it's advisable to make that known to everyone who's attending and that wearing comfortable shoes/clothing is required.
Mixing and mingling
Is the event bringing together people that you have never met before? Have you thought about how to make the introductions or how to ensure that everyone feels part of the event and not left out? It might be a bit 'old school' but think about even using name badges if you are holding a large gathering. We sometimes have trouble remembering the names of our closest family members, add into the mix a large number of cousins, then a name badge might just remove the embarrassing question of "and who are you again?"
At the planning stage, think about sending out family trees along with your invites. This will help refresh everyone's memory and hopefully encourage people to ask questions and fill in some of the gaps for you. This might also trigger some long-forgotten family stories and hopefully encourage your family members to bring along some family heirlooms or family photographs from their particular branch of the tree.
The cost of holding an event at a third party venue although practical, does incur additional costs for everyone, so it's prudent in these tough economic times to think about whether holding the event at a pub, for example, is affordable for all? Will having to pay towards the costs prevent some family members from attending?
Think about the logistics of everyone involved and how you might want to connect them together, if they are not already connected. You could set up a regular email update, almost like a family newsletter, to share the plans of how the event is unfolding. This keeps everyone in formed and makes them feel part of the gathering. Use technology, maybe have a family WhatsApp group, which might even encourage the teenagers to get involved! People may wish to upload family photos, family documents, so encourage people to share up front as much as they can, before the reunion, all of which make the introductions on the day that bit smoother.
Don't beat yourself up on the day, if things don't go as smoothly as you might hope. These things happen and this is a family gathering that you are organising, not a corporate event. When does anything involving families ever go smoothly!
So, lots to think about and hopefully there are a few ideas and tips to help you keep your family reunion on track. Above all else, have fun, relax and try to enjoy it, the time will go by so quickly it will be over in a flash.
Talking of flash, everyone will want to capture plenty of photos throughout the day, which is only natural, but give some serious consideration about how you might want to capture your own images and memories from the day. Why not ask a good friend to attend and take some pictures for you? They don’t need to be a professional photographer, but having a really good friend outside of the family, taking pictures, just allows you to have more time talking to your family members.
Remember, a family reunion is about sharing stories, meeting new family members and capturing your own family history memories to share with future generations, which is exactly what family history is all about.
By Paul Chiddicks
Researching the names:
- Chiddicks in Essex
- Daniels in Dublin
- Keyes in Prittlewell
- Wootton in Herefordshire and London
- Day in Gloucester and Kent
- Barnes in London
Explore Paul's website and follow him on Twitter: @chiddickstree