Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Family Reunion - a reflection

Display of Memorabilia
In one of my early posts for 2015, I wrote about our plans to organise a "Family Gathering" on the long weekend in October.  In this post "Sharing and Building Memories through a Family Reunion" I outlined some of the points we would have to consider if our family reunion was going to be successful.  We were "newbies" and I really appreciated the feedback, suggestions and comments that readers gave us on organising a family tree reunion 

Our "family gathering" was born following a discussion among cousins at the wake of one of our elderly relatives.  We thought it would be great to organise a family reunion that would give our families, children and grandchildren the opportunity to meet and spend a "fun" day together. It was decided an ideal venue would be one of the pavilions at the Show Ground at Milton, a small diary town on the south coast of NSW.  Milton was our grandparents home town and they were enthusiastic supporters of the local  show.  Nanna, with her flower arrangements, jams and cooking, and Pop was quite an accomplished axeman in his younger days, competing on a national level and winning a number of Wood-chopping events at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.  In their later years they continue their involvement as members of the show committee.

It was our aim to keep the "gathering" as simple and low key as possible, providing the opportunity for anyone connected with our family to come along and share stories, photos and memorabilia.  My cousins and I set up a small working group and assigned different tasks to each member to spread the load.  We kept in touch on a regular basis and as the big day approached our emails and phone calls almost became daily events.   The organisation of the event, was a new learning experience, however, I am happy to report that from all accounts the day went well and a great time was had by all.   I thought I would share with you some of the lessons learned and ideas that helped contribute to everyone's enjoyment.

Pre-Family Gathering
One of the most important aspects of the planning was our communications plan, we approached this in a number of ways. This included:

- Set up a "Family Links" site on Facebook - we posted details of the "family gathering" along with regular updates, family photos, stories and newspaper clippings.  This page was quite successful in engaging with younger members of the family, and allowed us to link with other members of the family, including a couple from overseas.
Displays of Family Photos
- Provided regular updates by email, snail mail and telephone.  Some family members, especially some of the older relatives, are not as familiar with email and social media, so it was important to take the time to call them to give them an update on details for the day, and also to encourage them to rummage through their photos to share on the day.  I found the phone calls particularly rewarding and had a number of quite long conversations with very enthusiastic elders of our family who enjoyed the opportunity to share their stories.
Contacted local newspapers, historical societies and information centres with details of the reunion for publishing in their local notices.  The local Milton and Ulladulla Information Centre, were very supportive, posting the details of the reunion on their web page and providing us with some suggestions for external activities such as ghost tour of Milton on the Saturday night and the option of a guided tour of the local indigenous burial ground.

Day of the Gathering

 Registration: The registration desk  was set up with three desks, where we collected small entry fee that went towards covering the cost of the hall hire, and sign on sheets where family members were asked to provide their contact details and family connection.  These were later entered into a contact spreadsheet for later use.

Catering:  To keep it simple, everyone was invited to provide a plate of goodies for morning tea, and the committee organised tea, coffee and cordial.  The morning tea was set up outside the hall on tables, providing the chance for all attendees to meet, greet and catch up over a cuppa before moving into the pavilion to view the displays. Lunch was organised as a giant picnic, with everyone bringing in their eski's and picnic baskets into the pavilion where they mingled over lunch renewing acquaintances, meeting new family members and sharing family stories and memories.

Welcome:  The formal part of the day brief, with a short welcome by the oldest cousin prior to lunch.

Family Tree - displayed on wall of pavilion
Family Tree: The venue provided us with some large vacant walls, so a large family tree was set up, using name cards and photos (where available).  These were arranged on the wall, and lines connecting  the family relationships drawn in with chalk.  This worked extremely well, and meant that any family members attending who were not on the tree, could write their name on spare name cards and position themselves in the correct position on the tree.  At the end of the day, photos were taken of the family trees so that all the new additions and connections could be entered into our family tree.

Photos:  The organising committee set up a number of photo displays on freestanding notice boards, using the following themes:

  • Military - displaying pictures and short bio's on family members who had found in conflicts from the Napoleonic War, Boer War, WWI and WWII.
  • School Photos
  • Wedding Photos - This was a great way to engage the younger members of the family as they all shared their wedding pictures and were delighted to see them up on the display board with all the wedding photos of past generations.
  • Surnames - photos relating to a specific surname or branch of the family tree.  This was a good way to display the photos that family members brought on the day.  They could place their photos on the board corresponding with their branch of the family.

Display - from Aunty Glad's Suitcase
Displays of Memorabilia - Family members were invited to bring along their collection of family memorabilia.  We were lucky enough to be able to use the Show Committee's glass display cabinets for these collections.  One of the most interesting was the display of the contents of  "Treasures from Aunty Glad's suitcase" (I have written a number of blogs about the contents of this suitcase's contents). This amazing collection of postcards, maps, letters and memorabilia from WWI was one of the favorite talking points of the day.

Activities for the youngest generations - a large number of children attended the day, so in the morning a number of outdoor games were set up to cater for the different ages groups, these included mini tennis, cricket, treasure hunt, hula hoops, bubble wands, balloons and bocce.

Cousins - playing in Nanna's Dress up Box
Nanna's dress up Box. - This was a great hit!! We recalled when we were young and visited our Nanna at Christmas time, we would delight in dressing up in the box of clothes that Nanna had stored in her spare room.  It was decided to replicate this delight for the family gathering.  Word was sent out, and we collected and made a number of "olden day" costumes. Family members scoured secondhand shops and gathered hats, shoes, stoles, gloves and jewelry.These were displayed on racks in one corner of the room with the open invitation for young and old to dress up and have their photos taken.  This became a very busy corner of the hall and out photographers were kept very busy snapping shots of all generations having fun and dressing up int he different outfits of times past.

History Book Table - Everyone was invited to bring along local history and family history books. The books were displayed on a table and were a popular resource for the day, triggering many a conversation and family memories.

Post Event

Cook Book - Everyone was invited to contribute one or more family recipes that were put in a book with photos from the day with copies sent out to all families attending on the day.

Thank you letter and copy of group picture was sent out to all family members attending the Family Gathering.

Reflection:  Looking back on the day, I think the stand out lessons were to have a good communication plan, that used a variety of ways to contact family members and engaged with the different generations. Secondly, ensure that there were displays and amusements to cater for all ages, especially the younger children. Finally, follow up with family members after the "gathering" to keep the communication and family links open.

The Family Gathering


  1. Congratulations on what looks like a most successful event. Thanks for sharing all these valuable tips.

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  3. Thanks Jill, I must say I was a little "done in" afterwards, but it was worth it

  4. This post will definitely be in GneiAus Gems this Friday.

  5. Thank you, it is good to be back

  6. Well done! Well organized and thought out. The addition of Nanna's dress up Box was genius, especially since it had such a great tie to your family's recollections and history.

    1. Yes Nanna's dress up box was great, and we have some wonderful photos of the grandchildren, that could possibly used for bribery when they get older. :)

  7. Diane, welcome back..what a wonderful reunion with some great ideas... I also love the dress up box. We've just had a family reunion which was also successful, great to hear how others have been organised.

  8. Great ideas. Wonderful organizing.

  9. What a heart warming event - it sounded a wonderful occasion and well worth all the hard work you must have put in.

  10. It sounds like a wonderful reunion and what a great family photograph!


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