Family Reunions III: Collecting and creating heirlooms

Family Reunions III: Collecting and creating heirlooms


This is the third installment of my multi-part article on planning the perfect family reunion. In this series I take you through all the things you will need to know to pull off a rewarding and fun family reunion.

So you’ve picked the location and theme and sent out the invitations. Your relatives will be descending on your ancestral hometown in two weeks. You have lunch and dinner covered and a family portrait planned for the first day, but what on earth are you going to do with all those people for the rest of the weekend? Don’t panic, with some well planned activities, your guests will be entertained and you can gather important facts and photos for your family history research.

Ice breakers

A great way to get the conversation flowing is to begin with an ice breaker. One simple approach is to create flash cards with family trivia. One side of the card has a photograph of the subject and the trivia question, the other side has the answer.

What was Frank Smith’s occupation? Where was great grandma Ford born?

For children they could be about relatives still living that are familiar to them.

What farm animals live on Uncle John’s farm? Where does grandma Laura live? 

This is a useful tool for teaching family history in a fun and engaging way.

Oral history

Oral history recordings are a treasure like no other. More than any other media, capturing the memories of relatives through video and voice recording provides future generations with a personal connection and understanding of their ancestors. Tiny details such as the inflection in someone’s voice, or a slight hesitation before answering a question can tell a listener far more than reading the same words in print.

Family reunions are a perfect time to record oral histories. As your relatives mingle and reminisce about old times, they are reminded of events from their past and will provide richer, more colorful stories.

The most important step in planning an oral history is to prepare your questions carefully. If your relatives are uncomfortable and fidgety in front of a camera, it helps to give them questions in advance so they can develop a script. As they become more comfortable you can ask further questions to extract the information that you need.

One of my favorite tricks for drawing memories out of a person who is uncomfortable or unsure what to say is to show them a photograph from some period of their life, and ask them to talk about that day. You can ask about others in the photograph, where and when it was taken, who the photographer was. Visual clues can play an especially important role in interviewing elderly people who tend to recall events much more clearly when they have a photograph to jog their memory. Don’t worry if the photograph doesn’t produce helpful results, you can always edit the interview later.

For more information about how to conduct oral history interviews, see the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s Interviewing Guide.

Photo and document scanning

Photos and documents have a short half-life. They fade, get damaged, and are sometimes lost. An easy, efficient way to gather and digitize them is to ask all of your guests to bring their photographs and documents to the reunion.

Designate a tech-savvy guest to handle the scanning while the older relatives identify the subjects of photographs. If you are expecting a large number of guests, it helps to have multiple scanners and laptops to make this a quick operation. It is important that you decide on a system for how documents and photographs are to be labeled and categorized so they are sortable by date, subject, location or source.

After you scan the photos and documents, you can choose a few of the best and present them in a slide show or craft a beautiful photo album to send to your guests. If you have created a family reunion website, sharing them online allows everyone in the family to view and download the photographs.

Recipe book

Food plays such an important role in our lives that it’s no wonder family recipes are so treasured. But family recipes have a way of getting passed down to one person, leaving the rest of the family empty-handed. Reunions are a great time to gather up all the handwritten recipe cards from family members and create an heirloom cookbook.

There are several sites that offer book design and printing services. My favorite is Blurb.com where you can create a professional looking, colorful cookbook and have it printed in hard or soft cover. They even print book jackets so your family cookbook will be as impressive as your time and creativity allows. Blurb will also stock your book in their online inventory so relatives can easily order their own copy directly from them.

Photo booth

Borrowing from a popular trend among wedding planners, photo booths are an easy and inexpensive way to entertain guests and capture a fun-loving, playful side of your family. They require little work to set up and are an entertaining activity for kids and adults alike.

Your photo booth can be as simple as a single chair with a colorful backdrop and a camera on a tripod. The fun and variation come with the props that you choose. I created the props used in the photos below from free printables by the pretty blog and Oh Happy Day.  Stick-on mustaches make for a charming photograph and are available at most toy stores and costume shops.

     

Sasha Souza Events created an elaborate wall backdrop for one of their events, with photo frames that guests can look through. If you are handy with a hammer, this makes an appropriate and fun family photograph. A backdrop like this is easy to personalize by including details like an ancestor’s photo on the wall, a family bible or a doily made by your grandmother sitting on a small table just in front of the backdrop.

Sasha Souza Events – photo credit to Elizabeth Messina

 

Stay tuned for Family Reunions – Part 4. Next time we will explore children’s games to keep all of your younger guests entertained.

 

 

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