Reunions That Never Stop

Keep them going long after the event itself is done.

By Eric Peterschmidt

Family reunions. Some people love them. Some hate them. Others are somewhere in between, falling more into the “it depends” category… perhaps first wanting to know who else will be there? Or where will it be held? Or what events are planned?

Me? I fall into the “love them” camp.

How about you? What camp are you in? Whether you love them, hate them, or it depends, if you enjoy staying connected to your family, I hope you’ll read on.

Family reunions are top of mind for me right now. As I write this, I and a team of relatives are in the midst of planning our next Peterschmidt family reunion. It’s been a few years since our last one. Some would say too many years. So, we’re making it happen this summer over the July 4th weekend… a historically traditional time for reunions in our family.

In my family, reunions are a BIG deal – multi-day in-person affairs with a schedule, leaders of various activities, planned outings, and more.

We’re holding our reunion in the small town where our grandparents settled. Nearby are a couple of even smaller towns where our great grandparents lived and worked, so there are lots of family-related sites to see and learn about while we are there.

For us, it’s more than a chance to visit and catch up on the latest. It’s also an opportunity to explore our history together as a group, tell stories of “the way things used to be,” and, frankly, to connect the threads of our individual recollections and weave a more complete tapestry of our family story.

I mean, really, who doesn’t want to know more about their family story?

We’re a couple of weeks out and have more than 130 relatives confirmed to be there, and we’ll no doubt have a few more sign up before the event begins.

Exciting, right?

Now, I totally understand that not all family reunions are like this Peterschmidt event.

A friend recently shared that her experience with a family reunion is a bit less… involved. A typical invitation might be “Saturday the 18th at City Park East Pavilion. Bring a dish to share and drinks for your family.” Someone might be coordinating the yard games and the grilling responsibilities, but otherwise it’s more of a picnic and family gathering than a major planned event.

And then there was COVID. In-person family reunions were not practical, even when they were possible. Between travel restrictions and personal health concerns, gathering in a group just didn’t make sense.

Some families are so scattered across the country or the world that getting together for a family reunion simply doesn’t work, no matter what else might be going on.

Some families have reunions every year. Others, like ours, might gather sporadically (when someone feels like organizing one), or on a set schedule but two to five years apart.

Regardless of the reunion style or frequency, if you enjoy connecting with your family, you’re going to try to find a time and a place to get it done. The rewards outweigh the effort, don’t you think?

Now, I think of myself as a bit of a family reunion expert. In fact, I am really a family gathering expert, whether it’s a reunion or a holiday party, and I have mad skills when it comes to creating ways for people to participate no matter where they are in the world.

That really comes in handy. Consider this: Whereas we have more than 130 relatives attending our event in a couple of weeks, there will also be many relatives who, unfortunately, are unable to attend, most due to health concerns, travel budgets, or schedule conflicts.

What about them?

If you’re hosting an in-person reunion and want to extend it to the people who can’t physically be there with you, here are a few key tips to make it a wonderful experience for everyone.

First, plan to include family history in your family reunion. Reach out to find the people who have old family photos. Ask them to share those photos in advance and invite family members to share stories about them. I’m using TightKnit to do that. It not only provides a convenient place to share the photos, but a place where I can encourage people to add comments, share stories, or ask questions. It creates anticipation for the reunion. You’ve got the stories happening before the event even begins. Best of all, everyone in the family can participate and benefit, whether they are planning to attend or not.

Secondly, while the reunion is in progress, recognize that lots will be happening, and you can’t be everywhere at once. However, cameras will be used to capture all kinds of special reunion moments. Again, if you’re leveraging TightKnit to help you, encourage everyone to login to their TightKnit accounts so they can upload those photos into albums and record comments right alongside any pictures that prompt memories. Meanwhile, for those who were unable to attend, it’ll be the next best thing to being there.

Thirdly, you can keep a family reunion going long after the actual event ends. Some examples that work for us and for other families:

Create a family communication channel and do weekly or monthly update emails out to the group. Highlight the latest photo discoveries, talk about new story albums available for commenting (whether you created them or someone else did), and share a new story if you have one. Fun stuff that keeps the conversations going long after and in between actual reunions.

Get inspired by some gameshows and create a family game, like Jeopardy – Family Edition. Host a virtual game night via Zoom where you provide answers and people buzz in with the questions. For example, “This person was part of the crew of a Great Lakes Steamboat in 1945.” (BZZZ – Who was my mother?)

Host a virtual scanning party. Fire up a Zoom call so you can talk to each other while you’re scanning in the old photos you have buried in your desk drawers or in boxes in your attic. Keep the party going. (Not into DIY photo scanning? Need some hints for using Zoom with TightKnit? We have suggestions if you want them.)

You can keep the fun going AND keep growing your family legacy following a reunion. Take time and distance out of the equation and stay connected. You can dive back into the ongoing reunion anytime, take a break anytime, and connect with any member of the family – or any memory of the family – whenever it is convenient for you.

Yes, I’m in the “love them” camp for family reunions. There is nothing better than the physical connection of a warm hug with someone you haven’t seen in a while. To be able to look right into their eyes while reminiscing about the “good old days” or catching up on more recent times.

But as much as I love a good family reunion, I’m grateful that we live in a time where we don’t have to be together to stay connected.

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