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McClellan Family Reunion, Summer 2014, Cleveland, Ohio.

A couple weeks ago, I helped host 47 people at my family reunion here in Cleveland, Ohio. Local relatives made up about half the group: the rest flew and drove in from Arkansas, Nevada and Washington state. We spent 4 days splashing in Lake Erie, driving through the countryside, visiting an Amish-run cheese house and local historic sites, kayaking, hiking in the woods, wading in the sparkling shallows of the Cuyahoga River, and visiting, eating, and visiting some more (and then eating some more). The fundraising auction in my backyard raised such an ruckus that neighbors at the other end of the block asked what in the WORLD was going on at our house that night.

One of the most surprising things about the reunion–other than my brother’s natural gifts as a comedian-auctioneer–was the degree to which it worked to communicate on Facebook. My grandparents were the only ones we needed to actually call about all the reunion plans. We sent no letters–not one!

Here are my 9 tips for organizing your family reunion on Facebook (mostly.) Some of these we did well and others we’ll do better in the future:

1. Make sure at least one member of each nuclear family is active on Facebook. You want a significant percent of relatives participating. If you’re family just isn’t on Facebook, look for other ways to be in touch (group text?).

2. Create a family Facebook page. Click here to learn how. This lets your family post reunion- and family-related items in your own secure group.

3. Reserve the date up to a year in advance. Suggest a time frame and/or a few specific dates on Facebook. Tag everyone on the post to get them to notice and respond. However, you may not get much response. At least in our family, people tend not to volunteer or comment if they’re not personally, directly being asked about something urgent. Once you’ve given people a reasonable amount of time to comment on your suggested dates (and consulted those not on Facebook), JUST PICK A DATE. Then post it (and call the non-Facebookers). Again, tag everyone so you know they see it.

4. Start advertising immediately. Those who travel some distance may need more incentive to come. It’s especially helpful when you can convince the in-laws that they want to come. Do this by catering to people’s interests and hobbies. Post pictures of places you plan to visit together, images of recipes you plan to serve, the website of the local golf course/shopping district/historic site/art gallery/amusement park or any other local attraction that might persuade people to make the trip (whether this is officially part of the reunion activities or not). Tag people in those posts and include URLs to attraction websites: “Uncle Albert, I know how much you love to golf. Why don’t you stay for an extra day and play 18 holes on this championship course?” In the media world, this is called creating “buzz.”

5. Encourage long-distance relatives to introduce themselves and their families. My aunts and uncles were amazed at how much the kids had all grown. They see us so infrequently that it was super helpful to post the kids’ names, updated pix and interests before the reunion. That way, they could talk to my son about his cello playing and my daughter about her upcoming 8th birthday. We’ve asked everyone to start sharing family news and events on the family page, not just their own page. That way we can capture the highlights of all the big family milestones before the next reunion.

6. Play travel agent. Post information about the local airport, bus route, hotels, etc, several months in advance. Encourage relatives to share their hotel information so they can stay together (hotel pool party!) or coordinate travel plans.

7. Post details about the upcoming gathering. What should people plan to bring, wear and do? Do they need to bring beach wear, walking shoes, an umbrella, a baby picture of themselves, or a T-shirt to decorate? Tell them on Facebook ahead of time. Post the initial meeting place and time, along with its address (almost EVERYONE, including the over-60s used GPS to get around while they were here). You can hand out the rest of the itinerary at the reunion, if you need to.

8. Post DURING the reunion. Offer a prize for the best picture posted during the reunion (or the most pictures posted). That tells everyone at home what they’re missing while building excitement among attendees and preserving memories for the future. When uncles are tagging their nephews in photos (and vice versa), they’re building relationships. Remembering names. “Friend-ing.” I don’t suggest posting last-minute changes in plans: when traveling, not everyone makes Facebook-checking a priority. Only do this if everyone knows to check the Facebook page frequently during your gathering.

9. Follow up. Is everyone supposed to send a donation to the reunion fund afterward, mail a card to the great-aunt who couldn’t make it, or share all their reunion pictures on a photo-sharing site? Thank the reunion hosts, planners and those who sacrificed a lot (in time or money) to be present. When is the next reunion? Whoever’s planning the next one can pick up where you left off.

Have you used Facebook to get the word out about a family reunion? Share your experiences and learning at our the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook Page.

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