Experiences with family reunions

Written by: Sarah Day

Title Image. Little ducks looking at a big main duck.

Family Reunions. Everyone gets a picture in their head as soon as they read that word. You might be thinking of a large family gathering with adults arguing and kids running everywhere. Or that one time that you and your family went somewhere really cool. A destination family reunion. Or you might be thinking that you have never had one but they all look like that barbeque in a park with everyone wearing matching shirts in every advertisement in the summer. 

Family Reunions tend to mean something to us and we all think of our own experience which seems to be the same as everyone else’s. But family reunions can take many different forms, shapes, sizes and formats. 

Keep reading to explore some different ways that you can have a reunion and about our different team members’ experiences. 

Was That a Reunion?

Let’s start with my own experience with family reunions. The only family reunion that I ever thought of as being a family reunion was one time when my family drove up to Idaho for a few days to hang out with family I had never met. I was young at the time and played with the other kids and tried to figure out who everyone was as I ate my delicious and very traditional family reunion food and stared up at all of the really tall people. (This happened to be my dad’s side of the family and everyone is super tall. All the men seem to be at least 6’6 and the women are all almost 6 feet tall. So in my 7 year old brain everyone was huge.) I have now come to realize that the experience I had was a family reunion but I had many more that I was completely unaware of. 

My mom’s extended family goes up to Park City, Utah every single summer. Usually over the 24th of July (it’s a holiday in Utah so not just some random date). Everyone is there from my great grandmother to my 2nd cousins to my step cousins 2 times removed and everyone else. Because we did this every single year and usually did more regular things like went to the pool or the park, played games, ate meals together, and slept all in the same town or sometimes the same small two bedroom condo. (Really fun when you are little and there are 25 people and it is a massive sleepover, less fun when you are older and have slept on the floor for the 3rd night in a row.) This was a reunion but because it was people I knew doing activities on a vacation that I found normal I didn’t think of it as a reunion until I asked my mom why we didn’t have reunions with her side of the family.  Reunions can be whatever you make them whether they are formal or just hanging out with family. 

Picture Perfect

When one of our team members Alexis was asked what she thought of Family Reunions she had this to say: “Some fun things that I’ve seen at reunions are people bringing family pictures and letting everyone look through them. Especially pictures of people they didn’t know so that others could help identify the unknown people. We did a game where someone asked trivia questions about our homeland of Denmark and then they had gotten little prizes from Denmark which was really fun. After the questions, someone reads the history of our ancestors that came from there. They also take pictures of all the families and then one big photo of everyone there. Then we actually have a private family website on MyHeritage where we put the pictures and other information about our ancestors. I think it is so much fun to include family history in family reunions.”

For Alexis it was the pictures that stood out. The family pictures, both the ones that were of a person that everyone knew or simply a photo they were trying to identify. Her other favorite memory is of the game about her homeland of Denmark. Being able to answer questions got you candy. Games and treats are always an important part of family reunions. 

So for your next reunion remember that it may be the games about your homeland or the photos that stick out to someone. We are each different and different memories will be the most important to us looking back on things. 

Family holding goats

On the Farm

For Lisa Papenfuss she remembers the farm. She grew up on a farm and when she was asked about her experience with family reunions she had this to say: “One Saturday each summer, my father would take a quick trip from our farm in Washington state to southern Idaho for his family reunion. As a farmer, it was a big sacrifice for him to miss work and pause all the watering on the crops in the heat of the summer. I suppose he needed and enjoyed connecting with his siblings and parents. The reunion wasn’t really a big deal, only a potluck lunch in the shade of a city park.  No games or a big production, only gathering and talking and reminiscing. As a child, I thought it was rather boring, but what I wouldn’t give to feel what I feel now, to ask all the questions, to hear all the stories.”

For her at the time nothing really stood out; it was just a long drive but looking back she remembered three important things. The first was the effort that her dad put in. She has realized that he understood the importance of family and the connections and benefits that would bring. He loved those so much he was willing to leave his crops and drive a couple hundred miles to eat food and talk with family. The second is that it wasn’t a big fancy affair. It was just a simple meal and hanging out. Reunions do not have to be formal; they can just be getting together and experiencing the wonderful benefits of family. The final thing she said is how much she didn’t like it as a child but would surely love to have the experience or be able to hear the stories as an adult. This is important to remember. Your kids may not be a big fan of the family reunion but they probably will appreciate it later so make sure to record this gathering. By taking photos and recording those stories either video, audio or by taking handwritten notes. Whatever works for you because years from now they may care and want to learn as much as they can but may not have those family members still around to tell the tales. 

What's in a Reunion?

Olivia Jewell is our project director and founder. She often brings new ideas and is changing perspective on Family History and family connections. So I was very excited when she shared what a family reunion was to her. 

“My family hasn’t done a lot of formal family reunions since I was little, but as I open up my mind (as this project often causes me to do) to what truly encompasses a family reunion, I’m flooded with memories of various types of reunions I’ve had over the years.  My favorite part about any reunion setting is the connections that occur spanning generations; the power that comes from the sharing of family stories; kinship that is developed due to a shared love of individual family members; and the bond developed in the discovery of shared traits, passions, and even inherited ailments. With this working criteria for the successful reuniting of families–then effectively you could consider a successful family reunion anything from an intentional visit to a relatives home, celebrating family events and holidays with relatives near and far, and even gathering for the funeral of a loved one. In each of these scenarios stories can be shared, bonds increased, and hearts softened and strengthened through the connections made.  I recently visited my local cemetery for a memorial holiday. I was touched at the scene of small groups gathered around headstones of their loved ones who have passed on. In each circle was a variety of generations, smiles, laughter, and stories being shared, mostly by the seasoned family members in the group. It made my heart smile as I thought of the power each of those family’s was experiencing and the connections that were being made with family members here as well as with those who have passed on. Family is a priceless commodity, we’re each born with it–but if we’re not careful, it can be neglected and powerless, but if we take the time and invest in those connections the potential is truly limitless.”

She really pulls out the essential of a family reunion; it is simply connecting with family. It can be as formal as a destination and large family party spanning multiple days or it can be as basic as a zoom call dinner with grandparents. It is getting together and experiencing the amazing benefits of connecting. 

Options for your Reunion

Now that you have heard about some of our team members’ experiences with reunions and what a reunion means to them it is time to decide what a reunion is for you. Need some ideas of how to get started with your reunion? Or how to go about planning one? You can check out Junes Your Modernized Family Reunion Plan here, or check out our Family Reunion planner here

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