Family Reunion Planning Kit For Dummies®


by Cheryl Fall




About the Author

Cheryl Fall is the author of nine books and more than 1,500 magazine articles for publication. These include publications such as Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Country Living, Traditional Quilter, Quilt World, Sew Perfect, and Woman’s World, to name just a few. She is also the author of Quilting For Dummies and Needlecrafts For Dummies. Adept in Adobe Illustrator, Cheryl creates the electronic illustrations for her books and Web site. She enjoys illustrating and designing using colored pencil, oils, soft pastels and acrylics. Cheryl also enjoys gardening, crafts, needlework, and home decor, and has been seen by the locals slinking around antique shops on a regular basis.

She lives with her husband Tony, daughters Rebecca and Ashley, and Buster, their nutty cocker spaniel, in the southwest area of Washington state (Vancouver, Washington/Portland, Oregon area).



This book is dedicated to my husband, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Without these wonderful people, a book like this would be impossible to write.


Author’s Acknowledgments

This book would not have been possible without the help of some very special people — members of my family, both here and passed. Without them, I would not have been inspired to write this book. To my husband and children, thanks for all the terrific grilled cheese sandwiches that you brought me when I pulled an all-nighter. The caffeinated beverages were helpful, too. My sincerest thanks to all of you.

I also want to thank the following folks at Hungry Minds, Inc. — Acquisitions Editor Tracy Boggier for the opportunity to work on such a fun title. Allyson Grove, Project Editor extraordinaire! Where would I have been without your wonderful advice and assistance? Copy Editor Mary Fales for her invaluable assistance. And Assistant Editor Natasha Graf for helping to keep things running smoothly.

Also, I give special thanks to Brad Peru of Farmers Insurance, Vancouver, Washington, for all the great advice regarding insurance and liability issues for family-reunion planners. And last but not least, to Betty Crocker for providing the wonderful crowd-sized recipes featured in this book.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Online Registration Form located at .

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Allyson Grove

Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

Copy Editor: Mary Fales

Technical Editor: Joell Smith-Borne

Senior Permissions Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Media Development Specialist: Marisa E. Pearman

Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich

Cover Photos: © Scott Barrow/ International Stock


Project Coordinator: Nancee Reeves

Layout and Graphics: Jackie Nicholas, Janet Seib, Jeremey Unger

Proofreaders: Susan Moritz, Linda Quigley, Marianne Santy, Charles Spencer, TECHBOOKS Production Services

Indexer: TECHBOOKS Production Services

Hungry Minds Consumer Reference Group

Business: Kathleen Nebenhaus, Vice President and Publisher; Kevin Thornton, Acquisitions Manager

Cooking/Gardening: Jennifer Feldman, Associate Vice President and Publisher; Anne Ficklen, Executive Editor; Kristi Hart, Managing Editor

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Hungry Minds Consumer Editorial Services: Kathleen Nebenhaus, Vice President and Publisher; Kristin A. Cocks, Editorial Director; Cindy Kitchel, Editorial Director

Hungry Minds Consumer Production: Debbie Stailey, Production Director



“Of all the nostalgias that haunt the human heart, the greatest of them all is an everlasting longing to bring what is youngest home to what is oldest.”

—Laurens van der Post

When I was a kid (good heavens, it’s hard to believe that I was ever a kid!), the biyearly family reunion gave me the perfect opportunity to reconnect with my cousins. As a group, we played games and wreaked a little havoc — for example, we hid toads in people’s shoes and painted the side of the house with a mixture of mud and water. (You can be sure that Grandpa wasn’t too thrilled about the last one.)

Now that I’m all grown up (and have decided to use paint instead of mud), I plan the reunions so my family members can reconnect with cousins and older relatives, meet the newest additions to the family tree, and watch the children grow and wreak their own brand of havoc. In addition, my relatives get to review the family history. With families spread out across the miles, hosting a reunion is often the only way to gather the generations in one place.

With these benefits, however, comes work. Planning a successful family reunion takes time and effort. Give yourself at least one full year to plan everything, and get ready to work hard — you’ll be justly rewarded in the end.

About This Kit

If a family reunion is tugging at your heartstrings, this book is your new best friend and resource. Use it as a guide to help you plan all things reunion related, from creating the guest list and selecting a theme to cleaning up after the party and processing post-reunion surveys.

In this book and on the accompanying CD, you can find valuable information and resources to help you manage your party effectively. I give you various checklists, address and RSVP lists, ideas for games and family-oriented activities, cleanup tips, and lots of other helpful advice. I also provide menu-planning ideas and crowd-sized recipes from Betty Crocker. With these resources at your disposal, you may be able to pull off your reunion without a hitch — or at least with fewer hitches. (Hey, I’m talking family here — I don’t know any clan that’s hitch-free!)

Foolish Assumptions

I assume that the reason you’re looking at this book is that you have a longing for your family. However, if you’re looking for an “easy way” to plan your reunion, fugetaboudit!

I’m also assuming that you enjoy a good challenge. A reunion, whether large or small, requires planning and hard work on your part. This book doesn’t do the work for you, but it guides you through the planning process and beyond.

And lastly, I assume that you own a good pair of tennis shoes or some comfortable walking shoes — you’re going to need them for all the footwork required of a reunion planner.

How This Book Is Organized

Planning a family reunion isn’t rocket science, but you definitely need a method of attack. I set up this book in a way that I think makes the most sense for reunion planning — starting with the thought processes that go into planning to setting up committees (delegate, delegate, delegate . . .) on through to making the guest list, budgeting, menu and activities planning, and cleaning up. Here’s a closer look at how the book breaks down.

Part I: Gathering the In-laws and the Outlaws

Tracking down the clan can be a challenge, especially if your kinfolk are spread out across the miles. In this part, I give you advice on locating your family members — including the “long-lost” relatives — through networking, the Internet, and some creative sleuthing.

I also show you how to get your reunion information organized, and I recommend ideas for setting up committees that can help make your planning go smoothly. I include helpful lists to keep your committees focused and on task, and I provide tips on keeping committee members happy throughout the planning process.

Part II: Getting into the Nitty-Gritty of Reunion Planning

In this part, you find out how to transform your reunion vision into a plan. I give you information about sending out invitations, selecting locations, creating themes, working out a budget, and locating supplies.

I also give you advice on finding accommodations for out-of-towners so you don’t have wall-to-wall sleeping bags spread out on your living-room floor.

Part III: Keeping Everyone Busy

The last thing that a reunion planner needs is a bunch of relatives branching off into little groups to be with the folks they know best at the reunion. To get everyone talking and interacting with one another, you need to provide lots of icebreakers and activities — and I give you plenty of starter ideas in Part III.

Many of the activities in this book are multigenerational , meaning that both young and old folks can comfortably participate. You may have lots of older folks at your reunion, so you don’t want to leave them out of the activities!

Part IV: After the Reunion

Eventually, all good things must come to an end, including the reunion. In this part, you find helpful advice on cleaning up the mess, recycling trash, and getting the reunion site back to normal.

You can also find information on evaluating what worked and what didn’t during your gathering. You may even decide to make the reunion a regular event. Assessing your reunion helps immensely if you want to plan the next one.

Oh, and one more thing: Part IV features tips for using your family-reunion planning skills to plan other group events. After all, practice makes perfect!

Part V: From Branches to Roots: Researching the Family Tree

If you’re thinking of planning a family reunion, you may also be interested in researching your family history and sharing your findings with everyone. The family reunion is the perfect time for younger generations to find out about the family history.

This part of the book guides you through the basics of genealogy, including finding data, compiling family group sheets, and keeping all your material organized. I also give suggestions about Web sites and computer programs that are helpful for family historians. Imagine how wonderful it will be to pass your family history along to future generations so they can bring it along to future family reunions.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

This is my favorite part of the book. Basically, it consists of groups of ten pieces of information most helpful to reunion planners. You can find tips for dealing with family dynamics at the reunion, some recommended reading for general entertaining and genealogy, ideas on preserving family memorabilia, and various inspirations for reunion themes.


The appendixes contain more useful information for family reunion planners including resources such as helpful reunion sites and information on your state’s Department of Tourism. You can also find the CD appendix here, which will guide you through the contents of the CD-ROM supplied with this book.


The CD-ROM contains useful tools to keep you organized, including printable copies of the forms used throughout the book, links to the recommended Web sites, and other nifty items. In the back of the book, you can find an appendix that explains the CD and its contents.

Icons Used in This Book

Sprinkled throughout this book are cute little pictures called icons that highlight important information. Here’s the key to what they mean.


The Tip icon points out lots of important information that you can really use when planning your reunion. It points out nifty ideas, time savers, or even little things to inspire you.


When planning a family reunion, you need to keep lots of little details straight in your mind. This icon marks information that bears repeating and remembering during the process.


This icon signals important information that can keep you out of planning trouble. I’m not saying that blunders aren’t going to happen, but heeding these warnings can help minimize them.


This icon points out the goodies included on the CD-ROM.


This icon denotes multigenerational activities that both young and old folks can participate in and enjoy.

Where to Go from Here

You may not need my advice on every aspect of reunion planning. In this case, feel free to jump to the chapters that interest you and go from there. You don’t have to read this book from cover to cover to understand. In fact, you can always go through the material again if you miss something. To make surfing this book easier, check out the table of contents to find the sections that you need.

Part I

Gathering the In-laws and the Outlaws

In this part . . .

Istart this book off by giving you some basics about planning reunions. I include tips for creating your guest list and locating elusive family members. I also discuss your role as the reunion planner and the importance of getting the clan involved in the planning process. To make sure that you don’t feel overwhelmed, I give you lots of tips for organizing your information so you’ll know exactly what-goes-where and who-does-what.

Chapter 1

It’s All Relative

In This Chapter

bullet Identifying reasons to have a reunion

bullet Exploring a few reunion options

bullet Thinking about whom to invite

bullet Deciding how often to hold your reunion

T hinking of organizing a family reunion? Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step in bringing the generations together for food, fun, and frolic.

You may have many motivating reasons for wanting to plan a family reunion, but I’m betting that you’ve watched your children and grandchildren grow, and suddenly you realize that everyone else’s kids are all grown, too! Where has the time gone? What became of the old homestead? When was the last time that you saw your nieces and nephews? Now is the time to renew family bonds and connect with your relatives.

Family reunions come in all shapes and sizes, from small groups of immediate family to large groups pulled together from all corners of the globe. Family reunions can be as simple as a handful of kinfolk getting together for a backyard barbecue or a lakeside picnic, or something as elaborate as a catered affair for hundreds of family members in a convention center or hotel ballroom.


The type of reunion that you plan depends on the number of people attending and the activities involved. For example, activities like a friendly game of croquet or kick-the-can call for a casual atmosphere, whereas a ballroom-dancing competition calls for more of a shooshefafa (a silly pet term for a gala affair) atmosphere complete with black ties and evening gowns and some cute little finger sandwiches that barely fill a hole in your tooth.

In this chapter, I share some basic reunion planning ideas and tips to get you started on the right foot — or the left foot if you prefer. Either way, I guide you into jumping in with both feet.

Deciding Why to Hold a Reunion

Having a family reunion is a simple way for kinfolk to reestablish family ties. But most families have a “big why” — a main reason — to hold a reunion. Some families have a big why because it makes the amount of time and money spent on the reunion easier to justify.

You can choose from many big whys to have your reunion. Perhaps Granny is celebrating her 100th birthday, Beth is graduating from medical school, Pops is retiring, or Aunt Suzie and Uncle Joe are celebrating 50 years of marriage. These examples are terrific reasons to hold a family reunion. The nice folks at Reunion Research estimate that about 200,000 family reunions are held each year in the United States. That’s a lot of people getting together for a lot of different reasons!

In addition to or instead of having a guest of honor, consider having a theme for your reunion. Simply getting a bunch of people together for a meal or a barbecue can be boring. Having a theme livens things up. Perhaps your great-grandparents came from the “old country,” or maybe your relatives are chicken-eaters and like to get together for grandma’s famous fried cluck. Use these common bonds to your advantage. I give you more information on reunion themes in Chapters 5 and 20 — in this chapter, I simply want to plant a seed in your noggin.


Although thoughts of themes and reasons to have a family reunion are probably foremost in your mind, I want to offer a bit of advice: Think of your reunion as a gift that you give to yourself and your family. After all, where would you be without your family?

Understanding the Importance of Proper Planning

Whatever the reason or theme that you choose for your get-together, remember this basic idea: With proper planning, hosting a family reunion can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life; without it, one of the worst. Planning is the single most important aspect when coordinating a successful family reunion. Without proper planning, a seemingly harmless, oversized party can turn into a “relative nightmare.”

To avoid that, you first need to decide who to invite and when and where to hold the big event. The following sections touch briefly on these areas, but I cover them in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4.

Figuring out who to invite

Inviting every member of your extended family to a reunion simply isn’t feasible — unless you have a very tiny family. If you consider the number of people in your family (including yourself, your parents, and your spouse), the guest list can be overwhelming. So you may need to do some paring.

Here’s a simple trick for formulating a guest list for a reunion: Compile the guest list based on a common or unifying factor. Having a common factor makes the reunion more enjoyable because everyone shares something special.


Within an extended family, no two families are the same, but they all share something special that you can tap for the guest list. For instance, you can gather all the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of a couple celebrating their milestone wedding anniversary. This kind of gathering lets far-flung relatives reunite while it helps the parents and/or grandparents celebrate a very special day.

Another nifty guest-list idea is to gather all the descendents of a specific ancestor or of the first relative that arrived in the new country — whether that’s the United States or elsewhere. This idea is great for families who are curious about their origins, and this interest is passed on to the younger generations during the reunion. In Chapters 13 through 16, I discuss some enjoyable ways to get everyone involved in the family research. This research includes such activities as sharing family stories, photos, the family tree, and other special memorabilia.


Try to keep friends and neighbors off the family-reunion guest list, unless they are very close to most of your guests. If you’re planning a true family reunion, they really don’t belong there!

Locating everyone

Sometimes finding the clan can make the reunion planner (you) feel like a gumshoe in a detective movie. Folks move or disappear from the family holiday card list without a trace.

In Chapter 2, I tell you how you can find your kinfolk, and I give you some great advice on where to look. Put on your overcoat, grab a pencil, and enjoy the hunt.

Pondering the time and location

The size of your guest list determines when and where you hold your reunion. Note: The larger the group, the more planning the reunion requires. I discuss the nitty-gritty of reunion planning in Chapter 4.

When to plan the reunion can be tough. Most family reunions take place during the summer, which makes it easier for families with kids and usually means that the weather will cooperate. However, if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do, the weather is hit-or-miss even during the summer months. (But what’s a little rain when you’re with the family?)

But if you’re planning to hold the reunion to celebrate a special event, such as a 50th wedding anniversary, dates can problematic. You may not be able to have the reunion on the exact date of the anniversary; in fact, it rarely works. When setting the date, keep families with school-age children in mind, or those families won’t be able to attend. Pulling children out of school to go on a family trip isn’t a simple matter. You can also try to plan this type of reunion on a three-day holiday weekend or during spring break. The families attending will thank you for it.

After you have ideas for a date and a guest list, start thinking about the location. You can choose from a wide range of reunion-location options, from hotel ballrooms or grange halls to campgrounds or the good old backyard. Wherever you decide to hold the reunion, be sure that the place can accommodate the guest list. I give you more location ideas in Chapter 4, along with a location checklist that you can use to evaluate the potential sites.

Organizing the big event

Family reunions are big events — usually too large for one person to manage efficiently. You may need some help.

You can find that help in the form of reunion committees, which are groups of fellow kin that you put together to help you hash out all the reunion details. You also need a method of keeping your reunion information organized and handy. In Chapter 3, I go over all the pertinent details.

Likewise, in Chapters 4 though 6, I give you lots of tips and advice on budgeting the reunion, renting equipment, and figuring out where everyone is going to sleep. I also go over some insurance issues that every reunion planner should keep in mind.

Keeping everyone busy

I pity the uninformed reunion planner who selects the site and date and sends out the invitations without thinking about ways to keep everyone occupied after they arrive. Imagine how dull the reunion can be if everyone just sits in a chair and stares at one another. Activities keep everyone mingling and visiting, and they give the generations an opportunity to work together, instead of having the kids do one thing and the grown-ups do another.

A successful reunion needs activities. These activities can be as simple as storytelling and scavenger hunts or as energetic as carnival-sized games and the family Olympics. In Chapters 7 and 8, I give you lots of ideas for icebreakers to get everyone talking, as well as games to keep every generation busy.

Feeding the tribe

Everyone loves to eat — myself included. Your family reunion is a great time for everyone to show off their cooking skills by participating in a potluck meal. If you’re not into potlucks (or cooking), you can hire a catering service to provide the eats.

For potluck planners, I include a who-brings-what Potluck Tracking Sheet in Chapter 5. This list can help you organize the menu and avoid the common problem of having too few salads and too many desserts (if you consider this a problem ). If you prefer to hire a professional, Chapter 5 is also full of tips for working with vendors or caterers.

Cleaning up the mess

Reunions are messy affairs, so prepare yourself for some hefty cleanup! To make this task run smoothly, I include a special section in Chapter 10 specifically aimed at the cleanup process, and I give you a checklist to help you remember everything.

Keeping your reunion site tidy makes the cleanup easier, so I also include tips for keeping things tidy during the reunion, such as setting up areas for recycling (see Chapter 5) and diaper changing (see Chapter 6).

Determining How Often to Hold a Reunion

How often you hold your reunion depends entirely upon the location of your family. Large families who live close to one another can see each other regularly. For this type of family, a yearly reunion may be just the thing to bring the kinfolk together on a regular basis.

Families with members spread out across the country or around the world generally can’t get together as often as those who live near one another due to budget restrictions and the demands of everyday life. For these families, a reunion every other year or every five years can do the trick.

Before you can make the decision for your family, you need to hold your first reunion and take it from there. Your first reunion is the testing ground from which subsequent reunions evolve.

An interesting side effect of regularly held reunions is that the number of family members in attendance grows from year to year, especially if the reunion is fun. Word gets around!

Staying in Touch

The reunion is over, the mess is cleaned up, and folks have gone their separate ways. Now you may be thinking of how to stay in touch with everyone.

Chapter 11 is full of ideas for family newsletters, Web sites, and other interesting things to make staying in touch easy.