A Family Tree Gathering. It’s a new term with roots in an old idea – making the most of the time you spend with your family.
Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, introduced the term in a talk he gave while suggesting ways that we can integrate family history into our every day lives.
Based on his definition, a Family Tree Gathering can be as elaborate as a family reunion or as simple as a family dinner.
In part one of a series focused on how to hold a Family Tree Gathering, we share five ideas of what a Family Tree Gathering could look like at a family reunion.
Share Family Stories
A few months before the family reunion that I was in charge of planning, a beloved aunt passed away unexpectedly. Her passing inspired us to move forward with the theme, “I’ll Remember You”. We decided that the best way to remember her, and all of those who had passed since our last reunion, was to invite their family members to share their family stories.
There were six people we decided to spotlight. A few months before the reunion, we invited their descendants to prepare a five to 10 minute presentation about their loved one. Each person accepted the assignment and came prepared with framed collages, photo slide shows, video presentations, and stories that were both humorous and heartfelt.
As a reunion committee, we rented a big, blow up screen and projector to showcase these video presentations. As they were watched, everyone in attendance either reflected on or learned about a deceased family member. It was an afternoon filled with laughter and tears, and by far the most touching activity of the family reunion.
Share Family Photos
Pictures are worth a thousand words, and at a family reunion, sharing photos can be priceless.
Before your reunion, put out a call to attendees to bring their albums, their scrapbooks, and their family photos. During a reunion activity, you could set up “photo viewing stations” and invite family members to go from booth to booth to see photos of ancestors and to hear the stories behind the snapshots. It’s a good idea to have photo scanners on hand to digitally capture the photos that are brought. They can be uploaded into the Memories section of FamilySearch later so that family members who are present, and even those who are not, can view the pictures and print them at their leisure.
For kids (and even adults), a photo memory challenge might be a fun way to learn who’s who. Gather photos from family members via email or by searching the Memories tab on FamilySearch.org. Print two copies of each photo on cardstock and make a deck of “memory” cards. To play, lay the cards face down and have family members take turns flipping one card at a time in order to find a match. To make the game interesting, if someone finds a match, they can earn an extra point by sharing a memory or story of the ancestor pictured on the card.
Perform Family skits
My family loves to laugh, so a night of family skits is always a must. The skits integrate music, props, and a theme to share a story. For example, groups could present skits on family love stories, using information they’ve learned about couples in the family line. The key is tying a fun activity to family history.
If you’re family is not into performing, another meaningful idea is to have a written “Family Showcase”.
Carly Turner shared how that has made a difference at her family reunions.
“Everyone above the age of 16, who wanted to, was assigned a couple in our line. We then had to research the couple, how they lived, where they lived, and really got to know their stories,” she said. “We had about six months to do it and then send (my cousin) a page of our couple’s family history. I worked so well! Everyone loved “owning” a couple and knowing their stories and sharing them with others. My cousin put all the pages we sent into a binder and now we have a really cool Family History written by our ancestors’ descendants.”
Capture Oral Histories
As the years go by, the number of “first generation” ancestors who attend our family reunion is dwindling. If not recorded, the memories they have will be lost when they pass. An easy way to enrich your reunion is to use a digital recording device to capture the oral histories of the seniors at your reunion.
Divide reunion attendees into interview groups to question a senior family member in attendance. Print out interview prompts and hand them out to each member of the group so that each person gets a chance to ask at least one question.
Good questions to start the conversation are: What’s your earliest childhood memory? What do you remember about the street you grew up on? What made your mom so special? How did you meet your sweetheart and how did you know she/he was the one? What’s been your most difficult trial and how did you make it through? What do you want your posterity to remember about you when you’re gone?
Once you get going, the questions will start to flow. After recording the oral histories, go back later and transcribe the interviews. You can share them electronically with the group, print for family memory books, or upload in the Stories section of FamilySearch.org (link to getting started https://familysearch.org/ask/gettingStarted) to preserve the information forever.
By capturing those family histories, we discover more about who we are, right from the source. It gives us context of how our ancestors survived the ups and downs and arms us with valuable knowledge of how we can learn from life experiences to handle the happiness and hardships that will come our way
Passing down heirlooms is a tradition in several families. But sometimes sharing the stories behind those treasures is not. A reunion is a perfect place to start such a tradition.
Before the reunion, invite attendees to bring items that tell a story, and use a family story night to highlight the heirlooms in your family.
Bill Grubbs shared how distant cousins answered this call at a family reunion he planned and how the experience enriched the event.
“One brought over 100 letters she had scanned that came from her great grandmother’s trunk. These letters were mostly from family members and some of them dated back to 1868 and reveal great insight into these family members,” he said. “Another cousin brought a framed basketball jersey of his father with the story of a family basketball team that challenged all basketball teams in Utah to a tournament.”
By sharing the stories behind those simple treasures, they became treasures to Bill and his posterity.
Possessions are just things, material items that we possess for a short time on this earth. But the stories behind those possessions, the memories associated with them, are what we can remember forever if we take the time to learn about the cherished heirlooms in our family.
“Our young people are excited to learn about the lives of family members – where they came from and how they lived,” said LDS Church leader, Quentin L. Cook.
The marvelous thing is, it’s not only the young people who are excited to learn about their ancestors. Almost anyone can see the value in connecting with loved ones -- in participating in a Family Tree Gathering.
So, as you gather this summer for your family reunion, think of your Family Tree. Gather with a purpose. And, enrich your experience by implementing fun, easy ideas that integrate family history with every day life.