|As the Wagon Wheel
Turns to Genealogy
by Lowell G. Childress,
President, WCH&G Society
One of the best methods of obtaining family information (and a good meal) is by attending a family reunion. It's fun, frustrating and genealogically rewarding.
Fun, because relatives unknown to each other, or cousins who haven't met since childhood days, meet. Frustrating, because you will get more stories (some conflicting) and data than you bargained for.
Genealogically rewarding - it will be if the stage is set and you are prepared.
"Is there a reunion? How can I find out?" are questions you will be seeking answers for. The Genealogical Helper, Everton Publishers, P.O. Box 368, Logan, Utah 84321, lists family reunions and organizations in one periodical each year. Many newspapers, especially in small communities, print reunion notices and will happily advise you of such an occurence. County or State Historical Societies may have knowledge of the intended reunion or family organization. Even Chamber of Commerce offices may offer assistance on the subject. Regardless of whom you write to be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for an expedited reply.
No reunion seems planned? So what? This is a minor problem. START YOUR OWN! After awhile you will learn genealogists will do most anything for information, so great is their fervor. How else can you get so many people together in one place?
Successful reunions depend upon locality, accomodations, publicity and interest, all of which you can arrange. LOCALITY...If most interested persons live in Kentucky, plan the reunion there. Elderly family members cannot journey long distances and they are your prime concern as one could be holding the key to your genealogical problem(s).
Family get-togethers can be held in school gymnasiums or auditoriums, churches, farms, state or county parks, or a very swank motel. Do, again, keep in mind the folks living on fixed incomes who may be frightened of too much grandeur. Boards of Education, ministers and park supervisors will advise expense, if any, or availability of premises and equipment.
PUBLICITY ... You will first want to enlist the aid of other family members, here or there. A few letters displaying your interest will reveal theirs, if existing. A spark will be kindled. Surely, one "cuzzin" will know the name of the local newspaper editor, perhaps might personally know the editor. In either case, you will want to obtain support from that source. Small town newspapers thrive on 'who-is-visiting-who'. It's a social event. A pre-notice of intended reunions bring members from other states who having left home still retain subscriptious to hometown newspapers. A post-notice of reunions is rewarding to those who attend who like to see their name in print and serves as an incentive to non-attendees to be there next year.
A family letter of a personal nature is very important. Send each known interested person at least two copies asking him to forward one copy to another family you may know nothing of. Names and addresses, can be obtained from family members, phone books and city directories, (check with phone companies and large libraries for the latter) and area historical societies. An occasional county clerk will supply aid in this area if he is not too busy. Copies of the letter may be xeroxed by printing shops in cities for about $3.00 per hundred, or duplicated by mimeograph, spirit process, offset, etc.,at reasonable prices.
Letters should be mailed several months before the date of the reunion. Family members can then plan vacations to include the reunion and the trip 'back home'. The letter's contents should reveal: time, place, accomodations available (closest motel), activities planned, etc. If a program is desired and talent wanted, now is the time to advertise. You may want a family minister to open and close the meeting, someone to act as master of ceremonies, music, singers, a loud-speaker, etc. (Be sure to change that last work to 'amplifier' because you'll find plenty of loud speakers at the family reunion.) What about the menu? Family reunions are ideal for culinary exhibitionists. A 'bring-a-covered-dish' invitation results in tables groaning with favorite family recipes handed down from generation to generation. Several organizations have published and sold cook books of such recipes.
The letter has been mailed. The writer has several weeks to prepare for the big day. If there is no family historian plan to become one. Reunion day will bring forth many unanticipated queries. You will be answering more than you will get to ask. A tape recorder will later review the day. A copier or camera will record news items, Family Bibles and records, and, of course, the camera is essential for taking pictures of the events and persons.
Prepare a guest register with space for addresses. "Elect" the first person entering to act as Registrar. (He will think it an honor.)
The following suggestions will make the day a total success: Name- tags (wearer's name with parent below), family group sheets for each person to fill in and/or ancestral four generation charts, a family scrapbook, and displays to exhibit hobbies and handicrafts of participants. A "Twenty Questions" game can be rewarding. Ask questions as:
What's your grandfather's name?
What was the maiden name of his wife?
In what war did so-and-so fight?
Who settled first in Kentucky and when?
(Be sure each participant places his name and address on the page; you may want to pursue some of the interesting answers later.)
You have given the reunion a shove. That's all it needed. You'll enjoy a day of family cooperation. True love, warmth and family pride will be added to genealogical data collected. Compliments will be made and before you know it (if you don't watch out) next year's chairman will be guess who? Lucky YOU.
A FAMILY ORGANIZATION may form as the result of a successful family reunion. A non - profit organization incorporated. A family lawyer prevailed upon for advice and assistance. An election of officers, by-laws designed to govern activities and purposes, dues; or subscriptions agreed on, and meeting dates established are among business matters involved in such a formation.
The organization may wish to sponsor publication of a family history or a scholarship fund for students. A 'news' bulletin' published periodically might be its only goal. However, all family organizations are interested in preserving family pride and heritage. A well organized group maintains records of members proving most beneficial to the genealogist. Investigate membership, it may be very rewarding.