As family historians, we honor our grandparents when we document their stories. Some of us undertake this effort alone, unsure to how to incorporate family members into the process.
In a talk last year, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered a collaborative approach for collecting family stories of all kinds: family tree gatherings.
As the name implies, a family tree gathering is an occasion meant to allow relatives to get together and celebrate their ancestry. These events often coincide with family reunions, birthday celebrations, marriage anniversaries, and other landmark events that bring family together.
That doesn’t mean a family tree gathering has to be a big to-do. On a smaller scale, it might take the form of a special family night. For relatives that can’t together in person, a virtual family tree gathering might work. The most important thing is to have fun while creating bonds with family – those with us today and ancestors from the past.
We asked family historians to share their tips for holding a family tree gathering. Use their recommendations to celebrate the lives of grandparents and other relatives, preserving the memories you make with our family tree app.
Setting Up a Real-World Event
If you’re fortunate enough to be able to get together in person with relatives, here are a few ways to make your family tree gathering a success.
1. Choose the right setting
Many factors will go into choosing where and when the family tree gathering is held. Most important is a central location and timing that will allow the most family members to attend. One way to improve attendance: Have the family tree gathering coincide with another big family event.
If possible, family historian Joshua Taylor recommends, “select a location that has special meaning to the family – someplace that allows your family to ‘step into their past’ a bit. You might visit a location that ancestors frequented, like a local church.”
2. Make everyone welcome!
“Consider opening up the family tree gathering to second and even third cousins whom you haven’t met,” Joshua says. “Be sure there are plenty of ice-breaker activities to help everyone feel at ease, especially if you are inviting newfound family.”
Diane Haddad, Managing Editor of Family Tree Magazine, recommends a unique way to help everyone get their bearings: “One way to identify yourself is to color-code your name tags by generation. “This way,” Diane explains, “your relatives can see instantly how you’re connected to the family.”
3. Use visuals to help tell family stories
Celebrating the lives of grandparents and other relatives is why you’re holding a family tree gathering, but some people may need encouragement to share stories. Incorporating visuals into your family tree gathering can help.
One good place to start: family photos. Rachel LaCour Niesen, founder of Save Family Photos, recommends being thoughtful about how you display photos at family events. For instance, you may want to group photos by theme and pay special attention to being inclusive with selections.
Younger generations may prefer utilizing video and other technology instead. Joshua suggests incorporating video or sharing family photos on a social media site. “That way,” Joshua says, “the family can gather and view images during the event on a platform that is engaging for younger family members.”
Incorporating family heirlooms into the family tree gathering is another way to inspire storytelling. Physical objects can unlock powerful memories about grandparents and other relatives – stories you’ll want to document.
4. Hold family interviews
“The family tree gathering does not have to be centered on past ancestors,” Joshua emphasizes. Instead, “it can be a great place to document the stories and memories of living generations.”
Recording the stories of grandparents and other relatives can preserve their legacies for future generations. FamilySearch’s mobile memories app is but one tool you can use to capture stories.
Prepare a list of questions that can be used to draw out responses. Need suggestions? Our downloadable sheet features questions you can ask grandparents. Adjust the questions as necessary to interview other ancestors during your family tree gathering.
Holding a Family Tree Gathering Online
We all would prefer to hold an in-person family tree gathering, but long distances and time constraints can make that challenging. The solution?
“Go virtual and go big!” says Thomas MacEntee. “With all the technology available at our fingertips,” he says, “you can create an online meeting space for family members.”
One benefit Thomas notes of virtual family tree gatherings is that you don’t have to limit yourself to specific events and times. “If you take the time to set up a virtual collaborative workspace,” he says, “family members can stop by when it suits their schedule.”
Many platforms allow you to set up space for family history activities. One Thomas recommends is Facebook, where you can set up a Secret Group for a family tree gathering. “With the Secret Group setting,” Thomas says, “you control who is invited to join the group and can limit what’s posted and how people participate.”
“Once you have your online meetup location ready,” Thomas continues, “set up ‘events’ – like online chats, show-and-tell sessions, and photo sharing meetups. The younger generation will likely participate given most are Facebook users.”
My Granny and Grandpa’s 81st anniversary was coming up, and I wanted to have a family tree gathering. It wasn’t possible for the family to get together in person given it was during the school year, but I still wanted to feel the family connection on my grandparents’ special day.
I created an invitation in my Rhonna Designs app and sent it out via email to my entire extended family. I invited everyone to share stories, photos, and memories on their social media channels, even adding a special hashtag for us to use so we could look at the group of posts in one shot. I also encouraged my family to upload the photos and stories to our grandparents’ profiles on FamilySearch’s Memories page.
That day ended up being such a sweet gathering even though we weren’t together. Throughout the day I’d check in on FamilySearch, reading the stories and memories of my grandparents. Many stories I’d never even heard, and the photos that were shared have become such treasures. My uncle uploaded a photo of my Granny that I’ve never seen. As I looked at her smile, I felt her there with me … celebrating her 81 years of marriage.
At the end of the day my cousin emailed the entire family, writing: “Today was such a special day. As I read your memories and stories and looked through the photos of Granny and Grandpa, I felt closer as a family and felt such a special love from above. They were celebrating with us.”
Start Planning Your Family Tree Gathering Today!
It’s never too soon to honor grandparents by exploring family history with relatives. Whether you plan to get together in person or stage an online event, a family tree gathering can be a wonderful way to celebrate the lives of grandparents and family stories of all kinds. Use the FamilySearch Family Tree app to help capture memories for all future generations to come.