Isn’t this photo awesome?! This Family Reunion photo was taken at Lagoon* in 1926. The family gathered are the descendants of my 2nd great grandparents Frederick William Ellis and Susan Kaziah Davis.
My family still holds three different reunions today. They look a little something like this.
I really love family reunions but one of the main challenges is getting everyone talking to each other. It’s easy for the siblings and first cousins, but second cousins and cousins from different generations? Not so easy. Everyone experiences the same silly obstacle – they feel dumb asking people’s names. We always have name-tags available but hardly anyone puts one on.
Well, last summer I was in charge of the Rulon and Naomi Peterson Family Reunion. Rulon and Naomi are my great grandparents. This reunion is held every summer in late July or early August and includes 4 generations of my family. I love to see and visit with my Grandpa’s younger siblings. His brothers remind me so much of my Grandpa that it takes my breath away for just a minute, in a good way.
But all those younger cousins, understandably, gravitate to their grandparents, parents, and first cousins. I wanted to shake that up and get people interacting more and remembering our family members who are no longer with us.
So, I made two bingo games that required asking people questions. I had good prizes too. There were lots of little party favor type prizes for Bingos like stretchy frogs, bouncy balls, suckers, lip balm, packs of gum, etc. Then I had a few big prizes for the first 5 or so people who earned a blackout – a cool water gun, two $10 gift cards for lunch, and a few other items I’ve forgotten. In all I spent about $90 from the budget. And every penny was worth it.
This was the easy Bingo game:
As soon as I explained the game to the first children to arrive, they instantly starting running around asking everyone the answers. The adults who were trying to remember things, had to talk to each other about it too. Lots of good family conversations were going on. After several kiddos exhausted this Bingo board, they moved on to the harder game. This one was about our deeper family history. This entire side of my family are LDS, so you will notice that reflected in both games.
I really loved the conversations that both Bingo games generated. We heard some family stories and facts that I had never heard before – and that is saying something! There was an awesome feeling during this whole reunion as we had dinner and talked, and filled in our Bingo cards. Our focus was on our family members and we all felt their love and presence with us that night.
After dinner I wrapped things up by sharing that I had recently come into possession of a large collection of family letters including a box of letters written by Naomi. This is a special treasure for all of us because she died very young, with one child still at home, and left no journals or personal history. But those five years of letters she wrote to my Grandpa include so much of her heart and life. I read this little story from one of her letters:
From a letter dated Friday, October 13, 1944, written by Naomi Peterson to Ronald Peterson:
“I must tell you about Janice and Marilyn. We went in to Lienhardt’s to get the candy last night and when we came home Marilyn’s new robe was over the back of the chair by the telephone. It looked wet and on further examination I found a pool of water under the chair. This morning Janice stated to laugh saying she had never seem anything so funny in her life. Marilyn had filled the bath tub for her bath. She and Janice were standing by the mirror. Marilyn says things just to make Janice angry – rather smart you remember. Janice gave her a disgusted push and sat Marilyn in the tub robe and all. Her feet were hanging out and her head against the soap dish. Janice said she went in very gracefully. Marilyn says there is going to be a big splash one of these times.”
What a treasure. It was a joy to see everyone’s eyes light up as I told them about the letters and shared this story. It was a great reunion with a very simple set of activities.
If you have a family reunion coming up, I wholeheartedly suggest you consider making your own version of Family Bingo. Everyone loved it and they were used again at a smaller reunion for one of my Great Uncles and his family. I also emailed copies to everyone who couldn’t attend including answers for the second Bingo card.
If you would like to use my docs as a starting point to make your own, here they are:
And if you are related to me and are curious about the answers, here is the copy with answers:
I will just add one more tip – I did not put a limit on the number of prizes. I also didn’t worry a lot about the prizes. The kids knew I had created the game, they would come to me and show me their card and I would send them over to choose their prize. Some kids made a serious haul, but it kept the conversations going all night. Plenty of adults and teenagers played too – and took prizes. I made sure I had a Costco sized bag of High-Chews as backup in case we ran low on prizes, we did use the High-Chews and got very close to running out of everything.
Have you ever been in charge of a Family Reunion? What activities have you enjoyed at Family Reunions?
*Lagoon is an amusement park here in Utah that started out as a place for bowling, dancing, and eating. The first thrill ride was added in 1899.