Family newsletters
by Audrey Buswell

Some families stop at nothing to keep in touch. While the majority of families have a reunion once a year and are lucky if half of their known relatives show up, a select few put in the effort to send out a family newsletter to keep everyone updated. For families like the Burnettes, Utleys, Blauvelts, Fergusons, Tuckers and Bunkers, keeping in touch with relatives is a full-time job. And by the looks of their newsletters, they do a pretty amazing job.

The average family newsletter is around four to six pages and is filled with everything from family updates to old family documents recently uncovered. It is a great way to learn what family members are up to and have accomplished in recent history. For example, the Ferguson newsletter’s “Family Matters” section highlights family members; for example, Mitchelle Patterson and Ron Murray for their marriage, George and Malaika Patterson for their newborn daughter, and Gitana Robertson for a safe return home from Iraq.

Some family newsletters hold a special place for scholarship opportunities. The Ransom-Sease Family Newsletter features a descriptive section for students seeking a higher education. The family scholarship offers two separate opportunities, one for a medical student and the other for any major in college. However, applying for this scholarship is not an easy task; it is just as difficult and competitive as other scholarships.

The Utley family newsletter holds a special front page edition “Honoring Our Veterans,” in which they honor veterans who have passed away and family members still serving our country.

Another special feature is “Cousin Spotlight” page; in this particular case, Elmer Massey was spotlighted in the page, which includes Elmer’s detailed family history and shares memories of his grandparents and parents.

The Tucker family dedicates two pages for their Hall of Fame inductees. They honor graduates like Michael Pouncey II, sport achievements like Mike McLeod’s–who was Yale’s second Ivy League Rookie of the Year, other school achievements, and wedding announcements. The Tucker children can look forward to participating while keeping everyone informed.

Family newsletters not only include updates, old documents, genealogy, family scholarship opportunities and reunion updates, they also include ways for family members to get involved. The newsletters have fundraising ideas and other opportunities. For family members who feel as if they are a little out of touch, fundraising is a perfect way to get involved and to learn about the rest of the family.

Newsletters are so unique and are a great way to involve everyone and get updates on the lives of their family. If for some a reunion once a year isn’t enough and it’s a little too difficult to keep in touch with everyone, then a newsletter is ideal. Family pictures, stories, history and updates all in one newsletter is perfect for the families who don’t live right next door to each other.

About the author
Audrey Buswell was a student intern for Reunions magazine and is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Passing the reunion newsletter torch
by Laurie J. Hassinger

The family newsletter, The Hassinger HEXchange, has been in our family for over 25 years. In the beginning a few family members took it on for long periods of time. Then a tradition was started to rotate the editor every two years. The unwritten rule is that if another editor does not step forward, it will stay with the current editor for the next two-year term. Editorship is determined in the business meeting at the end of the reunion.

I was editor for two years and decided to start my campaign early. I published the attached article in my final newsletter. It must have worked, as an eager editor willingly and enthusiastically raised her hand high when volunteers were sought. There was even word afterwards that another was thinking about it.

Why you want to be Editor of the family newsletter

  • You can use up all those address labels you get in the mail.
  • You can enhance your skills in persuasion and motivation. There is no greater challenge than motivating a family where procrastination runs deep in their blood.
  • You can enhance your resume. Editor, YOUR NAME Family Newsletter.
  • You can develop your computer skills using email reminders, mail merge, publishing and publishing addendum for late submissions.
  • You can improve your project management experience. Determine publishing date, send reminders, get ready to publish, receive late submissions, get ready to publish, more late submissions, publish, send, more really late submissions, send regret email to submitter.
  • You can use your accounting skills and try to stay on budget. Estimate cost to publish issues times number of families which includes printing costs, postage, envelopes, paper, printer ink divided by number of families who will pay.
  • You will learn to smile and laugh when your own family is on the delinquent list.
  • You will become a wine connoisseur. It takes practice to learn which wine or beverage goes best with each task. See 5 above.
  • You will get to know your relatives. Many submissions come with unpublished stories and shared experiences. Friendships are renewed.
  • You will learn that the easiest part of the newsletter is taking 10 to 15 minutes to write and submit an article. I promise I will always send my submission on time and pay the subscription promptly.
  • You will learn that family is all about love and that keeping the newsletter going is important for all of us.

I write this in jest but sincerely ask each of you to give the opportunity some thought and prayer. It is a wonderful opportunity. A special thank you to all the past editors; you are what holds the family together.

Many reunions stay in touch
The National Association of the Van Valkenburg Family, Inc. (NAVVF), publishes a quarterly newsletter that is mailed to members throughout the US, Canada and abroad. This is the primary tool for advertising reunions, along with their website ( Merchandise containing the Van Valkenburg Family Crest is made available for purchase at each reunion and in the newsletter.

Between yearly meetings and reunions, members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) are kept up to date through national and chapter newsletters. The newsletters inform members about what is happening with the reflagged brigade in harm’s way (now serving in Afganistan), in other chapters around the world and in their local chapter. The newsletter also offers support and is a place where members are able to share their story and learn about the history of the brigade.

One of the ways Veronica Haynes, Rosansky, Texas, has developed to break the ice for her Gallegos/Trevino family and rev them up for the annual reunion is to have a section of the family’s monthly newsletter dedicated to showcasing a family member. It is called “Family Spotlight” and is designed to feature a family member who either nominates him/herself, another family member or even an heirloom photograph of a departed family member for others to get to know! Family members send in a copy of a photograph of the person or persons they nominate and she writes a small feature detailing interests, hobbies, occupation, connection to that family. She encourages persons to nominate themselves first. It’s worked out well. Every month there is a different family member to describe and it keeps interest in the newsletter alive and well. Haynes always reminds them that items sent become property of the family organization, so they should only send copies.

Bill King, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, reports that the one thing they’ve found to be very successful is a newsletter called the “e-Blazer.” The Blazer was/is the name of the student newspaper at Neptune (New Jersey) High School; they added the “e” in front of it. King periodically sends news of interest to the class to a list numbering about 200. If they merely posted it to a web site they’d be counting on classmates to go there regularly to check for updates. This way they deliver news directly to classmates.

Newsletter used as reunion reminder
These checklists were found in the Cotten Family Reunion newsletter, Celebrate a Century of Cotton:

What to mail now:

  • Baby photo of direct Cotten descendants
  • Remaining balance due (if applicable)
  • Interest in child dedication (email/call Sasha)
  • Registration form, if not yet registered
  • 2004 Reunion photos to Deborah Levee

What to bring to reunion:

  • Snacks, drinks for group use in Ashby
  • Camera, camcorder, batteries
  • Business card (see details)
  • Photos (up to 3) for Cotten photo contest
  • Silent auction items
  • Quilt square
  • History items for family history exhibits
  • Items for family exhibits
  • Recent family photo for time capsule
  • $ for family tree (personal checks ok)
  • $ for auction items purchased (personal checks ok)
  • $ for general fun donation (to include childcare, reunion expenses) (checks ok)
  • Cassette tapes, AA batteries and/or recorder for oral history interview (optional)
  • Swimsuit/clothes to get wet in (especially kids)
  • Sunscreen, fishing gear, lawn chairs (optional)
  • Dominoes, balls, water sprinklers/slip-n-slide

Shared by Shasha Walters, Albany, Texas.

Fill your newsletter with fun

Karen Luna Ray, Hugo, Oklahoma, offers these fun fillers for reunion newsletters.

Grandma’s picture box

This mixes and matches photos of young and old. Line one side of a page with baby photos, the other with present-day photos of the same persons. Utilize limited space by photocopying or scanning pictures, then trimming faces from the photocopy. Attach photos to the master copy with double sticky tape. Family members enjoy matching yesterday’s child to today’s adult.

“Did You Know …?” or “About Your Family …”

Another fun newsletter filler from Ray is information pages. There are interesting things in all our lineages. Include such things as the family’s originating country, surname changes through the years, little known facts about family members (such as what middle initial O in Uncle Bob’s name means and where it came from). What about the 3 brothers who married 3 sisters or Aunt Susie who had one green and one brown eye? When did your ancestors arrive in America? Where did they settle? What are your family’s traditions? How many generations have those traditions remained?

Ray concludes that newsletter fun fillers serve a dual purpose. They better acquaint you with your family and provide entertainment for all ages and generations. Use them to add interest to your reunion newsletter.

Entertain with crosswords

“Going, going, gone!” best described the newsletter stack on the registration table at our family reunion. Though filled with the usual family origins, births, deaths, graduations, weddings and tales elicited from family members, this particular edition had an added feature, a family crossword puzzle. I spent hours creating it and had a great time and now was anxious to see the family’s reaction.

The sudden scrambling about in purses, pockets, or wherever else a writing instrument might be found was the first indication the puzzle was a hit. The second came when huddles formed across the room, a steady chatter arising from each. Mingling about the crowd, I overheard such comments as, “Who was an exchange student in Switzerland? Oh, Janet! Now I remember!” “Well, of course, I know our family came from the Isle of Man. I just didn’t know it is also called Ellan Vannin.” “Hmmm, let’s see. Who was the fifth child born of John and Lou? Help me out here, guys!” Conversation flowed freely as the puzzle sparked memories for some. Others learned things about their family they’d never known. One relative had a great time helping others, but when asked if she’d completed her copy she laughed and said, “No, I’m saving it as entertainment for when I get back to the motel!”

Creating a family crossword puzzle can be approached in a variety of ways. Some prefer to have it professionally done. Others may wish to create their own puzzle, either with on-line help or the old-fashioned way. An on-line search for crossword puzzles should bring up several web sites of interest. While directs one to professional help, provides on-line help to create your own puzzle. For those who still prefer the old-fashioned way of doing things, whether by necessity or for the love of a challenge, graph paper, a pencil and determination are your beginning tools.

Regardless of the option you choose, the first step will be to make a list of family members’ names, nicknames, familiar places in family history, job titles, hobbies or anything unique to a family member. Be sure to represent every branch of the family. Use family-related clues/answers where possible. A few unrelated terms may have to be included to ensure a perfect fit.

If you create your own puzzle, the next step is like playing Scrabble. Place letters into the graph paper blocks using words from your list. The blocks will help keep the letters straight as you begin to cross words over others. Be forewarned that there is nothing quick about this. It may require several “starts” before you get the hang of how words should link together. Keep a professionally done crossword puzzle at hand to use as a guide. It will help place solid blocks in the proper places, as well as provide a guide for numbering order. To finish your puzzle, prepare your own graph paper and make certain lines are dark enough to photocopy well. Darken in solid blocks, add numbers in the proper positions and trim the unnecessary blocks from the puzzle edges. Now you can copy the blank puzzle neatly onto an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper. List and number clues in the proper columns of across and down on a separate sheet. Work one copy of the puzzle to be sure no adjustments are needed. Photocopy the answered copy, reduce its size, then copy it in an obscure place in the newsletter.

About the author
Karen Luna Ray is a veteran reunion planner and freelance writer living in southeastern Oklahoma with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in Reunions magazine, North American Manx Association Bulletin and newspapers. She writes and publishes a family newsletter distributed on reunion day.

Does your reunion have a newsletter? We read all those that reach us and would be very interested in seeing yours. Send to Reunions magazine,
PO Box 11727, Milwaukee WI 53211-0727; or if it’s an electronic newsletter, e-mail us.

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