There are many ways to ensure a special place for reunions in the lives, hearts, memories and history of members. This section outlines just some reunion preservation ideas and we invite you to e-mail us your special ways of preserving and celebrating your reunion.

Saving your stories: how history is in your hands

weeva girlsEvery family has a legacy: those stories that get passed down from generation to generation about amazing great-aunts, immigration, old family recipes, unbelievable feats, treasured heirlooms, and more. History is written in these stories, and culture is created. It’s important to realize that saving these stories is the hallmark to writing and preserving your family history.

One of the downsides of oral traditions is that the original message can be distorted or changed over the years, and eventually lost all together. First-hand story-telling and photos are the most accurate way to capture the truth—not only for gathering facts, but also for seeing history through the eyes of the people who lived it. And it’s important to start as soon as possible. If you’ve ever worked on a family history project, you understand the sad feeling of encountering a fantastic old photo that’s discolored, bent, or falling apart, and the urge to preserve it before it’s lost forever.

My family and I made a decision this year to become the authors of our own legacy after discovering how much has already been lost. My grandfather became interested in genealogy when he retired. As he traced our lineage back throughout the years, he came to a dead end. One of our ancestors had changed his name and moved so many times his history just disappeared. It wasn’t just his history, though. Now it belongs to us, too, and there’s an entire part of our story we’ll never know, simply because it wasn’t preserved.

Now, together, we are writing down our stories and saving our photos so we can pass down our accurate history for generations to come. I love knowing that we are documenting our actions, and that my life will be remembered accurately, as will my tribe’s.

It’s been said that history is written by the victors, but this isn’t true—history is written by those who feel compelled to write it down. Preserving your family’s stories is the best way to write and pass on its history, as accurately as possible, in the words of the people who lived it. Start saving your stories now. History is in your hands.

Shared by Hayley Irvin, Oklahoma City, OK, Community Success Manager at, a story collection and keepsake book-making site.

Is there an epidemic of memoir fever?

Many Americans are scrambling with video cameras, tape recorders, smartphones and other high-tech tools to chronicle family histories before the memories are gone. When relatives share their histories, think how fascinated you are. Then, watch the children’s faces as they, too, find it intriguing. That look of astonishment on your kids’ faces means it’s time to make sure you record the stories for them to enjoy later.

Best-selling memoirs like Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and the wonderful Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years have fueled the fire. Memoirs don’t have to be difficult-to-read genealogy but rather can employ all manner of new media. Ordinary folks are becoming writers and moviemakers by publishing their works in limited quantities for current and future generations. These are generally parochial efforts of interest to extended family members.

Baby boomers hearing, learning and appreciating their parents stories of the Depression and World War II can be very interesting (true) tales. Everyday life stories can produce eye-opening experiences. Children will be amazed to realize what things cost as little as 50 years ago and how people lived without smartphones, TV, DVD players, CDs, microwaves, computers, video games and many other things we now take for granted.

Like reunions, memoirs maintain a connection among generations and are an antidote to anonymity. Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will know you through memoirs. Tell it like it is, be a good listener and you can make an immortal collection of memories. EW
There are many ways to incorporate memoirs into your reunion.

Read stories from them.
Use them to create re-enactments of ancestors’ lives. Sell copies to help finance your reunion. Make them a permanent part of your reunion or family archives.

Living trees help preserve reunions

Trees are a prominent theme, logo and design idea for reunions and can also be used in different ways. Living trees as prizes make memories but are lovely only for members who have a place to plant them. A small tree in a pot that can be put on an apartment balcony or terrace works well if there is no earth in which to plant one. Cuttings or grafts for those clever enough to know what to do with them can extend a family’s connections even further.

Karen Naedler, Hopatcong, New Jersey, reports that her Cousin Connection Reunion awards a “family tree” to the person who selects the number closest to the count of peanuts in a large fish bowl. The tree is growing and suitable for transplanting in October (when they have their reunion).

The 147 attendees at the Navy Destroyer USS Ingersoll reunion each donated $1.00 to plant 147 Blue Spruce Trees at Snowmass, Colorado, as part of the Plant-It-2000 Program. This idea works well for any type of reunion: plant trees in the name of grandchildren, ancestors, fallen comrades and deceased classmates.

Margurite Tibben reported that her Skinner/McQueen Family Reunion planted and dedicated a tree to her parents, Bill and Leona Skinner, in the park where they held reunions for nine years. They chose a Liquid Amber to commemorate autumn, a favorite time of year for both parents. A plaque in red granite imbedded in a stone reads “The Family Tree, Its Roots an Ancestry, Its Limbs New Generations.” Skinner grandsons dug the hole and placed the plague.

How do you incorporate trees in your reunion?

Restoring heirloom photos

Damaged, faded, irreplaceable photographs can be saved. Storage of your valuable heirloom photos in a dark acid-free environment will slow the deterioration process but nothing can stop it. New methods of restoration can reprint images. The original fragile photo is scanned. Then, in a labor-intensive, digital restoration process, the image is converted to a film negative and printed. Your original remains intact.

Hiring a photographer?

Here are some basics for hiring a reunion photographer.
Ask around. Get recommendations and check albums of friends and relatives. Ask how their photographers were to deal with. Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

Meet the photographer. Spend time with the person who will be photographing your reunion. See his/her actual work. Discuss his/her approaches and requirements.
Compare prices. Packages vary in size and cost. Try boiling them down to comparable terms by dividing total costs by the number of photos you’d get.
Hire the photographer. Make sure the person you met is specifically named in your contract as the photographer.

Be realistic. Get the package that suits your reunion.

Sweat the details. Make sure the contract spells out everything you’re getting, the total cost and when you can expect to get the photos. Use a credit card for protection.

Stay in touch. Call occasionally to make sure the photographer is still in business.

Family reunions are portrait time

by J.R. vanLienden

Family reunions are great times to make family portraits.

Photographing a large group, however, has many inherent problems. You must keep everyone’s attention and have all eyes looking at the camera. Barking like a dog (some of us will do anything to get others to look at us) serves this purpose well. Many times getting a group to say “cheese” works, but “hi!” (tell them to keep their teeth closed) and “shucks” are better.

Smile for the birdie
Soft warm smiles are better than big cheesy grins so ask everyone to shake like a dog, relax and then smile pleasantly keeping attention toward you. Ask persons not in the picture to stand directly behind you so if people look at them, they’ll still be looking at the camera.

Let there be light
Lighting is crucial. Avoid sun that makes big shadows across faces. It is unflattering, and film doesn’t see details like the human eye. The sunlight is behind subjects just after noon till about three o’clock, but open shading from a building shadow or a tree works better.

My favorite light comes just before sunset. Warm color makes everyone look nicer if the light does not create shadows. The soft light just following sunset is perfect for shadow-free, even illumination, but it’s fleeting so shoot fast.

Today’s cameras with built-in flashes work well if the sun is to subjects’ backs, and you use the back-lighting mode. Back-lighting gives subjects more dimensions as light comes over their shoulders.

The three-legged one
Tripods may be cumbersome to use but a lifesaver if you want to make bigger prints from your photographs. The tripod steadies and prevents movement that would be more apparent on enlargements. The more you enlarge, the more once subtle little imperfections show up. You may also improve images by using a cable release. This bit of extra work pays off in finer outcomes.

Fashion is important
Proper clothing can turn a picture into a portrait. Mixing solid colored clothing with the background eliminates distracting colors and puts attention back into people’s faces. One of the easiest ways to keep clothing from having too many distracting styles, colors and patterns is to have everyone wear commemorative t-shirts. If all the shirts or tops are the same color, attention is forced back to faces. It looks incredible. If you have different solid colors in the same tones for each family, it defines each family and looks fantastic. When I photograph families, I like them to wear long sleeves and pants, to keep flesh color mainly to the faces.

Choose place carefully
Where you choose to take the picture is important. Minimize background distractions. A good rule of thumb is to have a simple background without too many colors or distracting patterns.

To see areas that will stand out in the background, close one eye and squint with the other. Don’t try this standing on one leg – you might fall down. If it stands out when you squint, it will stand out in your picture. People will block a lot of the background anyway.

Position everyone so you can see their faces. Get them to relax. Place some people in front on the ground sitting up or leaning on one arm. The next row should be sitting on chairs, rocks, or stumps to get them a little higher. The third row should stand to the side and back of the seated row. Keep individuals and rows very close.

Shoot lots of film. These images will be with you for the rest of your life. If it is in your budget, hire a professional photographer and be sure you get great pictures.

Good luck and keep smiling.

About the author
J.R. vanLienden and his wife Darcy owned and operated Masterpiece Portraits. They specialized in outdoor portraits, many of which were created on Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches where they claim to have the whitest sand in the world.

Sign on the dotted line

Signing on the dotted line is one way to preserve a very important part of your family history. For people doing genealogy and family histories, discovering an ancestor’s signature is often considered a significant find, a treasure, something to celebrate.

Now, think ahead, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a collection of your family members’ signatures? Without a concerted effort at collecting them, signatures might have to continue to be those special finds of genealogists. Resolve to collect members’ distinctive signatures at your next reunion.

Autograph books are probably passe now, but they could be a repository of family treasures. In fact, autograph books might be something for kids to make at reunions to collect family signatures. Save these little books and years from now great family treasures will be secure.

To make autograph books
Use two pieces of cardboard for front and back covers and plain 20# paper for filler pages. If you’re into serious preservation, you’ll want to use archival paper for the inside pages. Punch holes for the binding and thread some pretty yarn, ribbon or string through the holes and tie in a bow on the front. The front cover could be scored (bent) near the binding to give it slightly easier access opening.

Memory book alternative
Lloyd Dean made and shared a wonderful book called An Appalachian Reunion from the 25th Dean & Creech Family Reunion. Instead of using a conventional memory book format, Dean made a book comprised mainly of candid snapshots of family members at the reunion. Pictures are interspersed with clippings saluting achievements and sadly, obituaries.

This is a great way to remember your reunion and it’s easy to do! The cover is made of colored, light card stock. Inside pages are collages of cut and pasted pictures. Imagine looking back at reunions and see family spending time together. And family members will probably be pleased to see themselves in the book. Thanks for a great idea, Lloyd!

Use family memories to bridge the past to the future
You’ve heard him tell the story a million times: during Thanksgiving dinner … at your son’s birthday party … even at Uncle Joe’s funeral. But your dad never tires of telling it.

You’ve eaten your mother’s favorite chicken dish almost as many times as you’ve heard your dad tell his favorite story. Now, you’re all grown up and live 1,000 miles away and your mouth still waters every Tuesday, chicken surprise night at your parents’ house.

Do you remember all the details of your dad’s story to share with your children after he’s gone? Do you know your mom’s secret chicken surprise ingredient? Will you continue to enjoy her recipe when she’s not around? Or will you be overcome with nostalgia every time you eat a chicken dish that’s good but “nothing like what mom used to make?”

Document the stories, memories, and experiences you take for granted. You owe it to yourself. Give your family and future generations the exciting adventure of traveling back in time.

High tech memory sharing

“I’ll be sure to send you a copy,” my cousin said about a picture he just took of my family. That was more than five years ago and I still haven’t seen it. My pictures were fine, but I’d love pictures other relatives took. Everyone knows about e-mailing pictures. It’s easy to copy photos and mail them the old fashioned way. But we don’t make time for it.


Tips to preserve family documents

A few simple and inexpensive precautions can help preserve your family’s important documents for future generations. Remove paper clips, staples, and rubber bands. Don’t glue, tape, or laminate. Metal fasteners rust, rubber bands lose their elasticity and adhere to paper. Both glue and tape hasten paper deterioration. Glue also attracts insects and lamination may or may not be harmful, but it is almost always irreversible.

Store documents at room temperature. Avoid storing them in rooms like the basement and attic or against outside walls. Extreme heat and dampness speed deterioration. A good rule of thumb is if the temperature and humidity feel good to you, it’s fine for your documents too. Documents are best stored in the dark (flat, acid-free containers). Avoid lengthy displays under damaging fluorescents or direct sunlight. Avoid folding and unfolding important documents. If you’re saving newspapers or clippings, store them separately from other less acidic, documents. If the newspaper or clipping is important for the information it contains rather than as an artifact, photocopy it. A photocopy will hold up much longer than newsprint.

From the Homestead National Monument of America, Beatrice NE.

Book Reviews

One Memory at a Time: Inspiration & Advice for Writing Your Family Story. by D.G. Fulford. (2000, 156 pages, hardcover, $16.95) Doubleday, 1540 Broadway, New York NY 10036.

Memories are a big part of your history and Fulford encourages you to simply remember your past. There are questions like “Do you remember being afraid to enter the first grade? Have you experienced a natural disaster? Who did you go to the prom with? Did your mother wear a fancy perfume?” All of these questions will send you back in time and help you remember little things for you to pass on to future generations.

One Memory at a Time urges you to realize that there is no right or wrong way to conduct your family history project. Instead of using a strict, step-by-step process of conducting research, this book offers suggestions for what may work best for you. Nine chapters are broken into smaller parts to help you navigate the book and notes set apart from the text highlight points in each section.

Fulford is an award-winning writer, nationally best-selling author, instructor, speaker and former columnist for the Daily News of Los Angeles and New York Times News Service. Her first book, To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come, written with her brother Bob Greene, is America’s top selling guide to writing family histories.

From Memories to Manuscript, the Five-step Method of Writing Your Life Story by Joan R. Neubauer.
Ancestry, 266 W Center St, Orem UT 84057; 1994, 40 pages, soft-cover, $5.95.

The steps outlined by the author are a great review/reminder of what must be outlined to write one’s own story. She also recognizes issues like frustration, feeling like you’ve lost control on your way to the goal of your own story. She breaks the project into manageable pieces and details each. Worth a look if you are preserving your own fascinating tale.


We were remiss and are corrected by Lisa (McCullough) Youngblood, Green Bay, Wisconsin. In a small article in our Winter 2000 edition, Filling the time capsule, Youngblood said “you may want to check your facts regarding color photos only lasting 50 years and black and white ones lasting 100 years. In 1997, I had the privilege of hearing Henry Wilhelm, director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. and widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert on the care and preservation of color photographs. His landmark book The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs, is considered the definitive work on the subject. He told us that color images are actually more stable than black and white. Because color is the preferred film for most people, more research has gone into making it more stable. Also, black and white images are now usually printed on resin coated (RC) paper, just like color photographs. If the black and white images were printed on cotton-based fibers they would be more stable than the same images printed on the RC paper. But, take my word for it, it’s very expensive and almost always has to be shipped out.

“In my field of preservation specialists, it is no longer the case to suggest families take at least one roll of black and white film for long term storage. The technology has advanced so that most all 35mm prints will last a lifetime or more.”

Lisa Makosewski, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a great source of wonderful hints from her McLaughlin Family Reunion. Here are some new ones.

“Another thing that worked well was renting a digital camera to take pictures to insert directly onto the family tree. We didn’t want to purchase a digital camera because we weren’t sure we would like the pictures. For $50, we rented a $700 camera for the weekend. Good deal! In addition, we created a table to list everyone’s name, disk and frame number. Then, as we took “mug shots,” we found the person’s name, and simply wrote in the disk and frame numbers of the shot. This was a great help in identifying pictures. We were meeting many people, for the first time. We would never have remembered who was who. Photographing and tracking was a two person job; one to take pictures and one to keep track of names, disk and frame numbers.

Evelyn from Texas e-mailed that at their reunion, they had a poster with lots of old photos of family members at a younger time. They numbered photos then played guess who? The one who correctly identified the most photos won. She says the game brings back memories, stories and tales.