Reunion Research and Statistics

Learning about reunions

East Stroudsburg University

We recently received the results of a family reunion survey conducted in association with the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. A random selection of Reunions magazine readers received and responded to questions, giving us some fascinating reunion facts, some of which simply confirm our observations. The survey focused on practical matters of organizing a reunion. Questions related to reasons for reuniting, factors in selecting a reunion site and primary events at a reunion. These are some of the findings.

Families reunite to keep in touch and pass on family heritage to their children.
While many of those surveyed plan to have their next reunion at a relative’s home, 64% said they plan to use hotel, resort or similar accommodations for their next reunion. Cited as the most important factors in selecting a reunion site were reasonable travel time, reasonable cost and location. Accommodations and recreation were also mentioned as important.

Most frequent events mentioned were entertainment and worship. Local attractions, sporting events and special family ceremonies also occupy reunions.

Reunions are large. Seventy three percent (73%) have 50 or more attendees and 35% have over 100. Six percent of reunions have over 200 attendees.

Most reunions last a few days: 74% (±7%) last two days or less. However, 19% last from three to five days and 7% of survey respondents said their reunion lasted six or more days. The average amount spent per-person is usually over $200 (54%). However, many reunions spend much more: 19% had per person expenditures of over $400.

Where does your reunion fall in these figures? And do these findings seem typical to you? Is your reunion average or extraordinary?

First steps – getting started

Reunions magazine and the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department of East Stroudsburg (PA) University held a joint study of family reunion organizers which resulted in a fascinating picture of their reunions. We’ll cite results as we outline how to get your reunion started.

Why have a reunion?

What the study says – The purpose for having reunions is varied. Fifty-seven percent (57%) said reunions help them keep in touch while over 28% wanted children to learn about family heritage. Other goals include getting everyone together before a family elder dies or to mark a special birthday, anniversary or holiday.

In the beginning

Every reunion begins somewhere, somehow, sometime. Amy Barlow reports that her Mellenbruch Family Reunion started when her great-great-great grandfather, H. F. Mellenbruch, left a letter expressing a wish that his descendants would meet regularly. They celebrated their 100th reunion in July. Some people don’t even remember or say they never even knew how their reunion started but remember attending them as children.

Your reunion is not at all unusual if it started as an innocent comment at a funeral that you should start meeting under happier circumstances. Reunions can be compared to weddings and funerals except for one important fact – those events focus on the celebration or remembrance of just one person. Reunions celebrate everyone and the whole family.

Sometimes individuals or the whole group may not be ready. If so, don’t give up, just delay the idea for a while or continue with willing members.


What the study says – Seventy-six percent (76%) of respondents were women who ranged in age from 28 to 80. Over 32% organize each of their reunions; 22% plus rotate the leadership role; over 14% have a new volunteer for each reunion and over 12% of all reunions are organized by the person who thinks up the idea.

Reunion sounds like and is a great idea! If you volunteer to be in charge, step forward with your whole heart and soul – there will be times when nothing less will do!

It’s best to not do it solo. Doing it by yourself can be lonely and may not get the results you want. Involving others as early as possible means help ranging from moral support (no small thing!) to taking charge of details large and small. Early involvement should also include a monetary contribution to defray start-up phone, printing and postage costs.

It might look formidable if you’re new to reunion organizing. Who will pay? When, where and how will everyone get there – on time and happy? What will they do when they get there? Lots of questions need answers. Enough time is crucial – to decide when and where, then on to all the myriad of details.

Who’s family?

Class and military reunions are easily defined with circumscribed members who are part of the group – or not. Family reunions are not always so exact or obvious. There is no definition of family for the purpose of reunion except a group of people with the desire to spend time together.

Whom do you claim as family for this occasion? Is it thousands of progeny descended from a common ancestor who arrived in the US in 18-something? Is it the descendants of the brothers and sisters in a family? Is it all the cousins of a generation and their families? Is it the immediate three generations of grandma, grandpa, their children and grandchildren? Is it everyone with the same name?

Or is it something in common like the same parents whether by birth, marriage or adoption? Some genealogists might differ with these loose definitions of family and want to be very specific about who is and is not related to make a family.

How long will the reunion last?

What the study says – Over 70% reported devoting two or more days at their reunion.

Reunions aren’t just picnics anymore. Typically reunions are lasting from Friday through Sunday though some families stay longer. One whole week is also not unusual.

If members travel any distance, a longer stay makes the effort worthwhile with time to visit and relax before the return journey. Many family vacations are reunions or include reunions as part of their plans.

And how often should you meet?

What the study says – Annual reunions are the norm for 46% of respondents, over 28% gather every other year, over 10% every five years.

Reunion frequency is an individual decision. Reunions are not inexpensive so time to save is essential. Many families make the reunion an annual refresher requirement. Others choose two years apart but the ones who wait five years may increase frequency for special reasons like significant anniversaries or members being ill and unlikely to make the next reunion.

Frequency is also a serious consideration for the reunion organizer. One year passes rapidly while two years can give you some extra breathing room.

Delegate and conquer

Recruit all the help you can to lighten your load and strengthen “ownership” and commitment for the reunion. Ask members what they like to do and focus on it. This doesn’t mean everyone must be in total agreement – growing a new idea takes time and patience.

Consider committees. One can find your reunion location and accommodations, others to concentrate on program, fundraising, food, scholarships and cleanup.

The art of delegation was important for Rosa Thomson. She identified special talents and skills of each family member. Showered with “yes” answers, Rosa completed projects on time and on budget.


What does the study say? – A majority (85%) of all family reunions occur in June, July and August.

Traditions flourish once your reunion is established. Set your first reunion date to draw as many people as possible. If reunion is a new idea, distant members need to save both time and money for the trip.

Your reunion date might coincide with an important family event. You can choose a date arbitrarily. Or offer choices with a commitment to abide by the consensus of the group.

Avoid a blanket request for dates. If you ask 50 people to suggest dates, you’ll get 50 dates and still no consensus. If, on the other hand, you suggest a choice of say, Thanksgiving or Fourth of July weekend, you’ll know your majority right away.

Seasons matter – do you have skiers? campers? sun-seekers? school children? Plan accordingly.


What does the study say? – Convenient location to get to is the most prominent factor (19%) followed closely (18%) by reasonable lodging cost, reasonable travel cost (16%) and available recreation activities (14%). Other responses included: same place every year, variety of accommodations and activities, shopping and destinations that match a theme.

All families try to find special places ranging from their own backyard to historical family homesteads or even a dream locale. Many reunions are the family vacation or at least its highlight.

Some reunions number hundreds of members. They meet more comfortably in hotels and resorts and even on cruise ships. The possibilities are infinite – smaller groups may be more comfortable at inns, ranches, condos, villas or campgrounds for tents and RVs or any mix.

If you’re considering a place you’ve not been before, contact the convention and visitors bureau for hot local information. Also check out Reunion Resources, a directory of reunion-friendly places, and patronize advertisers on this site.

Guinness Book of World Records celebrates largest reunions

The 80th Lilly Family Reunion-descendants of Robert and Frances Lilly in Flat Top, West Virginia-set a new world record for the largest family reunion, according to officials with the Guinness Book of World Records. The Lilly family had 2,585 registered members during its three days in August 2009.

To be counted, members had to be connected to the Lilly family by blood, adoption or marriage. Scores of non-Lilly friends show up for the reunion but were not counted. Attendees came from 30 states as well as the Sudan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Southern West Virginia should be proud of having a world record,” said filmmaker Chad Morgan Meador, a Lilly cousin whose company, Good Old Boy Productions, was filming a documentary. He said. “It was very close, but so exciting.”

The Busse Family Reunion set the first Guinness World Record for the largest family reunion in 1998. The reunion was of descendants of the six children of Friedrich and Johanna Busse who settled 150 years earlier in Lake County, Illinois. The 2,369 descendants were amply accommodated at the Lake County Fair Grounds in Grays Lake, Illinois.

Rules and authentication to achieve a Guinness Record are not simple. Members of both Busse and Lilly families worked hard at pulling together countless details leading to their success. Both are to be congratulated for their efforts at encouraging a record setting number of family members to their reunion.

Lilly information from stories in the Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia, by Amelia A. Pridemore, Courtney D. Clark and Mannix Porterfield.

How about longest running reunions?

Let’s hear it for the families who have maintained their traditional reunions year after year. The Burton Family Reunion celebrated their 125th anniversary reunion this year near Mitchell, Indiana. Emalou Burton Garten, Indianapolis, Indiana, reported that descendants of the thirteen children of John Pleasant and Suzannah Stamper Burton gather to clean the family burial ground, have genealogy and family meetings and enjoy a banquet and picnic together. This long running, strong family reunion is governed by three directors elected at reunions for three year terms of office.

How long has your reunion been running? We’d like to hear from you. Add to these extraordinary numbers to demonstrate your family’s strength and your reunion’s staying power.
E-mail us.

Participate in family reunion research!

Reunions magazine editor is eager to hear your stories about what occurs during your family reunions. Here are some topics and themes we want to hear about: feel free to write about any or all of them.

About how many people usually attend your reunion? Who are they? What are their ages? Where do they live? Where have reunions gone? How often do you see each other outside of the reunion?

What are the first things that come to mind when you think about your reunion? What have you enjoyed most about your reunions? During your time together, how do you make decisions about meals, cleaning, events, arrival and departures?

Often, parents and siblings have stories that become part of the family’s history. Stories can be about family events, members or other relatives. Are these stories brought up during your reunions? What are they? Are there ways you act with your siblings only when you reunite with each other (special ways of talking or communicating with each other)?

When we attend family reunions, most of us are part of two families: the one we grew up in and the new married family. To the family you grew up in, you are still a child (son or daughter) and a sibling (brother or sister). In your new family you are a spouse (husband or wife) and probably parent (mother or father). If you’re not married, you are an adult. Describe your role during your family reunion? How do you feel about it?

In general, how well do people get along during your reunion? Describe relationships. How do you feel at the end of your reunion? How do you think other participants feel? Let us know!

Family Reunion Research Project:

Call for Participants

Dr. Stephen Criswell, a folklorist and professor of English at Benedict College in Columbia, SC, is conducting a study of African American family reunions. This study, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, will examine the origins, development, and significance of these family celebrations.

Dr. Criswell is seeking individuals and families to participate in this study. Volunteers will be interviewed about their family reunions and should allow Dr. Criswell and his assistants to observe and document their reunions. In exchange for their participation, interviewees and their family members will have access to all documents (including videotapes, photograph, and interview tapes) regarding their family reunions.

If you would like to participate in this project, please contact Dr. Criswell at 803-253-5221, [email protected], or write to Department of English, Benedict College, 1600 Harden Street, Columbia, SC 29204.