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Guide for the Big Gathering


You haven't heard from Aunt Mildred in years. You worry that your upcoming family reunion will flop without her.

Did she move away? Did she remarry? Is she missing? Is she alive?

To track down those ever-elusive family members, you may need your own family "Sherlock Holmes," someone "with curiosity, a knack for detective work and persistence in following leads," co-authors Tom Ninkovich and Barbara Brown write in "Family Reunion Handbook" published in 1992 by Reunion Research of San Francisco.

"You may find that some of these Sherlocks are not interested in helping with the reunion in any other way," the authors say.

They add that those Aunt Mildreds and other hard-to-find relatives can be located by tapping into the family "grapevine," searching data bases and public records, or even commissioning a genealogist, among other methods.

Searches for relatives, of course, are only part of reunion planning, which can require the organizational (and sometimes motivational) skills of a combat general.

At reunions, Ninkovich suggests giving awards to all for anything ("the best contribution to dinner, the cousins who look most alike, the youngster who can name the most relatives"), to post photos of adults as kids (inviting all to guess who's who) and to put someone in charge of photo-taking, especially candid shots of children. "They make great souvenirs and gifts for family members who couldn't attend," he says.

A major complaint about annual reunions, Ninkovich and Brown write, is that they "quickly become boring; the 'spark' is no longer there." The authors advise holding reunions every few years, "so the old 'yearning' comes back," and to "show folks a really good time, especially the kids."

A partial checklist, culled from Reunions magazine, addresses preparation such as budgeting, site selection, entertainment and activities:

18 to 24 Months Before * Get advice from someone who has planned a reunion. * Start locating people. * Choose a location. * Open a bank account. * Begin fund raising.

One Year Before * Make a budget and determine cost of reunion. * Send out first notification mailer including list of missing people. * Hire entertainment, photographers, people to videotape the occasion, and/or memory book suppliers.

Six to Nine Months Before * Form subcommittees: entertainment, tours, registration, food. * Make a schedule of events and activities. * Explore and order imprinted mementos to be distributed at the reunion. * Send second mailer, with registration form, exact cost and another list of missing people.

Five Months Before * Begin to lay out souvenir directory. * Decide on decorations and signs or banners. * Decide on menu.

Two to Five Months Before * Meet with site staff or tour facility with subcommittee heads. * Reserve any rental equipment. * Send final mailer.

Six to Eight Weeks Before * Review and revise schedule of events. * Organize registration table. * Create a final checklist.

Two Weeks Before * Confirm entertainment. * Purchase decorations and gifts. * Assign cleanup duties. * Stock first-aid kit. * Arrange transportation, if needed.

One or Two Days Before * Review final details. * Meet with facility staff liaison and check all dining arrangements and accommodations.

Day of the Reunion * Decorate. * Test sound system. * Set up registration tables, equipment, displays. * Enjoy!

Where to Turn for Help

Reunion Research, 3145 Geary Blvd., No. 14, San Francisco, 94118. Call: (209) 336-2345. Reunions magazine, P.O. 11727, Milwaukee, Wis., 53211-0727. Call: (414) 263-4567.

Coalition of African-American Cultural Organizations, 2253 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19121. Call: (215) 765-2793.

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